Building a Service Team that Dominates

Leverage employee strengths and build a dominant team. Image: ffikretow / iStock / Getty Images Plus

You have a problem that we need to address. It’s your service team. Okay—that’s not exactly accurate. The problem is you for not training your service team to dominate.

Sure, you trained them…maybe once, maybe twice. But half-ass effort yields half-ass results. Oh, and please, for the love of all that is sacred, don’t throw out the excuse that you don’t have time. You never had time to begin with.

Things get done when you make a decision and develop the self-discipline to get what you want. If your service is so-so, the effort you placed into training them was at that same energy level. Water truly does seek its own level; mediocrity is attracted to mediocrity.

Don’t think so?

How many powerful or successful people do you know who seem to be friends? Do they run in the same circles? Successful people like to associate with other successful people.

How do you get there? How can you create a service team that just dominates your market? I have a five-step plan for you!

1. Understand your role.

When you’re the leader in your bar, nightclub or restaurant, you become a source of energy that feeds the culture, much like our sun radiates heat and energy out into the solar system. Many tend to give the most energy to those who are close and who they like the most.

Those close to the energy source have it good. But if you’re like Pluto or Uranus, your days are relatively cold and isolated. No one wants to be Uranus!

Read this: Stuck in a Leadership Rut? Here's How to Pull Yourself Out

You’re the energy that creates the culture. Bad culture = bad energy = bad leaders. It’s not a complicated equation. If you can take ownership of the idea that your service team gets their energy from you, then you’ve managed taking a big step forward toward a better restaurant.

2. Become obsessed with becoming better.

If you’re the energy source for your restaurant (as discussed in step one), you’ll need to become freaking obsessed with becoming a better person. Now you might quip that becoming a better person has nothing to do with being a leader, profits, culture, or creating a service team that dominates the market.

Au contraire—it has everything to do with those!

Restaurants get better when the workers in them become better people. You can’t raise your restaurant without raising yourself. Most people learn based on what’s known as modeling: we imitate the behaviors of others because we’re chock-full of mirror neurons. These neural networks help us learn at a fast pace and we need them if we want to survive.

Read this: What’s the Big Deal about Culture?

You’ve been modeling the behavior of others your entire life. From your parents to your siblings and friends to those you admire like teachers, mentors and coaches. You might not have realized it before now, but your behavior is a collective of other people’s behaviors to which you’ve been exposed—both the good and the not-so good.

Being obsessed with becoming a better person is the only path that leads to you building a service team that dominates your market. The word “obsessed” gets a bad rap because many associate it with being out of control. And yes, that can be true if an obsession can’t be kept in check. In other words, you either control your obsessions or they control you!

Read, listen to podcasts, watch YouTube videos, substitute audiobooks for music while driving, go to seminars, find a mentor, get a coach… Becoming a better person does not require you to sit at the top of a mountain, shave your head, and meditate for hours on end; it just requires you to become obsessed with learning one new thing each day!

We build our restaurants by building ourselves. Leaders are forged through chaos, pressure and discipline. Anyone who says that leadership is easy is full of shit.

3. Practice until they whine. Then practice more.

Now that your energy is amplified and you’re becoming a better person, it’s time to train. Here’s where the path you’re traveling comes to a fork: you can either take steps toward dominating your market or shuffle toward settling into mediocrity.

Mediocrity is the easy path. Easy doesn’t get you shit.

Elite athletes who want to win an Olympic gold medal know that they must commit to training every day. In fact, they’re aware that they may need to train multiple times some days. To dominate and become elite you must make a new commitment to train your team every. single. day.

There are no days off for training if you’re aiming for the top!

Read this: How to Build Your “A” Team in 90 Days!

Training must become like your dedication to become a better person: an obsession. Here’s the easiest system to use to stay on the path to greatness:

  • Get a blank index card.
  • Draw a line down the middle.
  • On one side write “My Three” and on the other write “Team Three.”
  • Choose three things you’re dedicated to improving for yourself for the day on the “My Three” side.
  • Pick three things you’re committed to train your team on for the day on the “Team Three” side.

Fair warning: Your team will not like to be pushed out of their comfort zone. That zone was established from the other mediocre restaurants they worked at before that only gave training when they first started. So, be aware that they’re going to complain. They’re going to whine. They’re going to push back. They won’t like it. They’ll try to get you to stop this new obsession you’ve discovered. They’ll try to lure you back to the comfort zone.

Stay the course with this new mantra: You either play at my level or you step aside.

4. Asset allocation is key.

Look at the people on tour team right now. Would you say honestly that they’re all at the same skill level? Of course not. You have your A players, B players and C players. (You shouldn’t have any D players working in your restaurant. If you do, fire them and give yourself a time out for bad team selection.)

Now, look at your team again. Do you have everyone playing to their strengths? Most likely you’re just filling positions and shifts. You’re not looking at your team as assets., you’re treating them the same or worse less than they are.

Checkers vs. Chess

When you treat all your employees the same and try to be “fair,” you’re playing a big game of checkers. Now, when you look at each individual on your team for their unique strengths and position them to leverage their useful abilities, you’re playing chess.

Managers play checkers—leaders play chess. 

Read this: The 3 Big Problems with New Restaurant Managers

You’ll never develop a service team that dominates by standing in their way. That means you can’t do their job for them. Do you want to lead, teach, coach and train? Hell yes! Do you want to take away from someone else learning, growing and developing? Hell no!

Let me provide a few examples:

  • The general manager who is working the expo when they should be on the floor orchestrating the guest experience.
  • The chef who pushes people out of the way on the line, grabs the plate, and finishes the dish.
  • The floor manager who seats everyone and has three hourly hosts standing behind the host stand doing nothing. 

If you’re in a salaried position and you’re doing the job that’s normally fulfilled by an hourly position, you’re not managing your assets properly. When you take away opportunities for people to grow, they leave to work at a restaurant that will help them grow.

5. Keep the cycle going.

Now it’s time to follow the same directions on your shampoo: rinse and repeat. Excellence, greatness, and market dominance require one critical element, and that’s consistency.

It’s not about taking one step toward being a better person, a better leader, training your team, and suddenly achieving greatness. You’ll never be “all set” that way. It’s about developing the discipline to take many steps and following through, even when you don’t want to do it!

“Don’t expect to be motivated every day to get out there and make things happen. You won’t be. Don’t count on motivation. Count on discipline.” - Jocko Willink, Retired Navy SEAL Commander

How you develop yourself determines how your team will develop. How consistently you train your team determines how consistently they’ll perform. How much you allow others to grow will determine how much your bar, nightclub or restaurant will grow.

It’s time to step up and into your potential. Once you start down that path, a true leader allows others to step up into their greatness. It’s all synergy. Each element on its own is great—combined effectively, they become unstoppable.