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 Managing the Unmanageable


Managing the Unmanageable

One of the unique things about the restaurant industry in the UK is it’s workforce. Love it or hate it, the restaurant industry is a stop gap for many on a path to something else. Lawyers, Actors, Economists, Writers, Nurses, Teachers, Photographers, Athletes. These are just few of the professions I’ve come across moonlighting in the restaurant game. Personally, I think it’s something to be embraced, where else would you find such a diverse group of talented people all working in one place. 


But, as with most things, there are drawbacks. Some people enter the industry with every intention of moving on but, like it so much they stay. They choose to go into management and push on from there. I can think of a few well known and highly successful company directors who ‘fell’ into the industry. 


Then there are those who were always planning to leave but never quite did. They don’t want to go into management, they don’t really want to work in the restaurant, they don’t really know what they want to do. They become stuck, which leads to frustration, conflict with colleagues and most importantly poor service. There’s no joy in what they do anymore. All because they feel their life isn’t where it should be. The vision, if it was there in the first place, has gone and with it, their enthusiasm. 


These people can be highly destructive to a team and managing them properly is key. You can’t just hope they will leave, or hope you can build up a big enough case against them for gross misconduct. By that time your whole floor team could be ruined. 


So what are our options? One: we go in hard telling them that they aren’t performing to a high enough standard, they look miserable on the floor and are too negative. But how exactly do we break that down? Tell them they need to smile more? Say please and thank you more? Be kinder to their guests? Good luck with that. If anything you're gonna create a fake over-the-top cynical style of service which won’t last long and then you’re back to square one. You’re not addressing the root of the problem, just temporarily masking it. 


So what else can we do? We need to remember these people are stuck. The vision of what they want from their career, their life has gone. You’re job is to help them find that vision again and guide them down a route to achieve it.  Progress makes us happy. Moving towards a goal makes us happy. Would you prefer to be cruising down the motorway or gridlocked on the slip road. 


Ok so here’s what to do. Ask them about what they want to achieve both at work and in their personal lives. If they’re not sure give them a few days and tell them to come back with something written down. You’re be surprised what they come back with. Even the most unmotivated will come up with brilliant ideas, when they commit it to paper. So now we have a vision. Now get them to break down these goals into sub goals, or steps along the way that they will need to achieve before reaching the big goal. 


For example, Jon has worked in a site for four years, he hates working in the restaurant. A week after out initial chat he comes up with the idea that he wants to travel the world and teach English as a second language. Boom! We have a vision. So now we need to break that goal down into smaller goals. He needs to research courses, he needs to save money, he needs to improve his grammatical understanding of English (couldn’t we all). Jon keeps adding to this sub goal list over the next few days. Next I help Jon break down the goals into daily, weekly and monthly goals. I get him to develop his own planner. We have a vision and now we have clear steps of how to get there. 


So yes, Jon might be leaving in a year now but all of a sudden he’s working with discipline, clarity and vision. He knows what he wants and therefore we’ve pulled him out of the well of negativity he was stuck in. Just Google ‘goal setting’ and there’s ton of resources on how to set plans. The Jon you hired four years ago is back and he’s delivering good service again. 


You might think this is a lot to do and hasn’t got much to do with the restaurant but it’s worth the time invested. You’re making them make change. Change for them is good, it makes them more malleable and more manageable. It’s also incredibly satisfying, for you as a manager, to create that sort of change in another person. I’m not saying they will be perfect all the time but they will make a huge improvement, and the rest of the team, not to mention your guests, will thank you for it. 



What to look for when recruiting Managers?


What to look for when recruiting Managers?

When it comes to building a successful restaurant, recruiting good mangers is a costly and time consuming process and it is essential you get it right. Recruiting the wrong people can be disastrous.  The number one cause of people leaving their job, according to a recent Linkedin article, is poor relationships with management. One bad egg could ruin your entire team. 


But before we even begin the recruitment process we’ve got to know the exact skill set we are looking for. What is a managers primary function and what skills do they need to fulfil that role. 


The over-arching goal for any manager is to grow your business: reduce costs and drive sales, right? But how exactly do we go about that? Let’s start with Cost of Sales. The two biggest factors that managers can control are labour and ordering. Workforce and wastage are key when it comes to making a profit.  


It’s no surprise that there are literally hundreds of computer programmes that help restaurants with these two factors. Programmes like FnB and Fourth are great because they make it super easy to manage costs that can ruin your bottom line. They also allow a lot of control from senior management and directors. These programmes are super simple to use, I could teach someone to extensively use both in a couple of weeks. Set your thousand pound pars and the rest is a little like painting by numbers. I’m not saying there is no skill here, but let’s be honest, technology has taken a lot of the skill out of it. As technology improves, which it will, that skill is going to become less and less important. The computers are going to do all that for us!


So what really is a managers primary function. It’s not to control labour but to manage it. I’m not just talking budgets here, I’m talking the actual individuals that work for you. These guys are your biggest asset, your biggest tool, your biggest expense. Managing and maintaining them so they can work to their full potential is key and that ladies and gentlemen is a managers primary function. 


Look at this way, if you spent twenty grand on a new oven, you would expect that oven to be pretty well looked after. Daily cleaning, monthly maintenance, annual servicing, so it could do it’s job day after day, week in week out. If after a month that oven hadn’t been cleaned and looked after you would be pretty angry with your head chef right. 


But your workforce costs way more than an oven and needs way more maintenance. Yet the oven usually gets looked after with far more care. We all know if you don’t care for your assets they will stop working and leave a big dent in your P & L - but your biggest asset is your staff.  


A manager must keep their staff motivated and happy. Happy people sell well, happy people make customers feel good, happy people create great restaurants. Your managers must be able to create and maintain cohesive happy teams. They must be able to build trust, to be able to empathise, have great emotional awareness. This is the key: they must be able to manage the emotions of their team. Let me repeat that, their primary function is to manage the emotions of their teams. It's oven maintenance but for people. To keep them on a even keel so they can perform consistently. For any growing brand consistency is key. 


A manager who can’t motivate and build trust has no place in a restaurant. A manager who has no emotional awareness has no place in a restaurant. A manager who doesn’t value his workforce as their biggest asset has no place in a restaurant. 


So next time your recruiting ask the questions that matter. How do you motivate teams? How in the past have you built trust with a team? How have you helped employees grow? Talk to me about all the different personalities you have worked with and how you specifically managed them?  In your opinion what’s the most important asset in a restaurant?


Great managers must be focused on other people not on themselves. 


Recruiting great staff isn’t easy, but it’s insanity (and costly) to recruit a great team only to destroy it by introducing a manager with the wrong skill set.