Putting Your Plan Together (Part 2)

In my last blog I spoke about setting yourself up with a solid team strategy, including identifying the specific skills that an opening manager must possess. In this blog I want to outline how to organize your team to develop training materials and a program to prepare your staff for a successful opening.


While I did address this in my first blog I wanted to elaborate on this a bit more because it’s so important. Not just communicating, but how you communicate is crucial. From the moment you hire your first manager through the opening, regular, consistent communication will be key to your success. All too often I see emails being solely used for project management. Emails are important communication tools but can create inbox overload. On the first day of a recent project I received 50 emails from various departments in the parent company! Email mentality developed where senior management used emails like a game of tag – “I sent you an email so now it’s on you.” It was clear to me that the organization had a culture with a lack of accountability and way too much finger pointing. For the restaurant to succeed, the smaller team had to abandon that dysfunctional culture and develop one of its own – based on open communication and teamwork.

I am a big proponent of frequent discussions. I try to avoid calling them meetings. It sounds so traditional. This is not just for communication and progress reports but also for brain storming, enhancing the creative process, problem solving and team building. It’s important that someone take notes, and include clear task assignments and target dates for completion. The notes should be circulated as soon as possible after the meeting and reviewed at the beginning of the next meeting. The management team can use this to monitor daily progress. If someone on the team is having trouble, assign others to help. Don’t let them flounder and avoid being openly critical. If someone needs to be spoken to because they are having difficulty staying on task, talk to them in private. I learned the adage long ago: praise publicly, correct privately. It still makes sense.

Develop a pre-opening schedule

As far out as possible create a preopening schedule. There are a number of software applications that can help with this. This should include target dates for training materials and document completion, delivery of equipment including china, glassware, flatware and kitchen small-ware. Include benchmarks for partial completion of major tasks. Don’t forget other systems like HR documents, setting up the back office, employment ads, screening and hiring staff. Be generous with time allotments. Remember to include FOH systems being brought on line, including phones, POS, reservations systems, web site and music. This helps managers to coordinate POS and reservation systems training with staff. Vendor support personnel who need be on site assisting with systems training also need to be scheduled in advanced. Remember that screening staff is also very time consuming. Be sure to include an actual training schedule as part of this.

The key to the training schedule is to assign each manager to specific areas of training. Distribute the work evenly so each manager focuses on his or her strengths and can prepare accordingly. It also allows each manager down time so they can recharge and focus on other aspects of the opening. The training schedule helps them plan ahead.

The overall schedule should also include basic target dates for construction completion (gas turn on, furniture delivery, etc.). Knowing when you are getting your tabletop equipment puts into perspective that you need to have the operation clean and dust free, enforcing a sense of urgency. The schedule should run for at least one month after the opening. Allow for follow-up training and staff communication meetings during friends and family as well as after the public opening.

Organize you team

When you task your management team with specific areas of training, base it on the organizational chart developed prior to hiring managers. This should be consistent with their individual job descriptions. As the leader of this process, whether you are the general manager, chef or owner, it will be your responsibility to guide your team to success. It’s also important to schedule one-on-one face time with each manager in the team. Check in with them frequently, daily if possible. Let then know in advance that you will have time for them. This helps them and you by lowering the frustration level all around. They know when they will get your attention. You won’t get bombarded with constant interruptions and questions. Part of their growth as managers means they will need to be groomed to know it’s OK to bypass a task they may be stuck on because it needs your attention. They should know it is fine to move onto other tasks until they get face time with you.

Of course, restaurant openings don’t happen in a vacuum and the time will come where this may not always be possible.

Identify the structure of training materials

When building training materials develop an outline with the team. Does there need to be separate manuals for reservations, bar and dining room? Which job positions are covered in each? The complexity and detail of these depends on the level of service your operation will require. I suggest you write a simple list of tasks for each job. For example:

Server Assistant / Fine Dining:

  • Serve water
  • Serve bread
  • Clear a course
  • Clear after the entrée
  • Reset a table
  • Clear and reset a table after the guest’s departure
  • Serve coffee
  • Server tea

This is a very basic example, and in a fine dining venue many more tasks should be added. Don’t forget to include guest interaction such as directing / escorting a guest to the rest room, making way for a guest, pulling out their chair, initial table greeting, etc. In fine dining even these tasks need to be defined and detailed. Once your outline is complete, then proceed to write each. They can be simple bullet points or detailed descriptions, depending on the service level of the venue.

