Restaurant Management | Burning the Midnight Oil

The Henry restaurant sign with an arrow pointing to the door
The Henry restaurant sign with an arrow pointing to the door
Welcome to The Henry, the greatest neighborhood restaurant in Dallas, Texas

The hospitality industry is a complex and diverse monster.

Restaurant management requires multitasking, leadership, communication, and finesse. It’s the only place where needing a lemon for your water is a life or death situation. It’s the only place where slinging drinks becomes in-patient therapy. The long hours are brutal, and the demand for your attention can perplex even the most patient manager. It’s not for everybody, but if you’re aspiring or interested, this is for you.

I’ve been a restaurant manager for five years at Fox Restaurant Concepts. In that time, I’ve opened four restaurants and acquired some of the most fulfilling years of my life.

The Pillars of Restaurant Management:

A restaurant is a living and breathing ecosystem. The goal is simple. We help our patrons enjoy the more beautiful things in life and create memories with their friends and loved ones. However, to accomplish this feat, blood will be shed. The temperament and consistency of your establishment will decide everything. Yet, the payoff is satisfying. There is beauty in the struggle.

Set sights on blowing people away, and the numbers will come. Find new ways to involve the guest and enhance the experience from start to finish. Be a presence and make them feel like the only table in the restaurant. Everybody is in the VIP club when they cruise through those doors.

People want to be seen and told YES.

Unfortunately, on every shift, mistakes will happen. The most effective use of your time is being proactive and asking yourself when problems arise, “Is the guest affected”? If the answer is yes, you need to change the outcome, swiftly and with purpose. Honesty and communication are the best policy when dealing with issues. The guest is always right.

Find ways to surprise guests pleasantly. I do this on special occasions and with first-timers. The possibilities are endless. Sit back and read the room for opportunities. It boils down to anticipating their needs. A simple gesture of bringing something they need goes a long way. They need to leave with full hearts and full stomachs.

Every shift is a movie. The crisp, clean dialogue guides patrons through a menu. A smile from the server as they stop what they are doing to guide you to the restroom. The ambiance and atmosphere hectic, but the guts of the restaurant never spill. The elegant plating and delivery are seamless, and the lighting is right.

Here’s a list of good practices to improve day-to-day operations:

1. Great floor charts — These are imperative. Know the skill level of each server and restrict your section sizes. When you have a good rhythm, slowly pull back on staffing.

2. Have a routine and build checklists.

3. Ensure music, lights, T.V.s, etc. are always tuned to the appropriate level

4. Keep the staff engaged, inspired, and informed on all aspects of the restaurant

5. Run great line-ups, every shift

6. Raise intensity when necessary but keep a professional and collected demeanor. Respect is everything.

7. Be a presence at the host desk at the beginning of the shift to control the flow.

8. Delegate tasks that arise by asking yourself, “Can this person carry out this task 90% as well as I can? “Do I have something more pressing to attend to”? If the answer is yes, then delegate and move on

9. Coach your staff at EVERY opportunity. See something, say something. This works especially when it’s positive

10. Have fun, seriously. You should smile at every opportunity and engage with staff and guests. Your energy will create good vibes.

Some old guy once said cleanliness is next to Godliness. I believe this is true. Your workspace needs insane amounts of attention to detail. Every light fixture should shine. The backs of the chairs wiped and cleaned regularly. The point is for the guest to NOTICE that the restaurant is clean.

You should build great habits with your staff and never let cleanliness take a back seat, see something say something mentality. DO extensive opens, shift change-over, and closes that are prep and cleaning circuits. Create daily cleaning checklists for consistency and weekly ones for in-depth cleaning projects.

Your facility is the pride and joy of the staff. If something is broken, look at it or take it apart before paying someone to fix it for you. There are so many times that I’ve avoiding excessive spending by fixing minor problems. The staff needs to feel a pride of ownership with everything they use at work. It’s our job to manage that, and if somebody is mistreating the equipment, have a conversation. You should never let a problem go without a fix. These problems tend to get more excessive as time passes.

Have a plan every day that tailored to the shift. Staff accordingly for this plan and allow yourself a bit of wiggle room if you aren’t confident. If you fail to plan, you plan to fail. Share this plan with all leadership and make sure everybody knows their area of responsibility. Knowing is half the battle, especially on holidays and during busier times of the year. Analyze what happened in the prior years. And if you don’t have that data, network with similar restaurants in the same area to get a read on business levels. Getting blindsided by a busy shift is one of the worst things that can happen for your guests and the staff’s morale.

Consistency over time equals results. If you consistently run great shifts, your restaurant will become more popular. If you prepare the same great product guests will notice and you will develop a following. Solidifying the standard is paramount. There are exceptions to the standard, don’t let anybody fool you. However, you need to prioritize the standard and only take a pass when it’s necessary for the guests’ satisfaction.

Here are a few examples I commonly see restaurant managers take a pass on:

· Plating and presentation on any menu item including cocktails

· Flavor profile and recipe adherence

· Holding the door, saying hi, smiling, being a kind human

· 86 an item because you don’t have the ingredients.

· Appearance and grooming standards for the staff

· Being too aggressive with cuts and staffing.

· Failing to communicate with the guest when things go wrong.

Once again, ask yourself the question, “Will this affect the guest’s experience”? If that answer is yes, don’t compromise standards, unless the compromise will improve the situation. Easy enough right?

The idea is to build a culture that involves staff “buy-in.” If people don’t believe in WHY they are doing a job, you’ll never get results. The best way to accomplish this is to share your passion, hold the standard, and give structure. I would never ask an employee to do something that I wouldn’t do. I’m in the trenches with my team during the most pivotal times of a shift.

When I think about leadership, a story from one of my senior leaders comes to mind. He was expediting on a busy shift, and we were running behind. You could tell the entire kitchen staff was moping and moving without purpose. He said calmly and defiantly, “Okay team, we are fifteen minutes over the standard for ticket times. I’m going to grab every one of these tickets off the line and buy the table for our guests. I want you to go outside, take five minutes, and come back in here ready to bang out each one of these”. He proceeded to scoop up every ticket and start touching tables. Sometimes you must do something dramatic to get results. The staff never forgot that day and he eventually became the VP of Operations for a multi-million-dollar company. These white-hot moments are what create a staff buy-in that exceeds any monetary value.

Also, recognize that most people who are serving or bartending are at a crossroads in their life. Typically, their job isn’t number one on their priority list. We must demonstrate flexibility with requests, take the time listening to problems, and give hourly employees constant feedback. Good or bad, feedback is a valuable tool that will invoke change.

Final Words

In conclusion, restaurant management is challenging but rewarding. The margin for improvement is vast and it’s not a science. The path we choose on any given day can alter the guests’ and staff’s experience. You can only do your best with the knowledge that you own. Continue to study, broaden your horizons, and give it the old college try with different management methods.

Trial and error are your friends, and every day is a fresh start.

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