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Viral Post Highlights Real Leadership

What a Viral Reddit Post Reveals About Leadership in Hospitality

by David Klemt

Reddit app icon on smartphone

A text exchange between a restaurant manager and delivery driver posted to Reddit went viral last month.

Refreshingly, it didn’t make the rounds on news sites for the wrong reasons. Rather, the text conversation is a succinct example of emotional intelligence, empathy, and leadership.

Those interested in reading the text exchange in its entirety can follow this link. However, I’ll sum it up here.

Posted to the subreddit Kitchen Confidential, the conversation begins with the manager checking in on the driver, asking, “You doing OK?”

The driver says they’re “doing better but” is still dealing with a lot. After the manager asks if they should cover their shift that night, the driver reveals they may need to quit the job.

Instead of blowing up at the driver, trying to talk them out of their decision, or cutting the exchange short, they say, “It’s alright [sic].”

Going further, the manager says, “You’re [sic] happiness is more important.” They add that the business hopes the driver will return to the job when they’re ready.

Shall I Cover You Tonight?

Now, I tend to believe that most members of restaurant, bar, and hotel leadership teams are empathetic. I also lean toward believing that most are competent problem solvers.

However, we’ve all come across people who don’t belong in a leadership role. In some cases, a person’s lack of leadership qualifications doesn’t manifest until they’ve been in the role for some time.

My business partner Doug Radkey and I have had conversations about leaders who don’t seem to lead. At best, they’re examples of what not to do. At worst, they’re chasing away a business owner’s staff and guests.

Most recently, these conversations have centered around managers insisting that staff solve scheduling problems themselves.

Before I proceed, I acknowledge fully that we’re facing an unprecedented labor shortage. That’s no excuse for poor leadership.

What, exactly, is the leadership team doing that they can’t manage the schedule? Further, with today’s modern scheduling platforms, why is filling available roles difficult for leaders? Several scheduling apps make it a painless, automated process.

The manager in this Reddit text exchange doesn’t demand the driver find someone to cover their shift. Instead, they behave like a manager and handle it themselves.

Don’t Ever Discount Yourself

If you’re active on LinkedIn and have a sizeable hospitality-centric network, you’ve likely seen posts about how the industry needs to be more people-focused. Not in terms of guests—that’s obvious.

Rather, the consensus is that we’re not going to solve the labor problem if we don’t treat staff as well as we treat guests. Some of these posts may be a bit saccharine, but they’re not incorrect.

Let’s review the texts from this manager:

  • “You doing OK?”
  • Your “happiness is more important.”
  • “We love having you here.”
  • “You’re an awesome person.”
  • “Don’t ever discount yourself.”

When’s the last time you and other members of the leadership team asked a staff member if they’re okay? And if you’ve asked recently, did you get an honest answer? Did you want an honest answer?

A restaurant or bar team that doesn’t trust leadership isn’t going to bother providing an honest answer to that question—they feel like the leaders don’t care about them.

Looking at the rest of the texts above, do you and your leaders take the time to recognize and thank staff? Even the shyest team member wants recognition for a job well done.

Those in leadership roles need to develop their skills constantly. Contrary to some in those positions, leaders aren’t there simply to lord their authority over others and dish out punishments.

So, before your next team meeting, gather the leaders. Find out if every member of the team is checking on staff, valuing their health and wellness, and tackling the mundane tasks that are inherent to their roles.

The maxim is true: People don’t quit jobs, they quit people. If your leadership team isn’t leading with empathy, you can expect your labor issues to compound. No amount of excuses will turn that around.

This article by KRG Hospitality director of business development David Klemt was first published by Bar Business and can be read in its entirety by following this link.

Image: Brett Jordan on Unsplash

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Hiring and Training Staff for Consistency

Hiring and Training Staff for Consistency

by Nathen Dube

Happy and well-trained In N Out kitchen staff

Every restaurant needs to hire staff. This is probably the second most important pre-opening task after deciding on a concept.

Hiring can be an arduous process and hiring the wrong person is often detrimental to success. It costs time, money, and effort to replace and repair the damages.

Putting a fully developed onboarding plan in place—compelling job ads, effective interview and selection processes, in-depth training manuals, and training schedules—can help streamline hiring and retention, and make new hires feel welcome and confident in their roles.

