Recipe for success: Having trouble connecting with your team?


Running any restaurant in any segment presents many challenges. And most of these challenges have been around since the dawn of time – food costs, labor and rent being the most critical in the eyes of many (rightly so). But take a moment to step back and think objectively about one area that impacts all of these challenges: effective communication. Communication with our teams, owners and supervisors, suppliers, partners, guests, community. Everyone. This element alone will have a direct impact on the success of a restaurant’s downfall.

Communication comes in many forms and through many channels. If we’re not clear, if we don’t have a message, if we don’t follow up and follow up, we won’t be successful.

Early in my career, I worked with a manager who was frustrated at not being promoted to general manager. He was financially great for the company, but he couldn’t train anyone and help them get promoted to the next level (which was an important condition for him to be promoted). He “taught” his team to follow instructions and be robotic in carrying out their tasks and responsibilities. This is how he was able to deliver financially. Labor percentage and waste were always where they needed to be.

His team fought with him every day, never complained but were often disappointed. They wanted more from him; they wanted to be heard. Many knew the company was losing revenue because they were told to pre-close at the expense of customers. Too often they were “forced” to tell a guest that the grill was off or the fryer was being cleaned. The manager was so focused on controlling the workforce that he lost sight of the growth of the business and, therefore, his team’s ability to grow.

Companies that fail to communicate well with their employees often suffer the same fate. Making it clear what they expect and, really, what they will allow determines their fate. As “the big quit” happens, we hear how employees quit because of the way they are treated, including not being heard. Steven Covey, who wrote “The 7 Habits of Highly Effective People,” said it best: “Seek first to understand, then to be understood.” In the restaurant industry, we’re often so intent on barking orders, telling people what to do, that we often don’t see what’s really going on with our teams.

Supervisors who sit in their ivory towers instead of going into the trenches with their teams miss the small adjustments that could yield bigger gains. Those who use the phrase “this is how we’ve always done it” are creating a recipe for failure. Do you remember the story of the Christmas ham and why it was always cut in half? No? Oversimplified, the ham was cut in half to fit in grandma’s roasting pan, done the same way 60 years later. The fact is that if we don’t explore why something is done, it will never be changed or improved. It’s so easy to stay with the status quo, but striving to do more leads to greater success. It is by listening and working alongside those working in the field that true growth occurs.

The same is true when we communicate with our customers in person, through marketing materials or in a restaurant. Take a moment to objectively review your company’s marketing and branding as if you were a guest. What does that tell you? Is it coherent and does it clearly express, in the voice of the company, what is intended? Is the company’s marketing proactive or reactive? Are the messages from the point of view of the business or of the person executing the message? These voices must be unified; they must be one. Your customers want to understand your business and what it offers. They don’t want to ask; they don’t want to question. Your website, social media, and brand should be unified and easily communicate your brand promise. Any contradiction with this leads to mistrust or disinterest. Trust lost in any relationship is hard to recover.

Messaging should be well thought out before it is communicated in any form. Do you remember that question I asked before about marketing? Reactive marketing leads to misrepresentations, misunderstandings and errors. When our backs are against the walls, we go into defensive mode, a fight-or-flight place that prevents us from thinking logically. Taking our time before making a decision that will affect ROI should be the focus. At all levels of an organization, marketing happens in one way or another. A business perspective includes design, decor, layout, website, social media, print advertising, logo, and branding approach. At the unit level, these elements are our umbrella under which we operate. The level of unity must go further; we need to look at our music selection, our windows and doors being clean, uniform compliance, menu items executed to perfection, staying positive under the most grueling of stresses or with the most difficult guest and with a smile to the lips. The list can go on, but the focus should remain on consistency and clarity.

Recently, I was attending a management meeting for a client and the partners were discussing adding new items to the POS system. The items were supposed to be purchased in-store only, but the CFO added them to the internal online ordering portal. Third-party vendors have not added them to their portals. The idea was that customers could order online but had to come to the restaurant to pick up. Looking at this from 35,000 feet, it may seem to some that this was a natural and rational approach. What the CFO did not take into account is the following:

  • The team was instructed to only accept in-store orders and fulfillment;
  • Existing social media marketing was built around in-store purchases only, including the message that online ordering was unavailable due to limited supply;
  • The cashier was asking additional questions that could not be asked concisely or fluently online. The process would end up being complicated and frustrating for the customer.

Things done that make perfect sense on one level but not another often lead to confusion and pain points for employees, guests, or both. The competition is fierce; we are fighting for our very existence. We can no longer rely on what we did yesterday and see our missteps, our mistakes ignored or accepted as punctual.

Adopt your team’s ideas, have that pre-shift meeting, ask “what can we do better?” » Ask your team to inform you, to inform you of what the guest is saying. Seek to constantly improve yourself and, as my mother always told me, “Mark, tune your ears.”


Mark Moeller is founder and president of The Recipe of Success, a national restaurant consulting firm. For more information, visit


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