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Restaurant Management: Are You A Sergeant Or A General?

For those of you who do not know me personally, I have a confession to make.  I am a huge history nerd.  This means that The History Channel’s “America: The Story of Us” is taking up a large portion on my DVR.

I was watching the episode on World War II the other day when a particular statement from a General caught my attention.  He talked about the reasons soldiers fight.  He said that beyond all other reasons soldiers almost universally fight for the guy in the foxhole with them.

As a server, I can relate to this.  When the entire restaurant goes down in the weeds, you don’t fight through it for the sake of corporation or their shareholders.  You fight through it for your coworkers. You fight through it for those people who are fighting with you.  After the fight it is a bond you share.

There are many former coworkers out there I don’t particularly like as people, but will always respect because of the battles we went through together.  I would lend them a hand when they need it, because I know I could count on them when I need it.

To take the military analogy further, there are two types of restaurant managers: Generals and Sergeants. Generals send you into battle.  Sergeants lead you into battle.  You fight for Sergeants and you curse Generals under your breath the whole time.  Managers who fight with you and for you as Sergeants make you want to fight with and for them.  Managers who command as Generals will find a staff unconcerned with helping them win their battles.

It all comes down to one very simple principle:

Strong managers gain respect by their actions.  Weak managers demand respect because of their title.

With this in mind, here are three ways a manager can transition from a General to a Sergeant:

Get in the Battle: A manager who is on the floor running food and bussing tables will command the respect of their staff.  You cannot lead the troops from the host stand or the office.  If you don’t find it important enough to join in the battle, then your staff will feel their battle is not important to you.

This does not mean being a food runner during slow times.  It means helping out when the battle gets heated for your staff.  If you are not willing to help your staff when they need you, you can expect the same level of help in achieving your objectives.

Show You Care: Serving is different than most jobs.  Most jobs start with an agreement to pay a certain amount for a certain level of performance.  Servers agree to charge far less (sometimes less than minimum wage) with the understanding management will put them in a position to make far more in tips.  That is why servers take the job.

If you show your staff that you do not care about the amount of tips they make, you can not expect them to care about the parts of the job they are making minimum wage or less for.  When you show you care about them making more in tips, they will care more about the additional things you need them to do.

Be Willing to Apologize: Servers and managers are both experts at apologies to guests. Both generally stink at apologizing to each other.  Managers are forced to make judgment calls that can impact server’s income on a nearly shift-by-shift basis.  Even great managers get these calls wrong sometimes.

The reason they are great managers is because they are willing to own up to these mistakes.

Nearly all of these mistakes can be forgiven with a simple, “I made what I thought was the best call and I got it wrong.  I am sorry.”  This goes a long way in showing that you care.  This does not reduce your authority, but instead increases the respect for the decision.  Trying to stand behind and defend a decision that turned out poorly is a fool’s errand that shows you are more concerned with being in charge than being correct.

As a manager, a vast majority of your objectives depend on the effort and cooperation of your staff.  Having them fighting with you makes achieving most of these objectives far easier.  Managers who feel they must have an adversarial relationship with their staff will find little help in achieving their objectives.  This does not mean that the staff must love a manager who acts as a Sergeant.  Sergeants are not necessarily liked, but they are respected.  The troops respect the Sergeant though because they are in the battle with them and therefore are much more likely to fight for them.

Do you work for a Sergeant?  Any Generals out there want to tell the other side?  Any other suggestions from servers on what they appreciate in a manager?  Any former server turned manager who wants to share some insight?  The comment section is yours!

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Counting Plates (Part One)

Restaurant InventoryThe restaurant industry has its own jargon.  It may also have its own language.  We have the titles we give positions and then we have the nicknames we use.  Every back of the house employee in America has learned to answer to the nickname “ahneeda.”

Not familiar with that name?

Stop and count how many times a server walks up to the expo window during a shift and shouts, “Ahneeda side of ranch dressing.”

Managers have their own nicknames for server.  It is the only slightly less condescending “Havyoo.”   They can be heard all evening asking, “Havyoo refilled the drinks on table 32?”

Of course servers have their own name for managers: “wieroutuv.”  How many times have you heard recently, “wieroutuv spoons.”?

