This one habit could be holding your restaurant back

In our Industry saying “yes” is often a hallmark of great customer service. For those who can endure the fulfillment of the most outrageous customer requests and keep those coveted “stars” aligned in their favor, mirage-like trophies and yet-unamed distant glory awaits. Somewhere out there is a food & beverage retirement heaven for those that stick it out and make the most guests the happiest.

For us, all too often, family time is scientifically achieved through osmosis as we’re occasionaly invited into the picture (not just to take the picture) of those we’ve had a great time with while ensuring every detail was just right. See ya next year!

Yet somwhere out there are those people who are always on time, never delay or miss a meeting, remain relaxed regardless of catastrophe while managing vast sums of money, benefiting from highly complex networks of business relationships, and taking long weekends off for family enjoyment.

What’s that force that puts some of us in this fast lane of non-stop pressure while others enjoy the view from a pristine mountain summit?

In the fast lane or on the mountain top?

No matter our role in the restaurant, or in life, we have a responsibility to serve each other. In leadership, serving those that we wish to follow our direction becomes all the more essential. Driving the fastest, or being the busiest, however, is neither leading or serving. If this is the case, the restaurant mission, and success, may be compromised.

Consider two scenarios:

  1. Speeding down the freeway getting around each upcoming car as fast as possible.
  2. Standing on a mountain summit with a full view of everything that’s happening below.

Perspective one, we’re “Speed Racer,” dominating the left lane while red-lining around the next obstical. Each exit in the far right lane is a blur far from our left lane focus.

Perspective two is the no brainer. The wise chief, the sage, the one with the line of sight that finds a way up the hill for all the others. This is the all-knowing Gandolf, and he has the power to decide who shall or shall not pass.

Our decisions have put us where we are

A “yes” culture brings more opportunity. The catch: there’s more opportunity for more to do. There’s an equation here. With more yes, there’s more to go wrong. More expectations of what we’re capable of. Have we established the right balance of resources to absorb the amount of yes coming our way? If not, sooner or later, the engine overheats. And before we know it, there’s no slowing down in sight until mechanical failure causes the engine to seize.

Here’s a few signs that we may be stuck in the far left lane:

  1. Saying “I’m too busy”
  2. Wearing too many hats
  3. Not following through
  4. Procrastination
  5. “Legitimate” reasons of why something needs to be done
  6. Conflicting priorities
  7. Outcome producing events flying under the radar

If we look, we’ll see the outcome of our decisions all around us

We’re the traffic instead of the one directing the traffic. When an opportunity to exit becomes apparent, there’s no time to merge. It’s the setup for common challenges that many restaurants frequently struggle with. Some examples of what emerges from “Speed Racer” leadership:

  • Too many customers arriving all at once
  • Uncertain or conflicting expectations amongst staff and/or guests
  • Poorly trained team members
  • Systems not up date or properly calibrated
  • Marketing messages going out at the last minute (or skipped altogether)
  • Menus printed with typos or not up to date
  • Disorganized areas such as food storage, offices, receiving areas, prep areas, etc.
  • Guest expectations not met because of a missed detail or special request
  • In-fighting amongst staff
  • Wear and tear- from decor to uniforms to equipment
  • Operational proceedures performed at a mediocre level
  • Out of balance disciplinary actions- either not taken, or taken too much

It may be tempting to suggest these symptoms are not related and just common challenges of running a restaurant. If this happens, see item number seven in the previous section above. No matter how busy we think we are, let’s not forget the people described in the opening paragraph. They are no smarter, capable or gifted than us. The difference is habits over time and a chosen perspective. Fortunately, as restaurateurs, we have one of the most amazing and empowering skills we could ask for: the ability to adapt.

Getting to the mountain top is a change in formula

What’s pushed or pulled us to a point where we can’t slow down is not an overnight condition. If we want the number 6, but keep adding 4 + 4, at what point do we realize we’re making the wrong calculations? We’ve got to change the equation to fix the result. We may even have to re-evaluate the result we’re after.

Here’s a few common causes of what may be pushing us into that left lane, and keeping us from the mountain top. These are “behind” or precursors to items 1 – 7 above:

  • Lack of the restaurant’s core mission and guiding values
  • Trying to make everybody happy
  • Holding on to what used to work
  • Menu creep
  • Concept confusion
  • Out of touch with customer expectations
  • Internal influencers such as partnership or trusted staff fallout, leadership turnover, equipment failure, etc
  • External influencers such as trends, government, competition, weather, etc…

So the answer to all this is simply Gandalf. We can look to him by taking a closer look at a common Friday night in action in the video clip below (please note the detailed representation of our management, service team members, and that “daily issue”):

And yes, just when we think we’ve made our stand and moved on, the unexpected lashes back out to take us down. There’s going to be unexpected turns. So to make sure we come out the other side leading our team onward, there’s got to be a clear plan that shows everybody the path forward in the absense of our direct leadership.

The fact is, issues will grab us and even take us out of the picture from time-to-time. Therefore, it’s all the more essential our team is trained, empowered and able to lead themselves while on their own. This is part of changing the equation. These 7 Steps to Improve Restaurant Operations offer more on this.

Repetition is Key

The power in these steps is that they are bite-size, shareable and repeatable. Ensure some of these small steps take place each week. Over time, the impact accumulates. Within a month or two, new ways of thinking create new habits, develop culture, and clarify expectations between staff members, leadership and guests.

Once we set these changes in motion, there’s one final step: Limit what we allow ourselves to be directly involved with– the things we say “yes” to. If we’re hands on, this is not easy to do. There’s a fear that if we don’t do something ourselves, it won’t get done properly. The truth is, if we are trying to do too much, nothing is getting done properly.

When we’re in Gandolf mode, we decide what passes or what doesn’t. We stop the urge to allow things which shouldn’t be allowed. We eliminate the pressures that hold us back, and move the restaurant forward.

Adam Christopher
Founder & CEO, RestaurantConnect
Software & systems for a better restaurant.

This one habit could be holding your restaurant back 2018-01-21 11:47:11