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Blog: “When in doubt, attack,” says Bill Main FCSI

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Consultant Bill Main FCSI runs the rule over 'The big three' of a back-to-basics management philosophy

After 18 months of protracted and exhausting misery and unthinkable challenges to our industry, I am routinely asked the question, “But what can I do? How can I attract and keep the talent I need to both survive and prosper in the post-Covid world?”

I think George S. Patton said it right. “When in doubt, attack.”

Clearly, the labor market is in a state of total chaos as workers balance the incentives for not working (unemployment insurance and various other well intentioned government subsidies) against the challenges of re-entering the labor force wherein roughly half of the small restaurants have not re-opened and (maybe) never will.

Back to basics

Restauranteurs of all types, whether single unit independents or multi-unit chains are competing for front and back-of-the-house workers, often entry level. This means focusing on the basics.

Let me provide some sports metaphors:

~ in football, it’s the basics of blocking & tackling

~ in basketball, it’s a tenacious defense

~ in baseball, it’s throwing strikes

~ in soccer, it’s controlling the ball by effective passing

~ In golf, it’s keep your eye on the ball and swinging easy

As a result, I passionately believe for operators to attract the best candidates, they need to go back to the basics: essentially to ‘re-imagine’ their labor platform in a fundamental and logical way. How do they attract and keep the best and brightest employees as they gradually reopen in the post-pandemic world of 2022?

A ‘new-old’ foundation

There are three disciplines that are this ‘new-old’ foundation critical to this mission.

1. Job descriptions that are customized and relevant to each position. Not boiler plate…rather with a real and honest breakdown of the position and its specific nuances and characteristics. This sends the signal to the prospect that their performance will be monitored based on a criteria that is consistent with success for all: more guests, higher tips, higher hourly wages rewarding productivity, and the opportunity to rise within the organization.

2. Weekly calculations of food and beverage costs. Yes, this means taking a full physical inventory every Monday morning at 7 am. Yes, 7am. This sends a clear signal of focus, discipline and professionalism that will not be lost on the kitchen staff.

It sends a strong and unambiguous message to all back-of-the-house workers that you are carefully monitoring against theft, over portioning, and ensuring the freshest, high quality products.

Rotation of food products (typically in the walk-in refrigerator) so that the oldest are used first is as basic a discipline are “locking the front and back door every night” and is appealingly simple.

Alcohol, whether just beer & wine only or a full bar of distilled spirits, is particularly exposed to mismanagement (often) and theft as a result of sheer laziness of management; so it’s easy to re-focus on this simple and religious activity…because as iconic business management guru Peter Drucker said so well…”if you can measure it, you can manage it”

3. Use a third party mystery shopper every month. The old adage….still tried and true in 2021: “When the cat’s away, the mice will play” (Wikipedia definition: “When a person in authority is away, those under the person’s rule will enjoy their freedom”). I realize most operators are reluctant to take on this expense. Well, if you always do what you’ve always done; how can you expect a positive outcome?

Building (random) mystery shopping in to your ongoing management discipline is as basic as locking the front and back doors upon closing. Forget the excuses. Mystery shopping is all about form versus substance…it’s not about the results of these third party reports, it’s about sending a psychotically message to your managers and employees: you are looking for honest and inarguable facts on the ground; was the guest party greeted immediately? Did the server smile? Were the menus clean? Did the menu board have burned out lights? Was the food served hot? Was the tabletop clean and sanitary? Where the beverages refreshed? Were the bathrooms clean? Was the parking lot clear of refuse? And on and on it goes.

You are simply establishing accountability. Good employees will embrace it, marginal employees will likely leave.

Finding mystery shopping services is easy using Mr. Google.

It is also important to share the written mystery shops with your employees after redacting the specific information as relates to who, what and why.

Keep it generic but truthful, and present your findings in a relaxed, (non threatening) group meeting environment.

I promise you that if the restaurateur of 2022 adopts these three simple disciplines, sales will increase, costs will go down, and morale will improve.

Most importantly, the true “talent” in the marketplace will be attracted to this approach.

When in doubt, attack… but keep it simple.

Tucker W. “Bill” Main, FCSI, CSP