Let’s be honest, the Hospitality industry has never been an industry that parents have actively encouraged their kids to go into. Despite…
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Ask anyone who runs a restaurant and you’ll find there is a hell of a lot to do. As managers get promoted it becomes easy to take on the many responsibilities of the business…
Love it or hate it, but customers who don’t enjoy their experience have a whole host of public platforms to voice their disgruntlement. No matter how great your restaurant is, there are always going to be some people who don’t like it or perhaps don’t have a great experience (any restaurant can have a bad night). Sometimes a guest's grievances are valid and other times they can be completely unjust. Sadly, Trip Advisor and the like can’t tell the difference. Once a poor review has been published it is there, permanently, for everyone to see.
If your restaurant has been open a few years, perhaps the odd bad review won’t make much difference, but for new enterprises these types of reviews can be hugely damaging. Not just for the success of the restaurant but for the morale of the staff who have all worked so hard to get it open.
I’ll be honest, we’re not big fans of people who don’t mention their grievances in the restaurant (especially new restaurants) only to then go and write scathing reviews online. If they knew how much time, effort and sheer courage it takes to open a restaurant, I’m sure they would take a much softer and rational approach. Let’s be clear it’s far more beneficial for guests to air their grievances to the restaurant privately instead of publicly trying to shame them.
One new restaurant recently came under fire for candidly replying to reviews that they felt were unfair and unjust. Although they were arguably acting in self defence, the owner still had to publicly apologise for his actions. So it does still seem a bit of a one-way street when it comes to public reviews the customer can say whatever they want, but the business’ response still has to be professional and measured.
So what can we do? There are always going to be people who, given the opportunity, will write scathing reviews if they’ve had a bad time. We’re never going to change that. So the changes have to be at our end.
A manager's first response when reading a terrible review is usually something like, “If only I’d known - I would have put it right before they left.” I have no doubt most managers would do everything in their power to resolve an issue and not let the complaint ‘leave the restaurant’. But people aren’t always going to tell you that something’s wrong. People may be shy, embarrassed, scared or there may be a number of other reasons why they aren’t willing to come over and tell you they’re upset.
But here’s the thing. No guest should have to tell you something’s wrong. If you know what you’re looking for, it’s obvious. Any guest who is unhappy will give you a whole host of signals that identify they are not satisfied. It’s all about awareness. Managers and servers alike should be incredibly sensitive to those signs. Looking for the slightest shifts in body language, conversations stopping, people looking around anxiously or straight down at their food, lack of smiling, lack of interaction with the server or their dining partner…there’s so many signs to be looking out for. Even though your guests aren’t actually speaking their concerns, their body language will be telling you exactly what’s going on.
Notice your guest's mood when they come into your restaurant, if this changes for the worse during their meal, perhaps something has gone wrong. This is then the time for you to step over and subtly interact. Find an excuse to go to the table; pour water, pour wine, clear some plates, make eye contact and they’ll quickly let you know what’s going on. Then you have an opportunity to fix it. Empathy and understanding are key here.
The morale of the story is thus; don’t wait for guests to come to you. It’s you and your team's job to spot things before they happen, and unhappy guests can be spotted a mile off. Of course, not all unhappy guests are going to write scathing online reviews but most of them won’t come back and that's even worse. Guest awareness is the key to not only reducing poor reviews but also to gaining life long customers.
Meet Keith Mrotek, a bartender from the Norseman Distillery in Minneapolis. He’s making a Martini from a recipe that dates back to 1903. The recipe he’s using details 30ml of Dry Vermouth, 60ml of Gin, Orange Bitters and a Lemon Coin. Three ingredients and a garnish. Pretty precise, right? As he skilfully prepares this classic cocktail, you can hear him say “there’s no such thing as the perfect Martini. But there is a perfect Martini for each guest”. The amount of ice you use, the length of time you stir the drink (Keith likes his stirred for 45 seconds), the amount of orange bitters you use. These all add subtle changes that can be tailored to suit each guest. The cocktail is still their unique recipe, it’s uses their own Gin and Vermouth but there’s flexibility in their approach that delivers something specific to each individual. For me that’s real modern bartending.
That also happens to be the exact approach we have to delivering great service. The U.S. has always been way ahead of us when it comes to customer service, and there’s no doubt we’re catching up. But I also think we’ve picked up some of their bad habits too. As big brands realised the importance of customer service, they developed rules and regulations to create ‘consistency’ throughout the company. Scripted “Good Morning Sir” and “You have a great day Miss” seemed to be the basis of great customer care. The problem is, we’ve got so used to these hollow please and thank-yous that we see straight through them. Robotic and scripted jargon like this is embarrassing for all involved. Airlines are a classic example. Whenever you depart from a flight and the three or four crew say, "thank you" for flying with them, sometimes not even looking at you and repeating the same words in the same tone in between conversations with themselves. Why do they do it? Because the training manual tells them they must. The whole exercise becomes pointless. Sadly that generic, robotic and soul destroying “good” customer service practice has found its way over here.