Hiring and Onboarding

Creating a strategy to onboard all staff, adjusting for differing positions (cooks, servers, managers, etc.), will help to identify potential employees that fit your needs skill- and attitude-wise.

A strategic plan will streamline the entire process, start to finish. Think of it as your recruiting and hiring “recipe.”

Answering phone calls, scribbling notes, writing emails, losing phone numbers… Operating without a plan can be very frustrating and time consuming for everyone. After all, running your restaurant is far more important than being your own HR department.

The problem is that many organizations see training as an expense and not as an investment. Untrained employees will, inevitably, lack the motivation and knowledge to use company resources properly.

A lack of training in the hospitality industry leads to:

  • costly waste;
  • employees who feel unappreciated in their job;
  • employees with a general sense that their job doesn’t matter; and
  • unsatisfactory guest interactions that impact guest retention negatively.

At this point, employees either leave or get fired for poor performance.

While it may seem simple just to replace one worker with another, consider this: Hiring someone can cost up to 30 percent of the job’s salary. For an employee that makes $40,000 a year, that could equal around $12,000 to hire someone new.

However, training an existing employee correctly might only cost a few hundred dollars, reducing invested time. Even if replacing one employee doesn’t sound that bad, consider that for every three employees who need to be replaced, that will equal an entire salary with no real gains.

Clearly Define Roles and Responsibilities

From the outset, outlining job roles and daily responsibilities properly is extremely important to ensure that all staff are on the same page.

Building and maintaining a well-oiled machine takes time and planning. However, identifying and distributing responsibilities as equitably as possible will help things flow smoothly.

Differing service times can lead to staff friction when tasks are not being completed effectively for the next shift. The lack of a clear plan regarding responsibilities such as prep, stocking fridges, putting away orders, cleaning, and maintenance will inevitably cause confusion.

Yes, writing out a daily walkthrough and task list from shift start shift end time for each role in your organization will take some time and effort. No, it isn’t the most fun job you’ll do.

But doing so will make onboarding and training a seamless and less time-consuming transition overall.

How to Train New Restaurant Employees

When you’ve completed the interviews, made your hire, and are now bringing in your new staff, where do you start? Who is responsible for training? (Yes, this should be delegated in your plan!) What station do they start on and what is the timeline for moving them along?

Having a plan for onboarding that is mapped out in an employee manual will help to clearly explain your company’s policies and expectations; training modules; and all other helpful information to a new hire.

Expecting a line cook, who may even be green themselves, to convey this to a new employee is like playing the telephone game in grade one: it doesn’t work and is irresponsible.

Setting up detailed, specific workstation plans is the first step. The second step is to plan training shifts and specify who is going to be training new hires.

Batch training can make this process easier. Have your head chef or front-of-house manager spend time to train all the new hires, not just the one or two who happen to be working that day. Be sure to include other positions like sous chefs and floor staff.

This last step, along with a solid training manual, helps eliminate starting the whole process over again every time a position turns over. It also completely mitigates the disaster of staff members being trained differently. Consistency will be solid across the board.

Different Strategies for Part-time Staff

A great part-time employee program can elevate your full-time staff.

With the peaks and valleys of busy restaurant periods fluctuating around lunch and dinner, for example, full-time staff can be overworked and then swiftly underutilized. Part-time employees on the other hand, when scheduled correctly don’t experience the swing in workload.

Although part-time staff offer flexibility in scheduling, it can be difficult to find time to train them. However, part-time workers should not be excluded from training just because their hours are limited.

Organizing training specifically for your part-time employees is crucial to the success of your team. Scheduling a part-timer to come in on a busy Saturday lunch shift and flounder around strains and stresses out the rest of the staff. That’s the last thing you want or need.

Part-time staff benefit from shorter periods of training engagement than your full-time staff. You do want to include them in your large training sessions but will certainly have some who can’t make it.

Since their schedules are limited, you can train part-time staff via 15-minute lessons during pre-shift meetings. These talks can cover can anything from kitchen hygiene reminders, menu walkthroughs, customer service, and proper table setting.

Using your best staff for on-the-job training can also be beneficial to your part-timers. Shadowing during shifts provides a visual, real-world representation of everything written out in your employee manual. Following in the footsteps of someone in the role a part-timer has been hired for is an excellent way for them to understand their responsibilities and tasks in real-time.

