When is an Operator More than an Operator?

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The answer to that question is the key to thriving in this challenging business. When are you more than an operator? All the time. You’re a leader, decision maker, conceptualizer, PR rep, marketer, and much more.

You’re always more than “just” an operator, particularly when you understand that you’re also an educator. Whether or not you do the actual hiring for your business, you’re likely well aware that the labor pool in our industry has changed significantly. Not just in terms of the size of the pool and percentage of qualified candidates (although that is part of the reality) but also regarding what they expect from you. A substantial portion of our industry’s labor pool is entering the business as a long-term career, and they have questions for you, questions like, “What am I going to get out of this?”

They’ve studied your brand, they’re seeking more than just income, and they’re going to interview you while you’re interviewing them. Assume they’ve asked your employees if they enjoy working for you, what you and your managers are like, and what they’ve learned while working at your venue. Because of this shift in employee behavior and expectations, you need to embrace the role of educator and motivate your managers to do the same. Your employees want to know what steps they need to take to move up within your business. They need to be given the right tools, confidence and passion. What ties all three of those together? Information. What provides people with information? Education. Being the leader means being an educator; you’re the operator so you’re the expert and the example.

You have multiple opportunities each shift to teach your staff and give them the tools they need to succeed in your business specifically and in our business as a whole; the job of sharing information doesn’t end with onboarding a new hire. Use pre-meals to educate and build a cohesive, driven army of employees. Work education into pre-shift and weekly meetings. Maximize your relationships with brand ambassadors and distributors by inviting them into your venue to educate your staff. Embrace the idea of letting any staff member who wants to learn about a different position do a shift following someone in that role. You don’t need to make grandiose gestures and provide formal education to create an informed staff. Something as simple as breaking down the process of creating your signature burger or Old Fashioned is sufficient and meaningful.

To further understand the importance of educating your staff, look at this from the guest perspective. Chef Brian Duffy touches on this in his latest Duffifed Live podcast episode, a conversation with Stretch Rumaner. Within the first 15 minutes of this episode Chef Duffy shares a series of words that he despises when he’s a guest at a restaurant. We’ve all been there: we see an item on a menu we want, we customize our order a bit due to a dietary restriction or personal taste, and then we get hit with, “Hold on – let me check with the kitchen.” Why does Chef Duffy hate that sentence? Because in his eyes it means the chef, management and owner have failed to provide the server with all the information they need to perform at the highest level.

Those words don’t come out of the mouths of prepared servers. A server who knows your menu like the face on their head doesn’t need to check with the kitchen when a guest throws them a curveball during ordering; they’ll just knock it out of the park and deliver excellent service. Likewise, bartenders who know every detail of your cocktail menu can handle modifications and make decisions without frustrating your guests. People don’t like it when a seemingly simple request or small issue requires a server or bartender to bring a manager into the situation.

I highly doubt that any operator is excited by the idea of hiring and paying a clueless staff that muddles through each shift, destroying the brand’s rep one embarrassing, profit-draining guest interaction at a time. And I’m confident in saying that today’s employee doesn’t quit their job, they quit the person or people above them who fail to manage them properly. The common denominator in both of those statements is education. Once you understand the value of a staff educated by you and your managers you’ll have the key to continued success in your pocket.