Today, I am going to talk about the topic all managers dread: renewals. Let me begin by saying it is not your fault.  The system by which most restaurants order plates, glasses, tableware, etc is fundamentally flawed.  You have been set up in a system that forces you to fail either the people who work for you or the people you work for.

Even worse, the system does a tremendous disservice to the guest, who we are all supposed to be trying to please.

In the last few years, renewal budgets have been shrinking faster than Dane Cook’s income.  This is particularly true in corporate restaurants.  Pencil pushers trying to maintain dividends for shareholders have seen this as an easy place to pinch pennies.  You are trying to do more with less and hearing the complaints daily.  You go over budget, servers still complain, and the guest wonders why their meal is taking so long.

In order to sell food and beverages to your guests, you need plates, glasses, and silverware.  You cannot predict which type of plate or glass is going to be broken on any given night anymore than you can predict which dusty bottle of single malt is going to be needed for the service.

When the bottle of Glenfiddich that has sat on the shelf behind your bar for three years gets low, your order a new one.  When a plate breaks you get annoyed and try to ride it out until the next period.  The broken plate was responsible for generating more revenue during its time in your restaurant than the bottle of scotch was, but you are more likely to immediately restock the bottle.

The source of the double standard is how most restaurants account for these items.  Food and liquor costs are accounted for as costs of goods sold.  An unopened bottle of scotch technically does not cost you anything because it is considered inventory.  An unopened case of glasses goes straight to the bottom line.  Since the profit generated by a plate cannot be directly accounted for, it is not counted as inventory on hand.  As a result this non-perishable revenue generator is seen purely as an expense.

Food and beverages are not seen as expenses on the P&L until they leave inventory.  Whether it is as a result of being sold, wasted, comped, or thrown away, until it loses the ability to generate income, it is not considered an expense.  A plate is considered an expense as soon as the invoice arrives.  Before it even comes out of the box, it hits your P&L.

There is no way to account for the revenue it generates from the time it is ordered until the time it must be disposed of.

Actually, there is.  Plates, glasses, and silverware should be accounted for as inventory.  This means that the actual cost of these items is accounted for when it is no longer capable of generating revenue.  By doing an inventory of these items your expense is calculated on what you lose, not what you use.

This is a far more accurate way to account for costs.  We all know the formula: beginning inventory+purchases-ending inventory=costs of goods sold.  Divide the result by sales and you have a more realistic idea of what loss actually costs you.

There are several more advantages to accounting for renewals in this way.  Tomorrow, I will outline just a few of them.  I know many of you do not have the power to make this happen at your restaurant.  You do have the opportunity to take credit for discovering this brilliant idea and passing it on to your bosses.

For those of you who do have the authority to change this, I can attest to the fact that it works because I have done it.  This might be the idea that allows you to stop answering to the name “wieroutuv” and focus on running your restaurant.

Read Part Two here!

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5 Ways Servers Steal Your Money

Server Stealing MoneyA server stealing from their restaurant is nothing new. Each year this happens thousands of times. It is also very seldom reported in the media. Most of these things are handled in house which means that you have no idea if the employee you just hired was fired from their last three jobs for theft. When it does hit the media it is disastrous for the restaurant. Even though the restaurant did the right thing by prosecuting the thief, the confidence of a restaurant’s customer base can be rocked for some time.

The best case scenario in this situation is always to catch the scam before it spreads. One server successfully executing a scam can lead to others following suit. This can mean an epidemic of theft that robs you of both money and a good portion of your staff.

Most people are honest and will not steal. The perfect storm of watching others benefit from the scam and thinking it is harmless to a large corporation provides justification to otherwise honest servers. Knowing how to catch these scams before they cost your restaurant money and staff is vital.

Here are 5 basic scams to watch out for:

1. The Penny Trick

This scam dates back well before my time in restaurants. A bartender places a penny, paper clip, or other item in the bar drawer each time they don’t ring in a cash drink. This is generally done with the same drink so the bartender can multiply the price of the drink by the number of items to know how much to pull from the drawer and place in their pocket.

The way to catch this one is simple. Most registers now have a large “no sale” message on the screen when the drawer is opened to make change. If money goes in the drawer at this point, there may be a problem. Bar drawers should be audited for any irregularities. No personal items should be allowed behind the bar. This also will prevent the theft of a bottle. The first line of defense though is to not have your drink prices end in even numbers. $3.00 draws including tax might be easier on your guests, but it also makes it easy for a thief.

