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Saturday, March 24, 2018
Article written by Jeffrey Summers

Coaching Every Play!

OK new restaurant owner. You open your doors for the first time; you are staffed to the gills to ensure you have enough staff to take really good care of the large amount of business you expect during the opening weeks. Hosts are all over the door, greeting each guest with enthusiasm and smiles. Managers everywhere are talking to guests and supporting staff. There is one server for every 2-3 tables, and one busser and host per 5 servers. Hosts are making small talk at tables as they seat guests who are eager to hear about your menu and drink lists. The kitchen manager/chef is doing a great job. Food comes out of the kitchen in record time with great presentations, feeding the eyes of the guest as they are placed superbly before them on exquisitely set tables. Bartenders are showing off their drink prep skills with awesome flair, while telling jokes and the sound of laughter is heard in the dining room coming from the bar. Guests are happy and you are able to put out operational fires practically before they flame up. Business is awesome and guest comment cards tell you to keep up the great job! You must be a genius! “This is easier than I thought!” you tell yourself.

Fast-forward 4 weeks!

Guests walk in the front door at 3:30pm and no one is there to greet them. They wait for 10 minutes before the two bartenders who are talking to each other at the bar, notice them and yell back to the kitchen for the host to come out and seat them. The host walks very briskly to the host stand barely making any eye contact and says, “Two?” “Smoking or non?” Then walks away from the guests and motions to them to take their seats at the table she throws two menus down onto, before once again she disappears into the kitchen. Ten more minutes go bye before the server arrives and says, “Are you ready to order yet?” Orders are taken but not written down because the server is, “very good at remembering things” and leaves talking under her breath. Drinks arrive. Food arrives relatively soon and has 2 side order mistakes as Miss Icanrememberalotofthings, forgot to put in the substitutions, and comments to the guest, “…well I guess I could have not understood what you were telling me!” But brings out the substituted items and fails to apologize. Server does not check back before all drinks are completely empty, and guests become worried that their friends who recommended you have misjudged your restaurant from the opening week they first tried you.

What has happened? This is the same staff you had in the opening that performed superbly. Same great food and service? Why would sales begin to dip lower than anticipated? Guest counts drop?

In a word, “UNDER-COACHING”! It is occurring in epidemic proportions everywhere I turn.

By creating a false sense of the proper Culture in your restaurant from the beginning, you have taught your staff that the sense of urgency and pride with which you performed in the opening weeks, no longer is necessary or demanded by you. That now you have to be checking out servers in the office or checking in inventory and cannot be on the floor. You did not set up realistic labor scheduling from the beginning for either staff or management and now your staff has to learn a completely new way of working without the support of the army you gave them during the opening. You have trained guests to expect to be pampered by that same army but now that you need to run a decent labor cost, you cut back to “normal operating staffing” and leave the guest wondering what has happened to such a good place so soon?

And now what are you going to do? Coupons? Discounts? Quick fix, short-term gimmick marketing that will only further confuse your guests and at the same time tell them that the price they paid for their experience in the beginning was way too much? Profits begin to drop toward red levels, while costs soar as you sit in your office wondering what the license number of that truck was that you just got run over by?

Unfortunately, this is not a made up scenario. It actually happened to the restaurant owners that just opened their latest unit close to where I live. And my wife and I were the guests. So when I asked the manager what happened? His reply was, “…well we had hoped it would last longer than it did, but we knew that eventually business would drop off. Now we’re all about our bottom line.” And of course, when I offered my help (for free!) in recreating the excitement and level of business they enjoyed before their expected reality set in, they politely declined. What a very sad statement to make on what started out to be a fantastic example of how to do it right, but is now nothing more than fodder for magazine articles on what not to do.

This kind of scenario plays out all too often in our world. However, it can be avoided. Moreover, if it has happened to you, you can recover from it. Let us start at the beginning.

Leadership is about creating a Culture that achieves the vision set out for the business. It is about doing the right thing towards your guests and staff, while at the same time creating opportunity for the future of the business to grow and be successful. The tool used to accomplish these feats is nothing less than Coaching!

I do not think you can talk too much on the subject of Coaching in our industry. The second most important subject for us at the unit level is Culture. Now let us understand more of the basics first. You will never be lacking in the Coaching department, and you will always have a Culture in your restaurant. It may be good or it may be bad, but regardless, you will have a Culture. The question is what kind is it? When you answer that question, you have a handle on the type of Coaching that exists also.

Great restaurants that deliver WOW service AND amazing food AND unbelievable value, AND deliver great profits, (like the one in the beginning of our story) have great Cultures that nurture staff to perform at their very best, every guest, every table, every day. They have superb Coaching driving this Culture as well - leaders who Coach every employee, every play, at every table, every day. (Sorry if I rhyme!)

Bad restaurants by contrast (and there are only the two kinds – more on that later!) de-evolve into a Culture of slackers performing tasks somewhat relative to service and placing what appears to be food in front of people who walk in and request something to eat while they sit down at a table where it will be placed for their consumption, and then expected to fork out greenbacks for it, as well as the opportunity to be ignored by their wait person who is off doing only God knows what, only God knows where. And although you think that these two places are universes apart, I guarantee you they are only a few subtleties different. Coaching is present here too, just not in the form you came to expect from the first restaurant.

Coaching is the proactive job of restaurant managers in charge of a business. Not a novel idea but then again it is 2005 and I still rant over how a manager/owner can expect to be like restaurant number 1, and sit at a table in the dining room all day working the keys of a calculator trying to come up with the math that will allow him to pay his bills. Then wonder why he can’t. But I digress.

Hey! Let’s talk football!

