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…
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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.
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.
One of the things I love about our industry is the diversity of the people who work in it. I'm not just talking about where people are from or what language they speak, I'm talking about the skill set they have. In what other industry can you find a trainee lawyer, an architect and classical pianist in one room. When you think about it, that’s pretty cool.
Now, there are two ways to look at it. Firstly, these people probably aren’t going to be here that long and they’re not really interested in the job as a career so we’ll just let them get on with things. They’re not really valued as employees. Or we could look and say, “perhaps these people won’t be here forever, but hey, they’re living with purpose, they’re trying to achieve things, they could be a real asset while they’re here”. And this is they key: if you want to bring out the best in people, so they give your guests amazing customer service, you have to make your staff feel valued. How? Just speak and genuinely listen to them. I mean really listen, ask them about their lives, their dreams, they’re interests. It’s so easy to ignore the staff who we don’t see as ‘important’ or see as ‘transient’ but these guys are speaking to your guests every day. If you really value them, they will value your customer. Simple.
Now stop reading this, and go and add some value to your restaurant team. Customer service with heart is what every good restaurant should have and that comes from being valued.
Sometimes, what you see, isn’t always what you get. Don’t judge a book by its cover my dear old Gran used to say. And the same is true with people, as we found out at a training session last week.
We’re in a big new, beautiful restaurant a week before soft launch. We’re mid-session and a shy, nervous student gets in front of the rest of the class. She moves to the front of the room to see if she can put into action some of the things we have been talking about. She starts the mock scenario with our actors. To begin with, her style is cold at best, at worst a bit scary, intimidating, aggressive almost.
Now, at first glance you may have thought there is no way this person could provide gentle, empathetic and fluid service. She obviously hasn’t got ‘it’ and there’s no way she could learn ‘it’. ‘It’ being that elusive, effortless ability to make guests feel relaxed and welcome. Some people may have thought she’s never going to get ‘it’. Just let her get on with it and maybe she’ll leave eventually. Not us. We try a couple of things. She has a go at the scenario again. Not great but better. The girl has heart and determination. The pressure is building as the rest of the class watch on. The actors look a bit scared. We work on voice, body language, intention and then boom! I can’t do justice to the transformation; all of a sudden there is the most incredible smile, a warmth, a joy, a sense of humour. She has ‘it’ and not just a bit but she has ‘it’ in spades and all in under fifteen minutes.
I have no doubt this particular student will go onto to be a General Manager, the feedback from the management team has been incredible and this particular student has discovered a side of herself she didn’t know existed. Transformations like this are incredible and they create the most loyal and dedicated employees; but sometimes you have to get through the hardback cover to discover them. I just wish my Gran could have been there to see it.
Something that has always struck me is the amount of untapped potential that lies hidden within the service industry. So much gets overlooked, ignored and ultimately wasted. In the UK especially we seem to have this rather nonchalant attitude towards people who work in the restaurant industry. It seems to be woven into the fabric of it’s DNA. We just don’t take the careers of people who work there that seriously. Now I’m not talking about your General Managers, or your Head Chefs, I’m talking about your waitering staff, your bar staff, your hosts. How much time do we invest in these guys? In my experience not enough.
But these guys are the front-line of your business, the direct link between you and your customers. The represent your business, your brand and speak to way more of your customers over the course of a week, month or even a year than you. And yet, if we’re really honest, do we really train them well enough to represent the company, to be engaging, to make every single guest feel welcome, relaxed and uniquely valued? The answer in most cases is no. We train them adequately, so they can achieve a certain level of service. Sounds ok, right? But once they've achieved that level, work can become a little uninspiring and monotonous. Once we become proficient enough at something we tend to start to switch off a bit. “I can do this with my eyes closed I’ve been doing it so long”. Not perhaps the best way to engage your customers. I see so many Front of House teams lacking motivation and energy. Why? Because no one is investing in them, giving them new skills, unlocking their potential. If you want to change the energy of your team you must invest in them, value them and trust them.
There's heaps of potential in this industry and at HOP it’s all about unlocking it, motivating and inspiring teams through the acquisition of skill. Just even acknowledging that an individual has potential goes such a long way to changing their attitude to work. At HOP we teach teams how to become masterful in what they do. Practical, specific, skills that create change amongst the individual, team and business.