I’m not saying rules and points of service are a bad thing. They’re not. You couldn’t make this Martini without Gin and Vermouth - but we have to have flexibility. We have to trust front line employees to make their own choices and decide exactly how they think it is best to thank a customer. Our barman Keith takes pride in knowing exactly how to tailor his cocktails to suit his guests. And if you give your employees the right skills to tailor their service to suit each guest, they too will feel a sense of pride and accomplishment. It takes no skill to mindlessly repeat “thank you” a hundred times. But it takes a great deal of skill to make each individual guest feel valued, welcomed and appreciated. These are skills that can be taught and honed and are incredibly satisfying to use.
Service without the freedom to go off script is tired, out-dated, dishonest, and your guests will see straight through it. Give your team a bit of freedom and trust, and see what they can achieve.
Right, now I’m off for a Martini… Keith?
The world seems to be a pretty divisive place right now. Post-Brexit and perhaps pre-Trump, we’re living in the most turbulent of times, certainly since I’ve been alive. As society seems to become increasingly divided, with many people retreating into the safety of the known and rejecting the unfamiliar, for me, the hospitality industry is sending out a beacon of hope, cohesion and community.
Let me explain. We’ve been doing a lot of research at Hop HQ on prejudice, how we become prejudiced and how we can overcome it. Race, immigration and religious beliefs are all volatile topics at the moment, spurred on by politicians, news groups and social media.
We are heavily influenced not just by what we read and see, but by who we hang around with, who we care about and who we work with. The most deep-rooted prejudices, and the hardest to break down, are the ones we inherit from our parents.
If there was less prejudice in the world I have no doubt it would be a better place. So what is the best way to get rid of it, even in the most deep-rooted cases?
So there’s been lots of studies and on this and many different approaches to diffuse or change someone's prejudice. One was training courses, week long workshops, educating people about other cultures to make them seem more human and develop empathy and understanding. Initially the students did feel less prejudiced but shortly after the courses the old feeling returned. However the most successful trial was when individuals from different backgrounds had to work together towards a joint goal.
The sharing of skills, and cohesion needed to complete the task, removed the prejudice and permanently altered the attitudes towards one another for the better.
So if we want to reduce the amount of prejudice knocking around at the moment we need to bring people together and get them to work towards a common goal.
That’s exactly what a good restaurant does. The last restaurant we opened had, Polish, Spanish, Italian, Nepalese, British, French, Turkish, Indian, Moroccan, Dutch, Saudi, Sri Lankan and Syrian employees. You can’t get more cohesive than that. I’ve learnt so much from all the different cultures I have been fortunate enough to work with over the years. Diversity really is something we should be proud of in our industry, it should be celebrated. I’ve always thought the world would be a more empathetic and understanding place if everyone had to work in a restaurant for a year, perhaps now more than ever.
Get Trump on pot wash for a month and let’s see how his attitudes would change.
Ever been to a restaurant where everyone seems to be running their socks off, sweat pouring down their brows and steam rising from their team t-shirts, and yet the level of service is slow and messy? Or perhaps you've managed a shift like this (I know I’ve had a few in my time?) Restaurants are unpredictable beasts and we can all get caught out at times. Sudden spikes in trade for no apparent reason can cause havoc for anyone. But what about those shifts where the labour budget is not to blame, and for some reason, despite everyones best efforts it all goes a bit wrong? Welcome to the Hop Guide to Front of House Productivity.
So I want us to think about productivity in two ways. Firstly the productivity of the whole team. The group output from all the individuals combined. And secondly the individual productivity. How productive each team member is.
Now you may think, the more productive the individuals are, the more productive the team will be. Not quite, it’s a little more complicated. The key thing we’re looking for is ‘Equal Productivity’. If all your employees are equally productive and working at a similar rate (their work rate) then the overall productivity for the restaurant will be good. You can see the graph below.
Pretty obvious, right? Ok, but what happens if just one member of my team decides to slack off a bit. If you’ve got a good team they will usually pick up the slack. Their work rates go up, perhaps service suffers a little, but overall productivity of the restaurant goes down only slightly.
If this is just a one off it’s not such a big problem. However, if it starts to become a regular thing, the rest of the team will start to notice and the sense of cohesion and team work will start to erode, “Why should I help him if he doesn’t help me?” What you end up with is six individual servers only interested in their own sections. If it’s not busy, it’s not too noticeable, perhaps guests will pick up on the negative energy, but productivity isn’t affected too much.
