The Architecture of the Shift

This space is not big enough to detail all the disciplines and interactive elements necessary to understand the architecture of a successful shift, but here’s a few key elements that cannot be overlooked…

By Jim Sullivan

Too many restaurant owners, franchisees, executives, and regional managers use their P&Ls as reactionary tools to gauge performance. A disappointing P&L means they start wagging paper at their unit level managers (treating symptoms) instead of taking the time upfront to give their managers the tools, resources, insight and encouragement necessary to understand the peculiar architecture of running and leading a successful shift.

But a P&L is a history statement, not a supervisory action plan. The P&L measures not “profit and loss”, but actually how successful a series of shifts your team managed was in any previous given time period. So it stands to reason that we improve our P&L’s by focusing on cause, not the effect.

This space is not big enough to detail all the disciplines and interactive elements necessary to understand the architecture of a successful shift, but here’s a few key elements that cannot be overlooked.

  • All supplies in place, all equipment works. This is so basic it’s routinely overlooked. So underline it. Every successful shift starts here.
  • Energy and Focus. “The number of hours is fixed in a day, but the quantity and quality of energy available to us is not,” author Jim Loehr says, “Energy, not time is the fundamental currency of high performance.” Recognize the power and potential of full engagement by your managers and their crew with your customers. The best managers know they have the potential to generate energy and enthusiasm at both peak periods and slower shifts. In fact, like exercise, the more energy you expend at work, the more capacity you have to generate more
  • Perform in the Storm. Collaboration under pressure is a key characteristic of a successful restaurant, and the manager sets the tone with her focus, fairness and fun. The level of customer service is directly proportional to the amount of time your kitchen and server crew spends in that unique piece of restaurant real estate known as “The Weeds”. A key strategy is the so-called “Figure 8” walk-through. Picture your restaurant from overhead. An effective shift manager routinely moves in a figure-8 pattern, visiting front door, host area, dining room, to-go-pickup station, kitchen, and back again. This gives you constant access to your team and customers and allows you to provide guidance, energy or help without getting stuck. Know how to tell if you’re in control as a manager? When your team sees you, do they say “here comes help” or here comes trouble”?
  • Each One Teach One. A successful General Manager can realistically supervise how many shifts per week? Six? Seven? That means your “junior” or assistant managers are supervising the majority of the other shifts (anywhere between 8 and 14 weekly.) So if I’m a GM, I’m going to be pretty dang certain that those junior managers are getting the full benefit of my expertise, insight and guidance. After all, they’re directly affecting at least 50% of my bonus!
  • Merchandise the Menu. Here’s “The Deal”, pure and simple, once and for all:
    • The Kitchen must make all that the servers can sell
    • Servers or Cashiers must sell all that the kitchen can make.
  • Teamwork. All work in a restaurant is teamwork, but here’s a few examples that stand out. Ted Cottrell, General Manager at Golden Corral # 575 in Raleigh, North Carolina has posted a map of Mexico in the kitchen. He invites his Hispanic employees with roots in Mexico to place a red colored dot with their name on it near their hometown on the Mexican map. It fosters both pride and interaction with other team members.
  • 1000 conversations with 20 people. Bob Brown, Regional Manager for the Briad Group’s TGI Friday’s franchises in the Northeast has an insightful take on the elements of a “perfect” shift. “Beyond an energetic and effective pre-shift rally, a great manager has to focus on ways to sustain that momentum through out the shift. He or she must have what we call ‘a thousand conversations with 20 people’ (staff) during the shift.” During those 30 second-and-less conversations you provide praise, direction, constructive feedback, help.
  • Lead your people, don’t “manage” them. The most successful manager-leaders do three key things during a profitable shift: 1) they first talk all of their people into position (communicating expectations for customer traffic, anticipated problems, and specific goals), 2) then talk them through the position (make the necessary adjustments based on the flow) and finally 3) out of position (“great job, today, and don’t be afraid to ask for help next time; awesome effort.”) In effect, these three steps set up the momentum—if any—for the next shift as well. By the way, this communication rule is just as critical for opening managers who are “passing the shift” on to the closing or mid-manager.
  • Run it like you own it. The best managers lead their shifts with an owner’s mindset. Make sure the energy is flowing, the team is humming, the customer smiling, the waste minimal, the menu merchandised and the enjoyment maximized. Through out it all, they know that it’s people that make the difference. “Management problems” always turn out to be people problems.

Yep, shifts happen. Anybody can “run” one. But profitable shifts are planned, managed and led. Win the battle of the shift everyday, and your P&L will never be an unpleasant surprise.