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This quote, attributed to various diplomatic and political leaders, is on point for all of us in 2021. Now is the time to take the driver’s seat. Now is the time to strengthen any and all of your agreements because your customers, your suppliers, your team, your banker, your landlord, every one has been feeling vulnerable and uncertain. As a consequence, this is a time when your leadership, your flexibility and your emphasis on collaboration will be valued and rewarded.

We are assisting operators to learn from your customers what they value most and to craft win/win strategy proposals to landlords, banks and most importantly, your own team. You need everyone to be confident you have a plan to thrive that includes thoughtful consideration of your customers and of all your stakeholders’ personal and financial wellbeing.

Perhaps you have heard about Open-Book Management, the basic ideas that underpin our methods. People think Open-Book Management means showing your books to everyone. Well, we have learned that showing your financials to everyone is a waste of time. It just takes too much schooling. Even if they learn finance, most employees struggle to relate formal accounting reports to their jobs. We’ll show you how to engage your employees using language they already know. Our approach lets you tap the team’s collective intelligence and drive results quickly.

Many who refer to their work group as a “team” fail to tap the real power of the analogy. Teams generally share a common purpose. There is agreement about stated goals everyone is committed to achieving. If we are on a team together, it is considered reasonable for us to hold one another accountable for performance. Purpose, commitment, and accountability; these are essential ingredients. Even better when team leaders create a context in which team members can engage in productive conflict and truly participate in defining team goals. Those who “weigh in” are more likely to “buy in”. And better still if there is some structure around accountability, like a review process, especially one that includes safe space for peers to review one another. Still not enough for us, though. When we work with a client “Rethinking a Restaurant,” we say,

“Real Teams Play to Win!”

Here is the ultimate key for making a successful restaurant team: Make sure “winning” is a) defined by what matters most for the business during the upcoming period b) so well-defined it is can be expressed as a score, i.e. a single number c) understood by everyone on the team d) displayed on a scoreboard so it can be closely monitored by all You can do all these things with or without our coaching.

Our dining room closed mid-March. When we can fully reopen is unknown. We hope to gain approval from the city to create some outdoor seating. To keep our core staff working and to pay some bills, our restaurant has become a takeout and delivery business. When as anxious as we are, and struggling to inspire confidence and good humor, it is awfully hard to stay in touch with our essential purpose but here it is: We are still hospitality professionals. Even now as a takeout and delivery operation, this is still the fundamental truth. Our guests are still our guests, even if we cannot welcome them into our dining rooms. Here are some reminders from our prior life which take on new importance in these alien times:

Make Hospitality the Mode of All Interactions

Staff cannot be expected to be genuine in their hospitality to guests if they do not themselves feel cared about and respected. This was never truer than it is now. Our staff is risking their health, possibly their lives and the lives of family, just by coming to work. If the hospitality of the team is to be genuine, it must start internally – it must be “The Way” we all interact at work. Supervisors must convey caring for those we supervise. Take the time to know what is going on in their lives. Is anyone close to them ill? Do they feel safe where they live? This is not a one time effort — Keep up with how things are going for them. Be polite when giving direction and feedback. Be careful with promises. Know how best to appreciate each of them (it can be different for different individuals) and then follow through and do it! When what we call “Internal Hospitality” is the established culture, extending it to guests is natural and effortless.

Take Orders With Sensitivity

In these anxious times, the first interaction with guests is even more crucial. How we answer our phone or engage with someone ordering takeout sets the tone and can make or break the entire experience. It depends on how genuinely, how promptly and how effectively we convey interest and caring. Do not be hurried with people on the phone! Your patience will be a stark contrast to competitors who are not attuned to its importance. Would you like to know about our curbside pickup? Would you prefer contactless payment?

Bottom Line: Be Leaders Who Listen

We learn about what matters to both staff and guests when we simply take the time to listen.

Before, if I worked expo, I could see exactly how each plate would look to the guest. I could wipe the edge, arrange the garnish, perhaps call for a refire. When I handed a plate to a runner, I knew exactly what the guest would see moments later. Now, it gets loaded into a box and our “guest”, stuck at home, sees it twenty/thirty minutes later. Perhaps the box has been turned on its side or flipped over along the way. Given that the first taste is with one’s eyes, this is a really alarming change. Understanding the customer experience is essential in any business, and now our access to that experience is dramatically reduced. We have some customers we have cultivated as “Critical Friends”. They feel they are on the team, and they are indispensable. They have permission, actually a mandate, to be critical in the spirit of friendship, in the service of our kaizen, or “continuous improvement”. When their delivery arrives, they open it and send us a photo so we can see what they see. They send us notes on how various items held up. Some of our menu items travel better than others. Some lend themselves to being reheated. We have pared down the menu. We are testing new items with the Critical Friends. We have to take our packaging more seriously than ever. We are meeting with sales reps for competing packaging sources. We can’t assume our regular supplier has the best options. Before, as a full service restaurant, delivery was a small percentage of our business. Now it is critical. Many Japanese restaurants that serve sushi and bento boxes have had takeout packaging down for years. The packaging is exquisite. It doesn’t just hold the food – it enhances the dining experience. We are taking lessons from those operators.