Righting The Ship: An Overview On Reprogramming Staff

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QUESTION From Nathan in N/A:

“I recently accepted a GM position at a very busy oceanfront “taphouse” restaurant. I don’t want to come in “guns ablazing”, but there is so much that needs fixed. What’s the best way to go about this? You guys always have the best advice!

Some examples: no one in the FOH wears nonslip shoes, servers wear any black bike shorts/leggings/PINK branded shorts, manager wears what she wants to include sandals in the kitchen and what looked like pajamas, manager’s 14 year old daughter also hangs out there, at the host stand on her phone, servers keep all of their purses/phones/food on a dining room table (even when on a wait! And a 6-top at that!), and no one’s ever held anyone accountable for anything. I know typically you sit back and observe for two weeks but I don’t think I can watch all of that for two weeks without fixing it. I’m not there to make friends, but would prefer the staff not to all walk out on me for changing too much too soon.

Should I just fix a couple major things ASAP and then slowly work on the other things?”


There are generally two schools of thought when it comes to approaching a hot zone like this.

But before discussing them: I’d be remiss in not first mentioning that, regardless of which approach you choose, neither will take route if you don’t have the clear and expressed support of those above you. Be sure that your DO, owner (or whomever has the final say) formally introduces you to the staff at a mandatory / all hands-on-deck meeting as THE point person and that their actions support that statement moving forward.

Having the owner formally clarify the chain of command eliminates any doubt as to whether or not you speak from him/her and that any direction coming from you has already received their approval not only mitigated staff running back and forth between you and your superior every time you attempt to re-direct; it also provides an opportunity for the staff to know your relevant experience / CV and squashes that often inevitable resistance or uprising that accompanies the fear that “this person doesn’t know what they’re doing”

Now back to the two schools of thought with regard to “SWAT Management”:

On one hand, you have those who like to go in heavy and fast ...guns blazing and with a “kick ass and take names later” mentality.

While this approach seems to be more popular with younger / less-experienced managers; I’ve seen a fair number of seasoned operators be successful with this approach as well.

“Bum Rush Management” can be extremely effective in markets with a strong labor pool as this less subtle style of repositioning an outlet almost always results in large numbers of ‘casualties’ / turnover due to the fact that most people are resistant to abrupt change AND outsiders.

We have innate and learned defense mechanisms that prevent us from automatically trusting people we don’t yet know. That’s not necessarily a bad thing...but if you go this route, I would advise to do so either only after the full and explicit support of ownership / partners (find out early-on if any hourly staff are “tenured”), an organization-wide ‘casting call’ and having a revamped training program in place; as staffing heavy and reprogramming with support in order to cover turnover is not only prudent - it’s imperative.

One manager who belongs to an online hospitality group I moderate says:

“Better to rip the puss filled, spent bandaid off, than let the wound fester on for months.”

While I appreciate the perspective of operators like her (who value getting a job done quickly), especially when time is of the essence, I prefer a more strategic approach.

Just as a doctor must first conduct a thorough examination of a patient’s body before diagnosing the problem(s) and then prescribing the best treatment; I think there’s incalculable ancillary value in watching the existing crew work all day parts for a week or two before developing an action plan.

If it’s been running like this for a while, another three to four weeks won’t hurt. Earn some trust from the team first before cleaning house.

Observe: their individual and collective dynamics, how they communicate with one another, arrival times, energy, presentations, safety measures in place, food handling, cash handling, policies and procedures, inventorying methods, shift change procedures, closing routines, steps of service, habits, overall levels of awareness, contributing factors to the existing culture, habits, overall facility, etc...

The third or fourth week should be spent reviewing, revising or creating handbooks and training manuals...just keep in mind that you can add to these materials as you go along (and can tell your staff that you’re going to) since waiting until they’re complete / finished only prevents your restaurant from getting just a little bit better every day- and that’s the goal here.

Just make sure you don’t spend 100% of your time there simply observing and recording what happens during each shift. You can assist on the line or on the floor doing things their way so that, once formal / group training begins, you can speak from a position of experience and can use specific examples when explaining why the “new way” is going to be better, easier and/or more efficient than the “old way”.

The crew needs to see you as a coach who is there to support them and make them better...and make them more money as well so - measure everything. Numbers don’t lie and as they say...”If you can’t measure it, you can’t really improve it.”

Once you’ve observed, explained, disseminated manuals and begun training/texting you should be confident that any resistance or failures at that point are not due to poor management but more likely due to “bad apples”. Document them thoroughly and get rid of them quickly.”

If you want to fuel your turnaround on good will, you’ll have to be careful not to exhaust your good will by not pacing yourself or by trying to tackle too much at once.

Make a list of your most pressing issues but avoid the pitfalls of addressing the biggest issues first. Take the time to consider the 90/10 rule and ask yourself: “If I only had enough time and resources to correct 10% of the issues here, which of them would make the biggest impact due to their ripple effect throughout the organization?”

e.g., While failing to check steak temps on grill is a huge issue that affects guest satisfaction, FOH pride, longer ticket times and refires/lost revenue - Revamping the inventory, ordering & receiving procedures sends the message that your inventory is valuable and deserves to be treated more like gold bars coming and going at the mint than cups of water being handed out along the route of a marathon. i.e., “Inspect what you respect”.

Finally, Never underestimate the value of having your MODs run pre-shift meetings. Huddling up as a team (in both BOH and FOH) is crucial. If the current schedule doesn’t facilitate that - CHANGE IT NOW so that it does. (Just be sure you have up-to-date availability sheets for everyone on staff before doing that).

At the end of the day, the most appropriate advice I can offer is this: Regardless of which style of management you choose; remember that, when it comes to change, it’s often better when the one effecting the change seeks to understand before seeking to be understood.

When time permits, schedule meetings with individual members of staff...or simply call them to sit down for an impromptu 10min chat. Ask if they have any input or suggestions to make re: what they think might make things better. Don’t feel obligated to reply or share your thoughts on their idea. Simply thank them and offer to consider their ideas. Your staff not only needs to not only feel like they’re being heard - they need to actually be heard.

Good Luck & Thanks for the question,