2. Post Payment Adjustments

This one might be the most common and the most costly. Servers will ask the manager for an adjustment (comp, void, coupon, etc) to a check. What the manager does not know is that the table has already left and paid in cash. The server pockets the difference in the check before and after discount. This is increasingly common with the number of coupons and discounts offered entice guests to dine in a slow economy.

While it is the most common, it is also the easiest to combat. As soon as a manager does one of these discounts, they should visit the table. If the table is not there or has just started the meal, further investigation is required. This is also a great opportunity for a table touch anyway to ask how they got the coupon and when you will see them back.

3. The Buffet Trick

I knew of this trick before I waited my first table. At a restaurant where a ticket is not required to get food from the kitchen, a server will simply drop the check of a previous table with an identical tab. This is most common on salad bars and buffets. The restaurant is out the food and the server pockets the entire check.

If you run a buffet style restaurant and do not have procedures in place to combat this, this is most likely already happening. The simplest protocol here is to match the number of guests to the number the server charges for. I have seen this done in a number of ways, but the easiest is matching serial numbers on two chits. One is placed on the table by the host and retained by the server. The other is kept at the host stand. At the end of the night the numbers are matched to insure every meal is accounted for.

4. The Floating Soda

This is another old scam that should be addressed by modern POS systems. A server charges a table for their meal and their soda. If the table pays with cash, the soda is transferred to another table prior to closing the tab. This allows the server to pocket the price of a single soda numerous times. While this may not seem substantial, over time it adds up.

Your POS system should not allow servers to transfer any item without manager approval. Honest mistakes do happen and sometimes a manager will need to do this. Choosing not to make this task the manager’s responsibility is the equivalent of allowing it to occur. No matter how much you trust your staff, this temptation should be eliminated. Sodas should also be set up as a separate tracking category and servers with low soda sales should draw special attention.

5. Padding Checks

This one is the toughest to catch, but the most dangerous to your reputation. The restaurant is not directly out any money on this scam. Instead the server simply adds an extra drink to the guest’s tab. This is usually done with the same drink the guest is already having. The guest chalks it up to having one more than they thought and pays the bill without question. The server consumes the drink and continues to serve their guests.

This one is tough to catch because it will not show up on any report. The effects can be wildly felt though. If the guest catches it, they will raise hell. The number of people a scammed guest will tell dwarfs the number in the old adage about unhappy guests telling more people than a happy guest. You also are now left with a drunk server on your floor. Clear plastic cups for employee drinks and frequent communication with your servers throughout the night is the best way to catch this scam.

This is most certainly only a partial list. It does not include short-term scams that will be caught within the week. An employee that is trying to steal from you will show incredible ingenuity. Knowing how to prevent these most common ones will make it far more difficult. The key is deterrence and preventing the spread before it costs your restaurant money, staff, and reputation.

Read how to deal with a thief once you catch them.

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How To Beat Groupon With Core Value Marketing

Core Value MarketingFor years now restaurants have been instructed that marketing through social networks is the wave of the future.  A second boom has surfaced with companies promising closer ties to consumers for restaurant owners.  Social networking does provide a tremendous opportunity to restaurants that commit to successfully managing their online presence.

The reason why this works is that your potential guests are more likely to take the recommendation of friends or fellow customers over a much more expensive advertising campaign.  This is an important element of a restaurant’s marketing strategy, but I would contend that it leads too many restaurants to ignore a much greater marketing opportunity.

The highest form of bond you can create with a guest is not having them become your “friend” or “mayor.”  Instead, a greater bond is formed when a guest feels that a restaurant shares their values and believes in the things that they believe in.  I refer to this as “Core Value Marketing.”

The premise of this is simple.

People care far more about a number of issues than they do about where they eat.  If your restaurant can convey to these guests that it cares about their issues, loyalty is created with the guest.  In saturated markets where several similar restaurants serve similar products at similar prices, this is the best way for a restaurant to stand out.

The tremendous upside here is that there are many causes that people care deeply about.  People who care deeply about an issue will often be members of groups and online communities, or write blogs dedicated to these issues.  A mention in the PTA newsletter or on a popular community blog will create a far greater impression on a potential loyal guest than a simple advertisement.