As the team leader, develop a template or format for each standard. This should include the job position, task and standard name. It is also best to organize your training chronologically in order of service. It is also important to include why the standard should be performed following management’s method. Reinforce the guest impact. Don’t just dictate that you want bread served a certain way. Explain why. Is it better for the customer? Is it about consistency, efficiency or a combination of some or all of these factors?

Lastly, spend time teaching your team to discuss how to write standards in a way that can clearly be communicated to line staff. The person reading the material needs to be able to get a clear picture of what you are trying to communicate. If they can’t, you need to do a better job presenting it. I like to insert pictures. Pictures can be worth a thousand words!

It never ends

Besides service training, remember station charts, side-work and opening / closing check lists. And don’t forget to think about tea and coffee training as well as other areas of beverage training including cocktails, wine by the glass, beer and general spirits. These areas tend to get forgotten or merely glanced over. In some situations, you will need to rely on that good imagination to develop these before the restaurant is physically open. As I mentioned earlier you will also need to revise them after opening. But take your best shot at this. It will pay off in the long run.

Openers vs. Maintenance Managers (Part 1)

Welcome to my first of what will hopefully be a steady supply of insightful, controversial and totally insane streams of consciousness about all things in the hotel and restaurant world.

As someone that has been at the sharp end of the hospitality industry for 35 rewarding and on occasion painfully insane years, I have had my share of restaurant openings. I’ve done three of my own and now as a consultant six more in the last three years. That includes three within a four-month span, with all of them under varying conditions and circumstances, some corporate and others independent. Some under financial distress, requiring major bootstrapping and some were after the uncomfortable but all too obvious 911 call. This happens when they have the epiphany, come to Jesus moment that perhaps things aren’t going according to plan. Too many non-operational owners have unrealistic expectation levels. In all these instances I find there is a consistent core of what goes wrong before, during and after an opening. The reason is simple but what is behind it is a bit more complex – Management selection. I know, I know – your thinking ‘what an idiot’ but no, perhaps not. I said the reason was simple but the definition was complex. I’ll elaborate in a moment.

Don’t get me wrong. Those of you that have done openings know that they can be a stressful, physically demanding but thoroughly rewarding experience. No matter how well you plan expect the unexpected, especially in a major city like New York, L.A., Miami or Chicago. With aggressive media and stiff competition things get very complicated. Tensions run high and hours are long until the restaurant hit its stride. You need a great plan and then a great back-up plan to cover all the bases.

Now lets be more specific about Management selection.

A Manager and for that matter a General Manager must have a specific skill set to be able to handle an opening successfully. In addition to the normal talents required by any competent manager someone executing an opening needs to poses the following:

A strong imagination:
Why? Because they have to be able to ‘imagine’ how the operation will run before it ever served its first guest. You might be staring at a CAD printout of a dining room schematic but you have to feel how the operation will function and operational build systems around it.

Being a fluid thinker:
You used the creative part of your brain to imagine how things might work but once you do that first dry run you have to be able to look at yourself in the mirror and say ‘What didn’t work?’ and ‘I need to adapt my systems to address the reality of what really happened.

Pre-opening structure

Thorough planning. Strong pre-opening communication with the team. Assign specific tasks and areas of responsibility for maximum accountability Mentor and share information. Don’t be a hero. I always stress a management organizational chart. It can be simple but should be clear, avoiding overlapping of responsibilities and establishing direct communication. If I am involved at this level I also develop more detailed job descriptions that are part of an employment letter for each management position, and that includes the Chef, Pastry Chef and Sous Chefs. Accountability is key to moving the ball down court.

Adapt during the opening

Assess situations with total impartiality (its not front vs. back). Look for obvious and the not so obvious. Develop solutions, create procedures and implement them through concise communication with the entire staff body. I am a big believer in bulletin boards, POS pop-up messages and structured pre-shift lineups.

They have to be able to think out of the box.

Try to remain calm:
Avoid meltdowns. Stick to your plan but don’t be afraid to adapt and change as needed. Just let everyone else know what your doing. Give praise and positive reinforcement. Keep moral strong but not at the expense of setting goals that are high yet achievable.

Don’t rush your opening:
One of the most difficult goals to achieve is to implement in the heat of the battle. Too many times openings are done just after the contractor turns the restaurant over to the operation, perhaps even with a somewhat daunting punch list. There is nothing worse than training during construction or little time for dry runs / friends and family. I realize that a utopic situation is few and far between, but spending a few more days prior to opening can save big dollars, improve customer satisfaction and speed up your opening period.