The Benefits of Getting Stuck In

There are so many awesome people in this sector but the meeting I had a few weeks ago with one person has really stuck in my mind. I can’t name her as she will be mortified – she is as modest as she is amazing – but she is a highly regarded board member in our sector.

I met her for a coffee one afternoon and as she sat down I asked her where she had just come from. I was a little surprised when she said she had just been working a shift in one of her sites, which she did every Wednesday, Thursday and Friday, reserving the beginning of the week for office work. She didn’t say she tried to do it – she said she did it. No bragging, and she certainly wasn’t telling me for effect or to impress me. She was just very straightforward and down to earth about it.

This isn’t one of those “back to the floor” initiatives where the whole board swops places for a night with the team who usually work the evening shift or an HR scheme where everyone in head office has to work a day in the business to see what it’s really like. Nor is it a weekly BDM call to go through the PNL and talk to everyone on the floor. This is a “week on week” genuine desire to understand the business from a team and customer perspective – hands on.

The team now trusts her when she arrives and they talk to her. She has gained their confidence by putting on the uniform, doing their job and simply being another member of staff with all the delight and the trials and tribulations associated with that role.

It meant she understands the perspective of the team’s working on a day-to-day basis. A few weeks ago, it was obvious a piece of kitchen equipment simply couldn’t cope with the level of trade in the site and was likely to break down soon – a disaster for the kitchen team and speed of service. The fact a senior person in the business had noted it and would get it sorted meant a tremendous amount to the team there. This sort of pre-emptive action can save money in so many ways.

We can all recount instances where restaurant teams have complained about the equipment/tools they have to work with but often that communication has become lost in the machinery of corporate bureaucracy and nothing changes. Teams can so easily become frustrated and disillusioned when their feedback is not acknowledged or is ignored. That’s not likely to happen if a member of the management team has to work with the same tools three days in a row and to personally have to face the consequences when they serve tables.

Working regularly on-site means she can also hear what customers have to say about the food – what works, doesn’t work or needs to change. She doesn’t need focus groups, comment cards, mystery guests or online surveys. Her influence then on menu development is huge, so nothing goes on the menu that she knows won’t work with the chef team, the floor team or with customers.

She can see too what customers leave on their plates and has to be thrown away. She can appreciate any dishes the servers don’t want to put on the table. She knows what customers feel about price points and value for money. She knows the pressure points in the kitchen and knows where chefs are likely to jump up and down with what’s been asked of them. She knows where her customers go if they are not coming into her sites and who her competitors really are.

This sort of insight is invaluable. It’s instrumental in ensuring team happiness and, as a result, in driving repeat visits from customers. It’s critical in saving costs. It helps in getting all elements of the offer absolutely spot on. I am in awe of her commitment and passion and her ability to not allow day-to-day stuff to get in her way. I know her business will continue to thrive (it’s great anyway) because she knows what to do to make it thrive – from the ground floor to the board floor.