It is more than just creating awareness of your restaurant; it is making a statement about what your restaurant believes in.  It is speaking to the core values held by your potential guests.  It gets the attention of your potential guests in a much more profound way than a special menu offering or discount ever could.

This has a number of benefits for the organization you choose to partner with as well.  They are able to generate funds without a great deal of extra work.  Instead, their supporters can contribute simply by choosing your restaurant instead of your competitor.  This means not having to send their kids out to sell something or hassle friends and family for a donation.

It does not require the organization to put forth much effort.  No upfront expenditures are required of them.  This means that the group does not have to spend a portion of what they raise to sponsor the event.  All you ask of them is to make their supporters aware of the promotion.  They do a little marketing and the restaurant does the rest.  This makes it a win/win for the organizations you are helping.

The long term benefits are also tremendous for the restaurants.  This type of promotion donates money to an organization, but does not devalue your menu.  Coupons, groupons, discount cards, etc. all reinforce the idea that your menu contains a great deal of markup.  While guests are always aware of this, these types of promotions place it in the forefront of their minds.

Making a donation from the guest’s total is seen as sacrifice rather than merely a discount.  This maintains the integrity of your pricing and creates the impression that you are charitable rather than momentarily less greedy.

The other long term benefit is creating a long term bond with your guests.  All other things being equal, a guest will still choose the restaurant that made a contribution to their favorite organization in the past over competing restaurants.  The exposure you gain from these types of promotions is far more likely to create long term guests.

Guests that come in for a deal will often only return for another deal.  Guests that are aware of your support of an organization that they care about will often return at full price as a sign of gratitude.

I have never seen a coupon create that kind of loyalty.

The best part of Core Value Marketing is that you can do well by doing good.  You can maintain most of your profit margin while creating a greater sense of community.

There are a number of creative ways to do this as well.  If you create a successful partnership, there are also many opportunities for free publicity.  In searching for stories for my Saturday column this week I came across examples of restaurant benefits for UNICEF, diabetes awareness, parent/teacher organizations, and many others.

As John Maxwell said, “You can get everything in life you want, if you just help enough other people get what they want.”

In my next post, I will outline some of the steps necessary to launch a Core Value Marketing effort.  This will highlight some of the best practices of successful efforts and how to avoid some of the potential pitfalls.  The restaurant industry is incredibly competitive.  You need a way to stand out from your competitors.  This is a way to market your restaurant while giving back to your community and the causes that you care about.  This is a rare opportunity to help improve your bottom line and the lives of your guests.

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Counting Plates (Part Two)

In Counting Plates: Parts One we discussed the difficulties faced by managers, servers, and guests resulting from shrinking renewals budgets.

I advanced the idea of treating glasses, plates, and tableware as inventory rather than purely as an expense. This allows the cost of these items to be more accurately reflected on your P&L. Breaking a plate is an expense. Buying a plate is a revenue generator that is essential to posting profits.

Imagine for a moment what would happen if food or beverages were accounted for in the way we account for plates. At the end of each period, the walk-in would be empty. The bar would be bare because anything not used became valueless. The last hour of the last period would become a fire sale on the three menu items you have in stock.

Would anyone really run a restaurant like this?

They do when it comes to renewals.

Not supplying your kitchen and servers with the items they need at the end of the period because the budget has been consumed, directly affects the guest experience. The several extra minutes a server spends looking for items around the restaurant not only affects the table it is needed for, but it also delays the needs of their other tables from being met.

Each of these tables’ turn time will influence your later tables and have a snowball effect. At the end of the shift, you have gone beyond the time you quoted at the front door and potentially turned away guests that you otherwise could have accommodated.

This is just the most immediate benefit; several others can be achieved as well.

Supplies When You Need Them: When you are first alerted that you are lacking something, you are already behind the curve. You must wait to place the order, order enough to avoid paying delivery fees, and wait for it to be delivered. This is enough time for a small problem to turn into a much larger one. This also allows you to avoid any issues with the items you need being on backorder.

Accurate Evaluation of Loss: When you account for items by the case, you only get a big picture view of what you are ordering. Knowing which items you are losing allows you to know which items are being lost. This will allow you a more detailed understanding of where your money is going. This will also allow you to change any practices that could be contributing to your loss.