However, once it get’s busy, disaster strikes. Because the team is divided and the servers have become used to working on their own, they can longer generate the Team Productivity needed for the volume of trade. Individual work rate soars but Team Productivity is low.
All because one person in the team started to slack off a bit. I hope you’re getting the point now. It is far more important for everyone to be working at the same rate, being equally productive, than it is for a few to be doing the majority of the leg work. It only takes one person to upset the balance.
Teams where individuals are working at different levels of productivity don’t last long. It’s the quickest way to upset employees and can be a nightmare, not to mention costly to fix. The key is spotting it early - that means even on quiet shifts. You need to notice the behaviour, then stop it, before it becomes habitual.
So remember, every time a server is not pulling their weight they are starting to create conflict within the team. If that carries on, it will divide the team, which in turn, will have a devastating effect on your business and your employees.
A recent report commissioned by Marie Curie, entitled ‘The Long and Winding Road’ estimates that poor communication costs the NHS one billion pounds every year... Yes, that’s right, one billion pounds every year. Of course the NHS is wonderful, complicated, and unwieldily beast, but in the time of the NHS crunch, 1 billion seems quite a steep price to pay for a breakdown in communications.
At Hop, this got us thinking about the cost of poor communication in the hospitality industry, and before too long, we had an unwieldily beast of our own. Staff conflict, staff turnover, additional recruitment, spiralling HR costs, mistakes, wastage, and on top of this a potentially toxic atmosphere on the restaurant floor... And all because we’ve overlooked that fundamental thing that got us out of the swamp in the first place. The ability to communicate, to empathize and to understand one another.
Thankfully the NHS is now sitting up and paying attention, because you cannot ignore these three little words; one billion pounds. However, how much is the hospitality industry doing to address the money it’s wasting through poor communication skills? Or perhaps more pertinently, how much is your company wasting? It may not be billions, but it’s enough to get one thinking.
OK I admit it, at first glance the idea of finding time to be mindful, in a hectic restaurant may seem a little crazy. Taking fifteen minutes out to meditate on a Saturday lunch (although it would be wonderful) isn’t the most practical of ideas and certainly wouldn’t help your labour budget. But what if I suggested that there are ways to get a good dose of mindfulness even in the most hectic of shifts, and these moments of consciousness, aren’t just good for your mental well-being but are, in fact, vital to the growing success of your business? Even if you’re not sold on the idea of mindfulness and presence, read on, you may just find it useful.
So let’s imagine you’re a waiter, it’s a Saturday lunch, it’s busy, it’s hot, the bar are running a little behind on drinks and the host has just given you one too many tables. Just take a moment, imagine this situation (I get a little tense just thinking about it). Now, I want you to start thinking about your thought process at this point, the stream of consciousness inside your head. As the pressure grows that interior monologue gets quicker and quicker, louder and louder, “where are my drinks? "I told that host not to sit me any more tables!" "I hate this job? What am I doing here? Where’s the spinach for table 6?” Our heart rate increases, tension grows, and we start to become less and less present and more and more locked in our heads. Awareness decreases and stress increases.
This scenario is not uncommon, go into any busy restaurant on a Saturday night and you may just see it. But is it really that bad? Surely that’s just part of working in a restaurant isn’t it? Well yes and no. Yes it is bad, I’ll go into why in a second, and yes it is part of working in a restaurant.
So why is it bad? Firstly, for the waiter. Health wise, both physically and mentally that amount of stress is simply not good for you. It’s exhausting. I’ve just been reading The Art of the Restauranteur by Nicholas Lander. There are so many incredible people who have founded wonderful restaurants only to tragically die of a heart attack ten years in. Leaving their business partners to carry on alone. That’s the pay off for working with all that stress. Secondly, for the customer. The customer is on the receiving end of distracted service. Nothing frustrates a customer more than when they feel the waiter is not giving them their full attention. Thirdly, for you, the owner. As stress increases our ability to make rational decision decreases. There's proper scientific studies into this. The more distracted we become the more mistakes we make, the more wastage we create, the less productive we become. Not to mention the fact that your customers are now not having a great time either and might not be too keen to return.
That idea of mediating for fifteen minutes doesn’t quite seem so crazy now does it? I jest... But we do need to get present, and we need to be able to do it quickly. It can’t interrupt service and it has to be done on the floor. So here’s how we do it. Every time you go to a table it is an opportunity to be present. Think about that for a second. The waiters have to talk to the tables. So why not use this time to bring yourself into the present. To stop all that interior monologue. A three minute break from all the stress to enjoy being with your guests. When you’re at a table, you don’t have to run food or drink all you have to do is be present. Listen to them, speak to them, enjoy that human connection. If you find that connection you will become present. Simple.