Restaurant number 1, (let’s call it my restaurant) has a GM/Owner who, like the great Coach on a very good football team, is on the sidelines watching every play, calling the plays, Coaching the team through the series of plays that will lead to winning the game, and living the game through the actions of his team, one play at a time. Ever see Don Shula on the sidelines? He had one of the most intense gazes. You would always find Coach Shula focused every play, kneeling, squatting or standing intently on the yard line marker of where the ball was placed, watching each player execute his Coaching. Sending in every play. Giving feedback about everything he could to everyone he needed to in order to get the results he demanded.

All this, every second of every game. Rewarding great players who executed great plays, as well as redirecting poor performance as it happened, before it had a chance to taint the rest of the team’s effort to lose the game. If they won, he praised the performances that led to the victory, rewarded outstanding individual efforts as well, and then began to prepare for the next game almost as immediately as the gun signaled the end of the current one. If they lost, he praised great performances and rewarded outstanding individual efforts as well, and then redirected poor performances so that those players could, in the next game, contribute to the team’s effort to win it. Winningest Coach in NFL history! The only Coach with a totally undefeated season! Several Super Bowl Rings! I think he has a restaurant or two as well.

Compare that to the team in last place. Everybody wanting to call their own plays. Lots of penalties due to frustrations by players. No momentum gained at any point and seemingly no GamePlan! or team strategy. Lots of yelling by the Coach and tempers flaring. Player in fighting and finger pointing as to who is responsible for lackluster performances. Low morale. Players wanting to be traded or have their contracts renegotiated. Draftees not wanting to play for the team. Are you getting the drift here?

Coaches must set expectations and performance standards in the beginning. Next, the Coach must be focused on watching each player on the field during every play in order to give feedback and support. Not pointing out every action to perform, but guiding then encouraging each player to execute their training 100%. Lastly, Coaches need to reward behavior through the measured results of active, participative goal setting as well as through individual performances. Failing to execute on the Coaches part is usually related to a failure to deliver 99% of these Coaching responsibilities. And every time I analyze a bad restaurant, it inevitably falls to these causes for the reasoning behind the poor results.

How does it get so bad? There are many reasons, but my top 6 include: a lack of skill due to poor management training or the lack of ongoing training; the failure to establish the proper Culture to achieve the business goals and objectives; fear; trying to be a friend instead of a boss; condoning bad performance and failing to develop great players.

The first one comes from my long-standing belief that you can never Coach or behave in any way that you have never personally experienced yourself. How can you Coach superior performance if you have never seen superior performance? How can you be a great Coach if you’ve never been Coached greatly? How can a server be great when they have never experienced great service? How can you overcome training issues if you do not devote yourself to Coaching your team? And who will Coach the Coaches?

The Culture question is the extension of the lack of proper skills point. Culture is what happens in your restaurant in the absence of a policy or direct supervision. How can you create a high performance Culture if you have never been a part of one? Each and every employee needs to challenge any behavior that doesn’t accomplish the goals of the team. And you must develop the security in yourself to allow staff to challenge you as well.

Fear probably took you by surprise, but it is true. Coaches may have the skills necessary to Coach great players, but still lack the courage to challenge unacceptable behaviors or bad performances, or else the second biggest fear – namely the fear of not being liked by the players. I have also had Coaches that were actually afraid of talking to guests. I have also seen Coaches who were afraid to work the floor for fear of what bad things might be lurking about. And the ever popular fear of actually being successful!

Trying to be a friend instead of a boss gets more Coaches in trouble than most anything else. I know that the feeling of family is a great thing to have and it can provide above average results. But all too often it is the backdrop to allowing creeping under-Coaching. It creeps in by taking the talent for granted. That they can perform on their own because “…they know what to do!” Hoping that just because you let a player slack off due to his “personal problems” and then hoping he gets his act together doesn’t cut it either. You must deal with “C” & “D” players immediately in order to raise the talent level of your bench strength as well as keep those “A” & “B” players. Rewarding everyone the same falls into this category as well. Rewards need to be tied to performance – period! Allowing players to remain in their “comfort zones” and not pushing them to be better or do more is another “good guy” trait that must be overcome. And the worst one of all, always seeking consensus on every decision for fear of someone “feeling bad” about the decision.

And oh you would never condone bad performances you say? Well you do every time you accept less than the 100% execution of your performance models. Every time you allow a server to get drinks to a table in more time than your training dictates! Every time you let a plate go out of the kitchen that you know isn’t 100%, but you let it go anyway for some reason. Every time you let a player get by with being 5 minutes late, just because you’re just plain happy they showed up! Etc, Etc, Etc…You need to spend time with each employee in order to set goals for them (yes each individual employee needs a goals action plan!). And the best tool is Transactional Management.

Failing to develop great players. Great players aren’t born, they are made. You might be able to hire what you consider “A” players, but they are really only “A” level opportunities waiting for you to develop them into “A” level players. Just because a great player got to the “Pro Bowl” with one team doesn’t mean that he can do it with another. He must be developed into that superstar he has the potential to be, and then continue to be developed in order to keep that superstar edge! Skills get rusty if not kept sharp and used constantly. Plus your Playbook is different than the last team he played for. The bottom line here is that you have to practice, practice, practice! Practice each and every play in your Playbook until it becomes second nature to your team. When that happens, you have the right Culture to win.

This game is won by each and every detail of each and every play. The more opportunities you give your opponent to beat you, the more they will. Play it smart. Coach your team. Work towards the goal of 100% execution on every play. Then watch out for that shower of Gatorade!

Have Fun Today!
Jeffrey Summers, Head Coach
GameOn! Restaurant Coaching Solutions™
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