Avoid “Snowball” Loss: When you are running low on high-use glassware, you are costing yourself more than you realize. A server who needs a pint to serve a drink runs to the dish room to have some cleaned. They then bring that rack of pints out into the hands of other anxious servers. Soon the glasses are filled with ice and crack from the heat transfer. Now you have at least one more glass to replace and potentially workers comp paperwork to fill out.

Improve Morale: It is frustrating to your floor and kitchen staff to not have what they need when they need it. Prevent this from becoming something they have to worry about and their morale will improve. This also saves your dishwasher from having to run emergency racks to get a specific item clean. This leads to a better guest experience and one less thing you have to field complaints about.

Protect Your P&L: When a server can’t find a ramekin for a guest, they are faced with some options. The first is to have the dishwasher run a load of ramekins to get them clean and then stock them. The other option is to grab a to-go ramekin and send it to the table. The cost of the first option is the server, guest, and dishwasher’s time. The cost of the second option is the price of countless lost plastic ramekins. Both will show up on your P&L in far more costly ways.

Prevent Passive-Aggressive Loss: When servers do not have the tools they need, they will get frustrated. When you complain about being over budget, they get more frustrated. They cannot take out these frustrations on the guest for fear of losing part of their tip. Instead some will take it out on the remaining items you do have. This happens far more often than you would expect.

Better Experience For Your Guests: If none of the other reasons existed, this one should be sufficient. When you fail to order necessary tools for your staff, the guest suffers. Even minimal delays based on lack of supplies leads to food sitting in the window, getting cold at the table, and guests not having what they want. Failing to keep supplies in house is failing your guests.

In the big picture, your time is better spent attending to your guests than it is ordering supplies. Keeping an inventory on hand will solve much of this problem. It will also better represent the financial situation of the restaurant. Making the transition will require time, but will save far more in the long run. Avoiding complaints, preserving morale, and providing superior service are all benefits of making the change.

This is time well spent.

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The Pre-Shift Meeting (Part Two)

Restaurant Pre-Shift MeetingIn part one of my discussion of pre-shift meetings, I discussed the things a manager can do to harm the effect of a pre-shift meeting.

It was by no means a comprehensive list.

There are many other mistakes managers can and do make that harm their pre-shift meetings.  It does however beg a very important question; how do you hold a successful pre-shift meeting?  Today, I hope to answer that by providing a template for these meetings.

One of the simplest actions managers can take to create effective pre-shift meetings is to follow a structure.

Having a template to follow in your pre-shift meetings allows you to develop a routine.  This routine will make planning your meetings far easier by enabling you to simply pick topics instead of trying to map out the meeting from scratch.  It also enables your staff to know what to expect and creates a structured beginning to their shifts.  This allows for more time to be spent by managers to plan the content and the servers to absorb it.

The timing of this meeting is an important factor to keep in mind.  Most restaurants stagger the arrival time of their servers to optimize labor dollars.  This can make the scheduling of your pre-shift meeting more difficult.  Holding this meeting while many of your servers have tables will often break up the momentum of the shift for them.  It is often wise to hold these meetings earlier to prevent this from happening, even if it means your final servers to arrive miss the meeting.

There are four general areas you should cover in every pre-shift meeting:

Housekeeping: These are the topics that affect the overall operations of the restaurant.  Be sure to cover any items that are out of stock or have limited availability.  Information from the corporate offices should be addressed in this portion of the meeting.  New items on the menu can be discussed for the staff to become familiar with.  Any upcoming events or holes in your schedule should also be mentioned.

In discussing these things it is important to remain upbeat and positive.  If you have bad news to address, take the time in advance to determine how to discuss it in the most positive light.

Forecast: This is your opportunity to talk about the shift that lies ahead.  Any special events in the area or factors that could drive sales should be addressed.  This also gives you a chance to discuss your thoughts on the evening.  No one expects you to be a psychic about the shift.  It is simply your predictions.

Much like watching the weather forecast, you do not have to be perfect, but knowing your thoughts can allow your staff to be prepared.

Teaching: This should be the primary focus of your meeting.  The time you have available is put to best use with topics that will benefit the restaurant beyond the impending shift.  Take time to discuss a specific skill that you feel can be improved on by the staff.  Even if it is just a review of skills your servers already have, it can be valuable to bring it into focus.  Five minutes a shift spent reinforcing skills can create an atmosphere of mastery that will radically improve your staff.

