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Some restaurants have plan at start of night
July 9, 2013 - Anita Hanaburgh
By ANITA HANABURGH
Ever wonder why some restaurants seem so put together, able to put up with the crowd and smile through it all? They have a plan. Ever arrive at a restaurant before it opens to find all the waiters and waitresses seemingly sitting around doing nothing? They are making a plan. Ever wonder why some events come off smoothly, with no panicking, no big messes and no unhappy customers? They had a plan.
When I worked at the Coach House in Saratoga, the wait staff was required to come in at 4 p.m. The restaurant opened at 5 p.m. for dinner. The first half-hour was for meal set-up and small food prep. The tables were set for dinner by the lunch workers, but each dinner waiter or waitress had to “polish” his or her tables — check for neatness and completeness.
During this time, extra napkins were folded, chairs were arranged to fit the reservations, pies were cut, butter was plated, menus were sorted, lipstick was placed and hair was combed. The dining room mise en place (everything in its place) was set.
?After setup from 4:30 to 4:45 p.m., the restaurant had a nightly pre-meal meeting. A meeting every night might seem like a lot, but this 15 minutes worked miracles. The meeting was attended by the wait staff, bus persons, host/hostess, bartender, and kitchen staff when possible.
What was the purpose of such meetings? The purpose of such a meeting was four-fold: to gather together and coordinate activities, to troubleshoot possible problems, to improve the feeling of camaraderie and to motivate and create a positive attitude.
What activities were coordinated in these 15 minutes? At the Coach House, we assigned table stations to each wait person and informed everyone about the reservations and the special people expected. We distributed the checks to each server. We assigned the bus persons. The chef explained the specials or food changes — i.e. only two apple pies. We spoke of needs as the number of candles left. We learned of changes in any system — cash register, credit cards, tax etc. We sometimes distributed paychecks or employment information. And we often shared issues, big (the bathroom is just too small) and small (the napkins come back stained) and ideas (why don’t we move the hostess station closer to the door?). Sometimes, we would troubleshoot during this time. Customer complaints were acknowledged. Problems were tackled or scheduled for another time.
In addition to ad hoc thoughts at this meeting, there was a notebook at the hostess station where any staff could write down concerns that a staff member thought needed to be addressed — i.e. water on the floor by the dishwasher, clam chowder running out too fast, de-caf coffee not being replenished. The notebook also was used for staff suggestions or ideas to improve service, sales or anything. (One idea: Offering a wine special by the glass each night increased our wine sales by 15 percent.)
As the dining room manager, I kept a set agenda to keep the meeting moving. I can cover a lot in 15 minutes. How could the feeling of camaraderie occur in this 15-minute meeting? First of all, we were gathered together for a common purpose. We had to stop and focus together. By coordinating activities, we realized that we were not alone. We stressed helping each other. We met new staff at this time. We acknowledged birthdays. We dealt with differences. How could a restaurant motivate in 15 minutes? Trust me, this little activity works. As the dining room staff would arrive, they would rush to get ready, ignoring each other, each in their own special world of tables and chairs. At the end of each meeting, we celebrated sales records or vowed to improve. Over time, we would acknowledge good service and comments by customers, announce winners of promotions — a bottle of wine to the staff that sold the most wine or the highest sales. Whenever possible, I would throw in a motivational comment or saying. My favorite was by Henry Ford: “Whether you think you can or whether you think you can’t, you’re right.” Of course, the staff always laughed at me and my quote, but they quoted it all night long.
These little 15-minute gems were a large part of the overall positive communication of this entire restaurant. It cost the restaurant 15 minutes of each staff person’s salary to have these meetings every night. The cost in lack of communication might have been higher, and perhaps the results balanced that cost.
Restaurants, businesses or even your home can benefit from regular communication meetings. One might just start with one a month, then a week or daily — once a month is better than never.
Planned communication can make all feel comfortable and a part of the action.
Restaurant Watch: How coordinated is your favorite restaurant?
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