Managers: Learn to Fear This Question

The minute your hourly team members come to work, it’s the first thing they ask, often before they stow their purses or hang up their jackets…………

By Jim Sullivan

The minute your hourly team members come to work, it’s the first thing they ask, often before they stow their purses or hang up their jackets.

They consider it weeks before as they make schedule requests and mull it over daily on the way to work. The reply to The Question either makes them smile…or makes them shudder. The response to the question determines their mood, performance and behavior for the rest of the shift. Which in turn directly affects your customer service, same store sales, and employee retention numbers. In fact, The Question is so powerful that a common characteristic of a profitable and successful restaurant is the absence of The Question from the store’s cultural DNA. If you can successfully eliminate The Question from your culture you have achieved a significant milestone that lowers turnover, increases retention and boosts profitability.

What is this powerful question? An innocent three little words:

Who’s managing today?” (And of course the dozens of variations to the question, like “Who’s closing?”, “Who’s on?”, “Who’s here?” etcetera.)

Depending on the answer, the employee asking the question becomes either instantly buoyant or seriously bummed. Because if the manager on duty (MOD) is someone they want to be around for eight hours, they’re happy. But if it’s someone that saps their verve and energy, then what? Well, their shoulders droop, their mood darkens and their face looks like the inspiration for the Whiskey Sour. “If I know that a cranky manager is on my shift,” says server Kathleen Parker from the Grand Lux Café in Las Vegas, “it definitely affects my mood and probably, the kind of service I give my guests.”

The irony is that this debilitating question is one that never needs to be asked. Every manager on your team should be viewed as an asset, not a, well, you know, by the team. Every manager should contribute knowledge, support, enthusiasm, purpose, and—most importantly—energy to every shift. Leaders are never “energy-neutral”. You are either GIVING energy to your team, or draining it from them.

TJ Schier, Director of Field Training and Support for Chuck E. Cheese’s first suggested to me that this question was an accurate barometer of whether the shift succeeds or fails. “Your guest receives as much or as little energy and hospitality as the MOD brings to the shift. Service is driven, not ‘staged’.”

Many forward-looking hospitality organizations recognize that the shift is the key success factor of a profitable operation, and they encourage their managers and staff to work together to bring more energy and enthusiasm to each shift. Some, like TGI Friday’s franchisee The Bistro Group in Cincinnati, Ohio are also measuring the success of each shift. “We’ve begun a program called ‘Fourteen-and-Oh’ which refers to the number of shifts we have each week,” says Director of Training Dave “Woody” Eastwood. “Every employee votes ‘thumbs-up’ or ‘thumbs-down’ after each shift. It’s key to measure what matters and our goal is a perfect fourteen each week. Knowing there’s a scorecard, this helps managers bring focus and energy to every shift.”

Here are three suggestions for managers to keep in mind as you plan your shift strategy:

  1. Develop an “Attitude of gratitude.” This concept is naturally applicable to how we should treat our guests, but just as importantly, this behavior should be demonstrated by the manager to the employee as well. A pat on the back is just a few vertebrae up from a kick in the butt.
  2. Never treat a customer better than you do an employee. You have a guest who eats in your restaurant once a week, 52 times a year. You also have the world’s best hostess-greeter. She gets to work on time, always smiles, remembers regulars by name and consistently suggests appetizers and desserts to every guest she seats. Imagine that tomorrow one of them has to go. Who do you vote to save?
  3. Get to know one another. One big reason for high turnover among entry-level workers in our industry is that managers don’t know their employees. So they’re unable to make a case for staying when someone learns about a higher paying job, or to help solve simple problems that conspire against reliable performance. Walt Disney identified a key characteristic of low turnover some 40 years ago when he said, “Find out everyone’s dream.” Know the names of employee’s spouses or kids. Know their hobbies, share common interests. Remember, people don’t leave companies, they leave “bosses.”

Our goal and responsibility as managers is to Brighten the Workplace, not “run a shift”. Understand energy variance and how it affects performance. By bringing energy to the shift every day—no matter who’s managing—you build pride, self-esteem and confidence in your team members. This gets transferred to the guest. And as Bob Langford, CEO of the Phoenix Restaurant Group reminds us: “When customers leave our restaurants you want them not only to feel good about us, but more importantly, to feel good about themselves.” The energy-driven manager achieves this through the way they light up—or diminish—their team before, during, and even after, each and every shift.

The moral once again: be a blowtorch, not a candle. Because if you don’t please your current customers-or employees-you don’t deserve any new ones.