One of the best ways to do this is to have a weekly skills focus.  Rather than selecting a different topic every day, maintain the same topic throughout the week.  This repetition is the first step in creating positive habits amongst your staff.

For the first few days of the week, teach the skill to your staff and discuss it.  Midweek, let those who heard the teaching in the first few days share their success stories or best practices.  By the end of the week, let a member of your staff teach this part of the meeting.  Learning to teach the topic is far more effective in creating a long-term habit than simply repeating the information alone.

Inspiration: It is vital to end your meeting on a high note.  Do not let it dissipate into chatter as it ends.  Instead, find a way to end it on a high note.  This is your change to reaffirm the sense of shared purpose.  I am a big advocate of keeping a book of quotes in the manager’s office.  Having some other sources of inspiration will help keep you motivated.  It will also provide you with the content necessary to end these meetings on a high note.

Another way to end these meetings is to recognize a member of your staff for something they had done that week.  Any letters or compliments a server received should be recognized at this part of the meeting.  If you do not have any recent remarks to share, ask you staff if they have seen anything worth commending.

Follow this up by challenging them to create a story during that shift to be shared at the next meeting.  Creating this routine will cause your servers to start looking at the skills of others and how they can adopt them as well.  This also builds into the sense of purpose that motivates your staff.

These areas should all be addressed in less than 10 minutes.  The effectiveness of your meeting ends when your audience’s attention span expires.  Following this routine will extend the time they will pay attention by letting them know what is left to expect.  Taking the time to hold an effective pre-shift meeting can be the most effective form of continuing education you can offer.  When you take advantage of this time and the opportunity it provides to improve your staff, your bottom line will reflect it.

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The Pre-Shift Meeting (Part One)

The Pre-Shift MeetingI have worked for a number of companies over the years that held pre-shift meetings with the servers. They have been called a variety of things: line up, fresh talk, jump start, family meal, and many other names have been used to refer to these meetings. I have also managed at a handful of restaurants and ran my own pre-shift meetings.  Having been to thousands of these meetings over the years, I have been able to determine a number of factors that contribute to the success or failure of these meetings.

No matter what you call the meeting, the objective should always be to set the proper tone for the shift.  This is your chance to get your staff focused on the shift in front of them.  Many managers enter these meetings casually and without preparation.  Others use it as an opportunity to complain to the staff about their performance.  Some managers will even skip them all together because they feel it is a waste of time. All of these styles still share one thing in common: they set the tone of the shift.  Your pre-shift meeting will set the tone, positive or negative, for the rest of the evening.

With the potential to make this sort of impact on a shift, I am a firm believer in a well-planned per-shift meeting.  When holding a pre-shift meeting, here are some ideas to keep in mind:

Remember Your Audience: The goal of your meeting should be to inform, focus, and motivate your staff.  Too often managers will get sidetracked into discussing profitability or memos from corporate.  These are particularly relevant to managers, but seldom merit any of the limited time available for this meeting.  These things can be discussed in a managers meeting.  Use your time at the pre-shift meeting for just the information relevant to your servers.

Keep It Positive: If you don’t have anything nice to say, don’t say anything at all.  Before you enter a meeting with bad news, come up with a way to spin it into a positive.  You are setting the tone for the shift.  Expressing any negativity or doubt will permeate the shift.  Remain positive and keep the staff motivated.

Maintain Focus:
While it is valuable to keep these meetings upbeat and relaxed, you must maintain control.  It is very easy for these meetings to be carried away by jokes or complaints.  It is your job to see when this is happening and take control of the meeting again.  As you develop a pattern of running your pre-shift meeting in this way, it will be easier to keep them focused.

Convey Weekly Messages: Your pre-shift meeting should follow up on the issues you are trying to impress upon the staff for the week.  Remember that not all of your staff is at every meeting.  The repetition will help drive the point home for those who have heard it before and allow those who haven’t to hear it the first time.  Repetition is vital to the long-term retention of information.

Take It Seriously:
You can only expect your staff to take these meeting with a fraction of the seriousness you bring to them.  Showing up unprepared and unfocused will send the signal to the staff that the meeting is not important to you.  If it is not important to you, they will not see the value in it.  Be prepared, focused, and present information with a conviction that it will help them in the upcoming shift.  This is valuable time and you need to take it seriously to get the greatest return on your investment.