Not only is it an opportunity to understand how the whole team functions, it’s a chance to meet colleagues and bond with the team.

Streamline Your Menu

As mentioned in a previous post, the streamlining of your menu benefits everyone from the top down.

Trying to train a new employee on how to cook (or serve) every single item on a large menu can be daunting. Keeping your menu narrow and focused will make an employee’s transition into their new position.

This is where your employee manual will come into play again. Recipes and pictures, along with training and tastings, will give new staff the confidence to cook and serve the dishes skillfully. Shadow shifts will complete the picture for them with hands-on training.

Conversely, having a large menu creates unnecessary confusion and takes a longer time for staff to feel comfortable.

Everything on your menu needs to be something that your kitchen and serving staff can handle efficiently without putting undue burden on your staff. Choose recipes that include ingredients that you know fit within your budget and concentrate on making them the best they can be. Good food is more about taste than presentation.

Seasonal menu changes should be addressed via staff meetings, updated recipe cards, tastings, and even testing for all staff. Consider using these events to train and onboard your new staff to start them on the right foot and avoid them having to play catch-up.

Don’t Discount Human Communication

Everyone wants to implement the latest technology to save money, resources, labour costs, and to deliver superior product.

One thing that needs to be remembered when training staff is this: even with all these new processes, human interaction is still necessary for a functioning business.

That is, human skill is still required to cook and plate delicious, Instagram-worthy food, and to deliver that food to the guests at the table. For the time being, human interaction is what creates memorable dining experiences and keeps guests coming back!

The opposite end of that spectrum happens when technology fails or crashes. Troubleshooting and problem-solving skills are required by your staff every day.

Train staff how to utilize your technology stack but also understand the “old-fashioned” ways.

Effective Troubleshooting Ability: Importance of Teamwork, Repetition, Consistency

 A solid training strategy produces a staff that values teamwork, a team with effective troubleshooting skills, and consistent results.

When you identify the roles you are looking and the responsibilities that come along with them, plus delegate and train properly, you are essentially giving your staff the ability to individually and collectively trouble shoot any issues that arise.

These problems can relate to customer service, broken equipment, inventory problems, and other issues that might come up when you or your leadership team aren’t there to fix things.

Everything talked about here is the foundation you should be building on to create an environment that thrives on teamwork. From the minute you onboard new staff they are comfortable in what is being asked of them and are given plenty of opportunity to work alongside colleagues.

Excellent teamwork leads to consistency and repetition of food, drinks, and service regardless of who is working the front or back of house. There is nothing more disappointing than returning to a restaurant only to have a substandard experience.

Implementing these programs even before opening day will help to keep you and, more importantly, your staff happy, thriving, and creating an amazing experience for your guests time and again!

Image: nick jenkins on Unsplash

by David Klemt David Klemt No Comments

Tip Elimination is Back on the Table

Tip Elimination is Back on the Table

by David Klemt

Person holding up cash

Several operators across the country feel that as we emerge from pandemic life, now is the time to once again try eliminating tips.

Back in 2015, Danny Meyer made a decision about tips in his restaurants that sent shockwaves through the industry. Over the course of five years, Union Square Hospitality Group (Meyer’s group) implemented a hospitality included policy to eliminate tipping.

To be sure, it wasn’t only Meyer’s restaurants that examined and put no-tipping policies in place. However, Union Square was certainly among the highest-profile operators to try it out.

Good Intentions

Per the CEO of Union Square and founder of Shake Shack, attempting to do away with tipping was about promoting equity in the hospitality.

Tipping has been linked to the propagation of sexism, racism, harassment, and exploitation.

Meyer has also said that he believes it leads to wage instability, and studies have shown it contributes to outright wage theft. And, as anyone who has worked in a restaurant knows, tipping can create a gap—and therefore tension, among other issues—between the front of house and back.

However, it has proven difficult to for no-tipping policies to take hold. This is in part because tipping is so ingrained in American society. And, of course, there’s also the issue of increasing menu prices; some people are fine with tipping but not with paying more for menu items.

Guests aren’t the only individuals who have pushed back against eliminating tips. Unsurprisingly, the very people Meyers and other operators are trying to help have rejected no-tipping policies.

