We’ve all been there. Upon arriving at a restaurant, we walk up to the host stand and suddenly feel invisible. Why is this staff members’ head down with their eyes glued to a computer screen when they should be greeting me with eye contact and a smile?
If we stop to consider the various tasks a host is responsible for, we might understand why they seem distracted. From managing walk-ins and seating charts to answering phones and accompanying guests to their seats, hosts are constantly multi-tasking. They deal with a multitude of questions, requests and concerns from both customers and staff, and are expected to do so with a smile on their face.
When a manager is asked to improve host hospitality, they may consider implementing rigorous training, adding new technology, hiring “more hospitable” staff or simply increasing head count. This is a situation in which we often reach for our wallets instead of our minds.
This is a situation in which we often reach for our wallets instead of our minds.
As an industry, we need to criticize our people less and critique the system more. If we focused harder on the process we’d realize that it often inflicts the errors we typically blame our staff members for.
Thinking fast and slow
Restaurateurs are notorious for thinking fast – in other words, making uninformed and reactionary decisions. If we were to think slower and critically evaluate the process versus an individual’s performance, we may come up with a far more successful long-term solution. According to Nobel Prize winner Daniel Kahneman, slow thinking involves reflection, problem-solving and analysis.
If one were to study how the host operates, they may find that the individual is responsible for handling an unreasonable amount of tasks. Instead of focusing on how to develop that individuals’ skills, they should consider the following:
- Is there a way to simplify certain tasks?
- Can any of the tasks be eliminated or rearranged?
- Could we allocate some tasks to existing staff that are not being utilized to their full capacity?
While coaching the individual is essential, it is integral to first understand their function and the process within which they operate. Assessing the process across all facets of your restaurant operations could help you identify flaws within the system that are negatively impacting individuals’ performance.
Be hard on the process, not the person.
Examining operational efficiency from front to back
In order to make informed decisions and truly harness the power of your people, you first need to assess and analyze your front and back-of-the-house operations in a segmented manner.
One way to learn more about how your organization operates is to have a key staff member track the sequence/flow of interactions among staff (e.g., a busser bringing plateware to the dishwasher) or between staff and guest (e.g., a server bringing a drink to a guest). I suggest observing and recording the following:
- Time: how long it takes to deliver the task at hand (i.e., start the clock when the guest’s request is made and end it once the request is complete). Be mindful of what may be causing delays.
- Sequence: whether the individual is performing tasks consistently and effectively (i.e., “dump and run”).
The objective of this exercise is to give you better insight into what is truly happening versus what you think may be happening. It gets you closer to the root causes and gives you real, unbiased facts to base your decisions on. It also allows you to develop a standard to measure and train against, along with a benchmark to improve upon.
I recently went through this exercise when we noticed longer ticket times in one of our restaurants. We decided to record which stations were experiencing delays and discovered that the issue was mainly stemming from one particular dish – the seafood casserole. Instead of assuming that the problem was due to the cook’s inabilities, we decided to observe the process of how the dish was being cooked. We recorded the sequence and cycle times of each task involved in preparing the dish on seven different occasions. We then analyzed which tasks could be combined, rearranged and eliminated – all while keeping quality and safety top of mind.
The result was a 20% decrease in ticket time, a 65% reduction in the cook’s hand time and a 33% reduction in delays at that work station. These efficiencies helped us lower the cook’s stress level and elevate their work, therefore improving the quality and consistency of the dish.
Since we have now stabilized the process, we can shift our focus to developing that cook and refining their role/purpose. Another advantage is that we have reduced waste and can now allow our staff to focus on more meaningful tasks.
The importance of stabilizing the process
In the restaurant industry, we are under constant pressure to deliver a superior guest experience. We often rely on our staff’s performance to deliver that experience, which is important. However, sometimes our staff is forced to deliver in an unstable environment in which the process begins to impede their performance. Those who truly understand their operating model and establish stability will be able to coach and lead in a purposeful way while respecting the work of their staff.