Let Me Check …March 7, 2012 By: Brian Duffy
Editor's Note: The following is one in a series of blogs provided by the experts who have worked incredibly hard to make Spike TV's "Bar Rescue" reality program, starring Nightclub & Bar Media Group President Jon Taffer, such a success. The Bar Rescue Insider blog series will deliver tried-and-true tips and tricks to help bar owners, operators and managers solve common problems and increase their bottom line. Tune in to Nightclub.com every Wednesday for the next edition of Bar Rescue Insider!
“Let me check with the …” They may seem innocuous, but these five little words make me cringe. This phrase means the server is not educated about a huge percentage of your establishment’s sales. Fixing this aspect of your business ultimately could make you more revenue. Take a look at these scenarios:
Server: “Hi, my name is Annie, and I’ll be your server today. Can I start you off with a drink?”
Guest: “What kind of bourbon do you have?”
Server: “Ummmm, Jack Daniels?”
Guest: “That’s whiskey.”
Server: “Let me check with the bar.”
Guest: “That’s okay, I’ll have water.”
Or how about this situation:
Server: “Have you decided?”
Guest: “I’d like the burger, but no lettuce please, and I’d love some sautéed mushrooms and onions on that.”
Server: “Let me check with the kitchen.”
Guest: “No thanks.”
Server: “Have you decided?”
Guest: “Can I have the Caesar Salad with grilled shrimp and chicken?”
Server: “Let me check with the chef.”
Guest: “Never mind.”
Through all of my years as a chef, consultant and now as an expert on Spike TV’s “Bar Rescue,” I am always shocked to see how little we train our No. 1 people. Servers and bartenders are our calling cards, our billboards, our TV commercials. These are the people who are in front of our guests, and we are leaving them to their own devices.
Instead of keeping our front-line staff in the dark, let’s try a different approach:
Get your staff together and hand each one a piece of paper. Have them silently write the descriptions of five food menu items and five drink menu items. The results will be shocking! The average server only knows about 45% of a food menu and even less of a drink menu.
Imagine a car salesman who has never driven the car he is trying to sell. Most likely, he would fumble and ultimately begin making up the car’s features. Does this sound familiar?
Do your exceptional chef and attention-getting flair bartender take time to educate other staff members? The notion of educating a “fine-dining” staff is not new. Spending weeks upon weeks on training is great in theory, but it doesn’t always happen the way it should. Most operations typically follow this model:
• A new restaurant will provide two weeks of training on the food and drink menus and steps of service prior to opening.
• A six-month-old restaurant will give a new server one week to trail a more-experienced staff member, ending with a menu test.
• A year-old restaurant will allow a new server to follow a more-experienced staff member for two days, then put the new hire on the floor.
It pains me to think of the number of under-educated servers and bartenders who work on the floors and behind the bars of dining establishments across the country.
I love to talk about food, and I love to talk about drinks. I have studied this business for years, and I love to share. But I also like to make money and see a return on my investment.
There is something to be said for taking time to get the chef, bartenders and servers together; it’s a time for bonding, community and learning! There is one major opportunity is missed every day in most bars and restaurants. Management, owners and chefs have the chance to express themselves and educate others during the half-hour before the lunch rush and the half-hour before dinnertime. Pre-meal is the time to get everybody together!
The rules to running a quality pre-meal meeting are simple but important:
1) Be prepared.
• Lay out your plan prior to the meeting; I use a pre-meal sheet I give to all of my clients.
• Make sure management team members are all on the same page.
• Serve food and drinks from the menus.
• Keep verbiage simple and understandable.
• Save pre-meal planning sheets from meetings throughout the week.
2) Be strategic.
• Present food and discuss ingredients as well as cooking method, station, recipe and allergens.
• Present drinks, tastings, descriptions and pairings.
• Discuss sales goals, steps of service, etc.
• Allow time for feedback.
3) Be interactive.
• Choose two dishes per shift: one special and one menu item.
• Go through the ingredients and cooking techniques. Discuss how each dish is served and demonstrate plate presentation, then let team members taste the dish and comment on it. That’s how you teach!
• Choose one varietal of wine, one mixed drink and one bottled beer.
• Go through the process of making, bottling, mixing and creating, then let team members swirl, smell and taste.
• At that point, have the staff repeat what just happened back to you! (The interactive part is huge. There is nothing like the chef or head bartender explaining why or how this item was chosen, prepared and created.)
4) Be aggressive.
• Let your staff know what your expectations are for the night. For example, “Our goal is to sell $10,000 in food tonight. Yesterday, we sold $9,500, so let’s blow past that by selling a few extra desserts and toppings or sides.”
• Let your staff know which items make more money, which items come out of the kitchen faster and which items need to be sold.
5) Be positive; never be negative – ever!
• Choose one person per shift, give him or her an award or recognition and explain why to the rest of the staff.
• Reward for exemplary service/duties or just being a team player.
• Have your staff discuss great scenarios they have had while dining and how those experiences can be replicated at your establishment.
• Always end each pre-meal meeting on a positive note.
Always be consistent. Your staff will begin to ask for the pre-meal meeting. They will enjoy being given time to learn and discuss. Then, your team will begin to grow as a unit and support each other.
Through education, you will see a happier staff, better communication, more productive shifts and longer staff retention, thus increasing sales. Your establishment’s numbers will begin to fall in place at the cost of one hour a day. So do yourself, your staff and ultimately your guests a favor by investing some time into your staff.
“Imagine hitting the open road without a map to reveal where you’re going. It’s the same with trying to succeed without explicit goals established. But once you take the time to write down your goals and action steps to obtaining those goals, you’re more likely to find the professional and personal successes for which you strive.” — Earl Nightingale