Many servers and other FoH staff have made it clear that they’re not interested in working for an operator who eliminates tips.

Reinstatement of Tipping

Around eleven months ago, Meyer announced he would reverse course on his hospitality included policy. According to reporting, Meyer had done so not because of pushback against increased menu prices (about 15 to 20 percent to cover increased labor costs).

Rather, the five-year experiment never worked exactly as Meyer and Union Square had hoped. As he told Pulitzer Prize-winning journalist Jonathan Capehart during a Washington Post Live conversation back in March of this year, the policy wasn’t sustainable.

“It worked to a degree, but it was not sustainable, and the biggest reason it wasn’t sustainable was we could never quite do all the things we wanted to do for our team members like make sure that a formerly tipped employee could make as much as she made when she was tipped, make sure that we had a 401(k) plan, make sure we had a really, really generous family leave policy,” Meyer told Capehart.

And then there was the impact of the pandemic. Meyer finally pulled the plug on his no-tipping policy after New York allowed restaurants to reopen for outdoor dining a year ago. Reportedly, Meyer didn’t see how he could stand in the way of his staff making additional money.

2021 Experiment

Interestingly, several news outlets are reporting that operators around the country are at least considering doing away with tips this summer.

Again, this is at least in part due to the pandemic. Restaurateurs who have wanted to implement policies similar to Meyers’ Hospitality Included see this year as the time to try.

We still don’t know exactly what post-pandemic life will be. However, a hospitality industry reset is certainly coming—and it’s absolutely overdue.

So, it does make sense that as operators can change guest and staff perception of tipping and living wages as we all emerge from pandemic life and face a new world.

For example, the Chicago Tribune has reported that Big Jones, owned and operated by Paul Fehribach, has implemented service fees so he can cover offer servers between $18 and $25 per hour. A 20-percent fee for in-person dining or placing an order with a live person, and a 10-percent fee attached to online orders go to Big Jones payroll.

While there has been some pushback, the Chicago Tribune reports that Fehriback says Big Jones reactions are trending toward the positive.

It’s possible that tip elimination simply doesn’t work for some restaurant categories. As an example, those policies may work out in the casual dining space but not fine dining. Time will tell if it works at all.

Image: Sharon McCutcheon on Unsplash

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International Chain Slashes Menu

International Chain Slashes Menu

by David Klemt

Applebee's Grill & Bar casual dining restaurant

If you’re curious as to whether “lean and mean” menus are here to stay as a result of the pandemic, look no further than one international chain.

Moving forward, Applebee’s Grill + Bar menus will be some 60 items lighter.

The chain’s menu will be 38 percent smaller, and the change is permanent.

Significant Overhaul

Of course, it isn’t like the Applebee’s menu is tiny now. At about 100 items, it’s still larger than most independent restaurant menus. For contrast, KRG Hospitality president Doug Radkey, in most cases, recommends 12- to 32-item food menus.

Still, the casual dining chain cutting 60 items permanently is a big move.

The decision is a direct result of the pandemic and the toll it took on Applebee’s and the industry overall. Unfortunately, like many operators big and small, chain and independent, the chain had to furlough staff. Lightening the menu made it easier for the chain to adapt and shift toward takeout and delivery.

Weak performers and complex items that affect efficiency are gone. According to John Cywinski, Applebee’s president, the decision means faster ticket times, more consistency, and better efficiency.

Among the 60 or so items that are no longer available: the triple cheeseburger, clam chowder, and BBQ brisket tacos.

Streamline Summer

The decision to eliminate dozens of complex and lagging items puts Applebee’s in a better position for Summer 2021, potentially.

Speaking with CNN Business, Cywinski said, “The team will have to be very thoughtful about every single product or beverage they introduce, and the consequence of it from a complexity standpoint.”

That thoughtful approach is crucial in large part because of Applebee’s new menu policy: When a new item comes onto the menu, an old item must go.

Accordingly, Applebee’s can remain innovative while avoiding once again inflating their menus.

With demand for social interaction, a return to normalcy, and in-person restaurant and bar visits set to explode, Applebee’s finds itself with a menu that’s nearly 40-percent smaller. That should make it simpler for the chain’s restaurant and bar teams to fill orders quickly, efficiently, and consistently.

Menu Refresh

Every operator needs to know their numbers. That doesn’t just mean costs and inventory, by the way.

