Most of the work of hospitality happens behind the scenes. Cleaning grease traps, polishing glassware, wiping table legs — this is the grunt work that leads to a flawless, elegant night for your guests. Staff meetings are firmly in the category of tedious tasks that, done well, your guests need never be aware of.
Yet all too often restaurant staff meetings wind up being self-defeating. Just the mention of meetings elicits eye rolls from the most seasoned team members. Meetings trying to be “fun” will be greeted with additional scorn. And yet, you as a manager have to make meetings effective. They’re important tools to get everyone on the same page and maintain a well-organized militia. Keeping them swift, targeted, and as rare as reasonably possible will hold resentment to a minimum.
Part of the difficulty of running restaurant meetings in particular is the tension between team goals and the natural personality types drawn to most restaurant staffs. The restaurateur and chef Jimmy Bradley calls them “fierce individuals,” and said in an interview that finding the sweet spot between their needs and the needs of the establishment is a delicate balance when you're communicating with staffers. “Hospitality has nothing to do with efficiency,” he said. “Efficiency kills all things artistic.”
Well-run meetings can equip your team without quashing their personalities. And they can do this with some nod to efficiency. Successful meetings have a few things in common. First, an agenda. Don’t call a meeting if you don’t have a clear idea about what needs to be discussed. Next, an action plan. Don’t tell your staff there’s a problem without a plan to solve it. And a hard out. Keep meetings short. Yours doesn’t have to be a train schedule. But do plan on a beginning, a middle, and a defined end.
Make sure you have a system in place to keep track of what’s been discussed at the meeting. Notes, minutes, whatever. This affords the opportunity for someone to review what’s been discussed if they, say, weren’t paying attention. It also lets management reflect on their aforementioned action plan. At the Red Cat, Bradley maintained a binder with notes from every pre-shift meeting. Servers took turns as note-taker, and the binder lived in the server station for anyone to read. Took a week off? Catch up quick with a flip through the binder.
Last, consider that “staff meeting” is a catch-all term for a thing that should only rarely catch all. In fact, staff meetings come in many flavors. All are important and all have to be done. There are a lot of things to think about when considering each meeting: frequency, staff involved, agenda, getting everything done in a reasonable amount of time. Keep people who don’t need to be there out. They will distract from your agenda. As you lay out your own meeting roster, here are the types you should consider.
This means everyone, so limit your all-hands meetings. The back of house and the front of house rarely need the same information, and forcing one to listen to the other will result in everyone not listening. Save these meetings for guidelines on sexual harassment and workplace and food safety, the things that truly apply to all employees. And keep them short. Too often the inclination is to make more of these meetings — don’t do it! Do feed people. Coffee and bagels or <insert easy-to-procure local delicacy> will make the meeting easier to stomach.
These are 15 minutes, right before service, with the servers and bartenders, run by a floor manager and a kitchen manager. Not every restaurant needs a daily pre-shift meeting. Lots do. This is the time you talk about and taste specials, announce menu changes, and discuss the things you want to see move. Go over 86s. Lobster/steak/fish sizes. New wines on the list, new cocktails for the season. VIPs. Basically the vital info that gets everyone on the same page before service. You can address service matters, but save sweeping changes and general gripes for larger staff meetings. Right before service is not the time to make your servers anxious. Having been on both sides of this equation, I understand the inclination to bring up the sloppy side work from last night, but putting your whole staff on edge before they have to be pleasant to hungry strangers is just poor strategy.
The frequency with which you get your FOH and BOH management together largely depends on the size of your staff. If you have one floor manager and just the chef in the kitchen, you aren’t going to need to get together every week. If you are operating two or three services and you have managers that never see each other, you’ll want to check in a few times a month to ensure consistency.
Assembling all your front of house staff in one place at the same time needs to happen only a few times a year, barring complete staff turnover. Or, say, a pandemic that forces a shutdown. This is the time to mention sloppy side work, service inadequacies, and other issues. I’d be remiss if I didn’t remind you to also point out successes. We are all understaffed, and treating your staff like toddlers only makes matters worse. Maybe they created a false wall of folded napkins (did I do this during the slow season???) to get out early at the end of the night, but the guest average has been really great. Like all relationships, communication benefits from balance.
Convening the kitchen staff is at the discretion of the chef, who might call these meetings because of menu changes or staff turnover. Despite their rag-tag reputation, kitchen staffs have many systems in place to stay on the same page — dramatically more, in fact, than FOH. Did you just order a binder for that pre-shift meeting? They’ve always had binders.
Gathering management from multiple locations may not be necessary for every organization. If your director of operations is on the floor at the different sites all week long, the operational meetings may be moot. However, if there are multiple locations with the same concept, keeping consistency up to snuff probably requires monthly check-ins to guarantee uniformity.
These are quick looks to check up on your management team. Bradley liked to use this term with his teams at the Harrison and the Red Cat. Is everything on track? Is anything falling through the cracks? Think of this like a check engine light. You are making it easy to find out what’s up, and managers get a forum to give you news both good and bad. Dashboard meetings are great in part because they can take place in person, or they can be done over email. Yep, that’s right: This meeting can be an email.
[Photo by Tim Douglas via Pexels]