There is an untapped resource in your restaurant so great it has the power to make or break you. Right there on the frontline, dealing with customers, the kitchen, protocols, and processes, your service staff have untold insights. Here are six questions you should be asking your staff, and how each insight can directly benefit your restaurant.
1. What gets you out of bed in the morning?
Understanding what drives specific employees is a straight path to their – and your – success. Maybe you're spending money hosting monthly staff outings or treating them to a free meal after each shift, but all they really want is shift flexibility. By knowing the best perks to give individual staff members, you can improve their performance, which in turn boosts your bottom line, and makes all those costly labor hours work better for you.
Your insight: Labor is expensive, by knowing how to motivate your restaurant staff in ways that matter to them, you can cost-effectively fuel productivity.
2. What skill do you hope to take with you when you leave here?
Hiring is expensive, and serving can too often feel like a dead-end job. But you can retain staff and incentivize them with new skills – a win-win for both of you. When staff members are given opportunities to grow and take on new responsibilities, they are much more likely to stick around and become valued players in your business. Your new host might seem a little too green, but once you find out that her long term career plan is to run a five star restaurant, you can set her up for success by having her train with a manager once a week.
Your insight: Your dream team might already work for you: directed learning will enhance your staff’s potential and grow your team from within.
3. How do customers feel when they are finished?
Imagine you had a way to find out exactly how customers felt about everything from the dinner napkins to the speed of service. You do! Your servers are the window to customers’ words. Ask your staff if they check in with guests at the end of each visit. If not, request that they start a post-meal follow up: a simple, “How was everything this evening – do you have any feedback for us?” The “us” in this statement is important so as to direct the feedback to the whole experience, and not put all the onus on the server.
Your insight: Customer feedback is incredibly valuable but it’s likely going unheard by management. Encouraging staff to dig for comments gives your customer a voice, and gives you the insight you need to make effective changes to your business.
4. Is there anything on our menu that you are embarrassed to serve?
There’s a possibility that every single item on your menu isn’t perfect. Is there something that servers don't feel proud to serve because customers continually grumble about it? Or maybe it’s the opposite – there might be something on the menu that guests love. Don’t assume you already know this either. Your sales reports might indicate that the Margherita pizza is your most popular dish because it’s a classic go-to, but maybe your warm olives appetizer has customers raving. Which is good to know if you were considering taking the olives off the menu.
Your insight: A look at things from the customer’s perspective will help you make more informed decisions so you can maximize your menu and better serve your guests.
5: What is the number one thing that we could change to make your job run more smoothly?
It’s very likely that you are not even aware of the most stressful part of your staff’s job. The people using the processes are the ones most likely to see the flaws or errors. For example, if you run a busy brunch service and have all of the drinks coming from the bar: Bloody Mary’s, orange juice, soda water, but you have the coffee maker in the kitchen, it might not seem like a big deal to you, but could be a big time waster for the server to run to the back every time they pick up a round of drinks. By moving the coffee station to the bar, they could speed up their service and turn more tables.
Your insight: Clarity into the small details that are creating inconveniences or unnecessary hiccups and impacting service means improved service and a healthier bottom line.
6. Where are we falling short compared to your previous workplace?
Servers coming from other restaurants have had different experiences and can offer great suggestions for implementing processes, social activities, incentives, and bonuses but they are often never even asked. This is a great way to make positive changes within your restaurant without really having to experiment or take a risk.
Your insight: A glimpse into how other restaurants are running things and what was working for them is a leg up for you.
Bottom line: make asking your staff for insights and feedback a key part of your management style. Asking the right questions brings not-so-obvious, but impactful details to the forefront, so that you can make lasting changes for a more streamlined and happy experience for staff, kitchen, management, and customers.
About the Author
Andrea is a Content Marketing Specialist and Editor at TouchBistro where she writes about restaurant and dining trends, restaurant management, and food culture. A self-affirmed food geek, Andrea devours cookbooks and food blogs. She also knows how to make a killer kale salad.More Content by Andrea Victory