Do you know the cook times for each food item on your menu? Do you know how many dishes you can make with a given ingredient? Is thoughtful cross-utilization an important element of your F&B operations?

The answers to those questions can help you identify bottlenecks in your operation and become more agile.

Another important question to consider: Do you know which menu items are your slowest sellers? If you do, answer this: Why are they still on your menu?

When you eliminate an item, yes, some guests will express their disappointment. You’ll have to weigh the costs of keeping a poor performer against freeing up resources by losing an item that rarely sells. You may even identify an item that you personally love but just doesn’t move. Again, you have to do what’s best for your bottom line.

You may not have 160 items on your menu. You may not have 100. That doesn’t mean you don’t have at least a handful of items that you can eliminate to reduce costs and increase revenue.

Image: Applebee’s Grill + Bar

by David Klemt David Klemt No Comments

The Reality of Hiring Right Now

The Reality of Hiring Right Now

by David Klemt

Help Wanted sign taped in window

Operators can add recruitment, hiring and retention among to the growing list of challenges they’re facing due to the pandemic.

Labor struggles aren’t exactly a shock to the hospitality industry.

However, the speed with which the many stark predictions of labor shortages and challenges across North America has caught some by surprise.

Outlook: Brutal

Fast-casual to fine dining. Independent to chain. Regional hospitality group to multi-national powerhouse.

No operator, no concept, no market appears immune to today’s recruitment, hiring or retention challenges.

It’s not the only reason but the federal boost to unemployment is exacerbating the situation. Restaurant operators across America have been reporting that their workers are making more on unemployment than they would make returning to their jobs.

It’s likely the hiring situation won’t improve until the end of August or start of September; the federal boost to unemployment is set to expire on September 6.

Of course, that points to another glaring industry issue: livable wages and benefits.

The pandemic didn’t cause the labor shortage and hiring problem on its own, but it certainly hasn’t helped anything. Some operators throughout North America say they’ve been hunting for workers for all positions for months.

Incentives & Bonuses

Operators are fighting for workers. To many reading this, that’s not a surprise. However, many operators report fighting to even get candidates to show up for interviews.

Famously, one McDonald’s franchisee in Tampa, Florida, is using a $50 incentive for interviews. If a candidate manages to follow through and show up for their interview, they walk away with $50.

During a recent conversation with Chef Brian Duffy (which we’ll be releasing as episode 33 of the Bar Hacks podcast), interview incentives came up. While it’s no $50 bonus just for showing, Chef Duffy has offered candidates free lunch for appearing for their interviews. And yes, he still struggles.

Interestingly, appearance incentives don’t appear to be working. What does appear to be working? Increasing starting wages, referral programs, apply-via-text functionality, and all manner of signing and performance-based bonuses.

The bonuses run the gamut. Show up for all your shifts for three or four months and earn a $500 bonus. Paying down student loans. Fronting the bill for culinary school. One restaurant in Alabama is offering an SUV to their top-performing worker later this year.

In addition to bonuses, wages are seeing a boost. Jobs that would normally start at $12 to $15 per hour are now offering starting wages of $16 to $18 dollars per hour.

No matter how one slices it, the situation leads to cost hikes across the board for operators. When costs increase for operators, prices increase for consumers. Margins shrink, the old cycle continues, the industry struggles.

Reality Check

Now, it’s simple to blame the pandemic for the current situation. To say it’s not a major factor would be incredibly disingenuous.

That said, the struggle to find and keep workers is also a culmination of decades-long, industry-wide problems.

Lack of diversity, inclusion, equality, living wages, opportunities, and transparency; failure to address social issues; inexcusable, threatening, and outright illegal behavior… All of this and much more contributes to the industry’s hiring and retention challenges.

That’s a criminally shallow summary of the situation—I’m well aware. Doug Radkey, president of KRG Hospitality, addresses the need to review and reset the industry in his book Hacking the New Normal. He takes a deep dive into rejecting the status quo in this industry.

My point is that operators can’t blame their woes solely on the pandemic, absolving themselves of responsibility.

Operators must take a hard look at themselves and their operations, and ask difficult questions. Doing so can be uncomfortable. But neither positive change nor growth come from resting in the comfort zone.

Image: Tim Mossholder on Unsplash 

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