The value of a good pre-shift meeting cannot be understated.  Taking the time to get your staff focused on the shift ahead and conveying training points will improve the quality of the shift and the service given.  Managers who fail to take advantage of it too often squander this opportunity.   Running positive, informative, and educational pre-shift meetings in one of the most important skills of a manager.  Fully utilizing this time will improve your shifts and your bottom line.

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Marketing Your Restaurant’s Core Values

Cor3e Value MarketingIn a previous post, I discussed the benefits of implementing Core Value Marketing as part of a successful growth strategy.  This type of program creates a bond with your potential guests while providing tremendous opportunities for free publicity.

Most importantly, it allows you to provide much needed support to organizations in your community that need it to continue their good works.  This is a win/win proposition that allows your business to grow while helping the causes you care about.  Your business does well because it is doing good for others.

Success in Core Value Marketing is contingent upon a number of factors. Determining the right organization, offer, and tracking methods are instrumental to producing the results that you would like to achieve.

Restaurants that attempt to provide benefit to their community often are disappointed in the response, but rarely recognize that the failure was based on a poorly designed and implemented plan.  Successfully organizing a Core Value Marketing program that benefits both the restaurant and the group you are helping, requires taking several factors into account.  Failing to consider each of these items could result in a plan that disappoints both the restaurants and the groups you intend to help.

Here are some important steps in executing a successful Core Value Marketing campaign:

Determine the Offer: Are you going to offer a rebate to the organization or a discount on gift certificates?  Is it going to be valid for a day or a month?  Just during the week or on the weekends as well?  How will your distinguish which guests came in because of the offer?

The first step is to determine what type of offer you can afford to make.  A smaller rebate or highly restricted offer will deter many of your potential guests.  A large rebate with no restrictions may displace other guests or damage your bottom line.  Before making an offer to any organization, you must know what is practical and affordable.

Determine the Organization:
Once you know what you can afford to offer, it is time for you to find a group to partner with.  There are several factors to keep in mind when selecting the group.  You must choose a cause that people feel passionate about.  The group that represents this cause should have the ability to quickly distribute this information to those who care about it.

Large charities may not find your offer worth investing their time in.  Smaller charities might not have the reach to drive traffic through your doors.  A mid-sized, community based group will probably yield the best results.  Also take some time to consider any drawbacks to the organization you are considering.

There are too many worthwhile causes available to choose one that may potentially cause a backlash.  Stay away from political groups or those who are even slightly controversial.  You may also want to add special consideration to groups who allow you to make a tax deductible donation.

Spread the Word: While the organization you choose should do most of the marketing, use your connections to publicize it as well.  Send a well written press release to any media outlets in your market.  These often will appeal to newspapers and radio stations looking for a feel good story on a slow news day.

Do not forget to provide these releases to any local bloggers who write about the issue.  Make sure your contact with the organization has copies of your logo and basic information about your restaurant.  Make certain that they have all the information on the promotion and the restaurant correct to prevent angry guests from arriving at your door.

Track the Progress: This is one of the most important steps in the process and the one where most restaurants fail to capitalize on the program.  One of the first decisions you must make is how you will track the sales generated by this program.  If your promotion continues for more than one evening, you should opt to track it in house.

You should provide updates on the amount of money earned by the group throughout the promotion.  This creates excitement for the group and may inspire a last minute push to get more of their supporters to take advantage of the promotion.  This also creates another great opportunity to send out a press release and gain some more free publicity.

Publicize the Outcome: After completing a successful campaign, the last thing you want to do is mail a check.  This is another great opportunity to solidify your connection with the organization you are supporting.  Again, press releases are your friend.

Bring the group a big oversized check and find a good opportunity to present it.  Try to get the local media to show up for the ceremony.  Make sure you have a camera present as well.  Hang a picture of the presentation in your lobby.  Let your guests know about the size of your donation.  Use this positive publicity to excite the next organization you work with.

The opportunity to gain exposure for your restaurant while helping the community is far more fulfilling than publishing another coupon.  The benefits of this type of marketing go far beyond simply increasing sales.  Your staff will respond far more favorably to this type of promotion than discount based incentives.  The integrity of your menu pricing is maintained in the minds of your guests.  You also have the ability to convey to the community that you want to be a good corporate citizen.

These benefits make Core Value Marketing a wise component of your restaurant’s marketing plan.

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