On a busy shift you need to see tables as a gift, a gift to be present. Like a mini pit stop during service. So many waiters go over to a table so distracted and rushed they completely miss this golden opportunity.
Here at Hop there’s a little mantra we teach all of our students to remind them how to get present on busy shifts. Before they go over to a table they take a second, I literally mean one second. They take a breath and say the following in their heads. “Establish. Engage. Enjoy.” Now let me explain. Establish: they establish good body language, usually just letting go of tension. Engage: they genuinely try to engage their guests, great eye contact, good smile. Enjoy: now they have the engagement from the guest they can enjoy that connection, enjoy that human experience. That’s why we all do this job because, at the heart of it, we are social beings who enjoy connecting with other people.
Establish. Engage. Enjoy. At first waiters will say I haven’t got time for all that. But it only takes seconds. At first they will feel like they're spending longer at the table, because they are speaking at a more relaxed pace. But in reality the actual time at the table is the same.
Furthermore, whilst they’re at the table their stress will reduce, their awareness will increase, the guests will be getting a much more unique and genuine experience and you will have a happy restaurant with a better atmosphere.
That’s how to get a good dose of mindfulness in a busy shift. Joss sticks are optional.
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.
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.
Maybe our recent trip to Paris has inspired us to bring a bit of philosophy into the restaurant game. The existentialist philosophers of the 19th and 20th Century may seem to have little relevance when it comes to running a successful restaurant. Can the likes of Soren Kierkegaard, Jean Paul Satre and Albert Camus teach us, in the hospitality sector, anything useful?
Well, firstly, these guys ate out a lot. On any given day you would often find the existentialists philosophers, at a table, wearing a black roll neck, discussing the meaning of life over cocktails and food. But how on earth does this have any relevance in today’s industry? Well existentialism is pretty complicated but it was born out of another, simpler, philosophy called Phenomenology. Phenomenology was all about making sure we experience things fully, with full presence and consciousness.
So if I’m having a cup of coffee, I focus on that coffee, it’s smell, it’s velvety texture, it’s rich taste, the warm comforting feeling it creates in my body, the bitter chocolaty aftertaste the kick of the caffeine. All of a sudden a cup of coffee is quite a complex amazing thing. The alternative is to be drinking a cup of coffee with no awareness of what I’m drinking, lost in my own thoughts, oblivious to the wonders of the hot beverage and the world.
To Phenomenologists, this was the joy of being human, to be able to be conscience in our interactions with the world. It’s all to easy to switch back to autopilot. I see it all the time; FOH staff just going through the motions with no attempt to connect to the people in front of them. Now I don’t know about you but I want all my staff to be Phenomenologists, staff who are actively engaging with the food we sell, staff that are actively engaging with each and every customer, staff that are present, with their colleagues, their friends, their customers, fully present in their work. If you want a great energy in your restaurant 19th century French philosophy isn’t a bad place to start.
What we learnt in Paris.
There’s so much to love in Paris. The food, the wine, the cheese, the bread, the level of customer service. Yes - the level of customer service. OK, perhaps Paris hasn’t always been famous for it’s customer service especially not to us Brits. I used to live in France and would often find Brits unable to speak French getting more and more frustrated with a waiter, who seemingly couldn’t speak English. The louder the guest asked “Do you have an English menu?’ The more the waiter would shut down and reply calmly “Je suis désolé monsieur, mais je ne comprend pas”. Ironically, the waiters could all speak English they just refused to, if they took a dislike to certain individuals. Amusing as these episodes were to watch I always thought pride was the key factor. A proud waiter would not be spoken down to by a tourist making no effort at all to speak Europe’s founding language.
On this trip I didn’t witness such instances, but I did feel a sense of pride coming from almost every person who served us. Pride in the restaurant they were working in, pride in the food they were serving, pride in helping us pick a wine, pride in taking away our empty plates, knowing we had enjoyed their food, essentially taking pride in making sure we had a good time.
One of my new favourite cocktail bars, The Mary Celeste, was packed when we visited, but the barman took his time to speak to us, ask us what we liked, and then made us something completely off spec just for us. He then spent time checking we liked it, he was making sure everyone in that bar felt valued. The energy of the bar was beautiful, bustling and busy, but fun and warm too. After the terrible attacks in Paris it’s service like this which is so important. It makes people feel safe and warm and valued and keeps people going out, and for me that really is something to take pride in. Next time your in Paris make sure you drop in, it’s at 1 Rue Commines. I guess that’s what we learnt in Paris, that pride in your work is key and sometimes making other people feel welcomed, valued and safe really is something to be proud of.