Stop the Drama

Communicate and train to make more money

By David Scott Peters

Running a restaurant can often feel like you are in high school. Remember all the social drama that went along with being a teenager and trying to navigate friendships, along with trying to figure out what you want to do with your life?

In high school there is a lot of talking behind people’s backs, spreading rumors and trashing people for no reason. We learn all about reputation management in high school when we have to go around educating everyone about what is and isn’t true about us, repairing relationships that fall victim to false information and misunderstandings.

If only you’d had an opportunity to communicate truths and facts before rumors were started. Too bad high school didn’t come with daily pre-school addresses.

You know, like a pre-shift meeting in your restaurant?

So often I see restaurant employees — no matter their age, cultural background or education level — punch in at the clock and leave their logical brain at the door, just like in high school. They start chatter and rumors on partial information or just plain make things up. They talk behind fellow employees’ and managements’ backs.

Management often has to spend hours trying to dispel false information and rumors and repair employee relationships.

What’s silly about this is a lot of this wasted time could be prevented if management held a daily pre-shift meeting. One of the most basic ways to ensure positive communication is happening in your restaurant on a daily basis, to keep everyone informed, to reduce the rumor mill and to make sure everyone knows what you expect regarding performance is to conduct a daily pre-shift meeting.

Also similar to high school, many restaurant employees still don’t know what they want to be when they grow up. They are working in your restaurant only UNTIL they get their big break in acting, UNTIL they get their real estate license, UNTIL they get their teaching certificate, UNTIL they finish school… you get the picture. A large portion of restaurant teams have a short-term mentality, even if you and I both know most will probably never get to their next career choice. Many are career line employees, who have no drive or ambition to change where they are in life, dreaming of change rather than taking the appropriate actions to create change. This presents its own unique challenge to management, because they are trying to motivate a population that does not see the restaurant and its goals the same way management does.

This doesn’t make your employees bad people, nor does it make them losers. In fact, they are all winners who need direction from management, a work environment that is safe and positive and most importantly, they need you to clearly communicate what you need them to do, how you want it done, how well you want it done, how well they are doing and on everything that is going on in the restaurant appropriate to their level of responsibility.

And yes, you guessed it. All of this can be accomplished with a daily pre-shift!

A daily pre-shift meeting is your opportunity to communicate with your employees. Just take a look at some of the benefits:

  • Creating a positive work environment – a pre-shift ensures that your management team MUST communicate every day with your staff. This teaches management the direct relationship between constant communication and happy employees. Employees in the know are less likely to make things up, spread rumors, be unhappy or present a behavior problem. And management that communicates leads.
  • Happy customers – pre-shift meetings are your opportunity to train your employees every day, and we all know that training is imperative to your restaurant’s success. Management will train line employees on daily specials, how to up-sell at the table, product knowledge, events, coupons and promotions, events, etc. Training your employees on a daily basis ensures your guests have the best experience possible every time they dine with you.
  • Make more money – when you train daily, when management creates a positive work environment, and your customers are happy… your sales increase and you make more money!

What should you cover in a daily pre-shift meeting?

Create shift meeting notes, which serve as your blueprint to a successful pre-shift meeting. Your notes are really an educational or communications tool. They communicate the following and more:

  • Features of the day, including additional notes regarding the features
  • Any promotions you have running
  • Any contests or incentives you are running
  • Policy changes or planned enforcement
  • What the daily side work or sanitation duties are and who they will be assigned to
  • Tips of the day, from up-selling and menu knowledge, service tips to cooking skills and people skills to self-help

Tips for using shift meeting notes

  • Spice it up – no matter what you plan on communicating, you should make if fun and interesting.
  • Remember it’s a legal document – you should keep all pre-shift meeting notes in a binder so that if and when you are in a labor board hearing you have proof that you had a policy in place.
  • Represent you – make sure your managers know that this is not a place to doodle or place personal commentary. Rather this is a training document and must be treated as such.
  • 15 minutes – conduct the pre-shift meeting 15 minutes before the shift starts. Require your staff to come dressed and ready. That does not mean wet hair, brush in hand and uniform slung over the arm.
  • Treat the team as equals – all too often, management only runs a pre-shift meeting for the front-of-house employees. No matter your reasoning for not including those in the back of the house, you are setting yourself up for creating the “us-versus-them” mentality. You are basically telling your back-of-house employees they are not important. If you have to, run a second pre-shift in the kitchen. They need to be communicated with, too, you know.
  • Post it – some restaurants have staggered starts for each department to save on labor costs. That means that there might not be a time for all the staff to huddle up for a meeting. The answer is to write up your notes and post them. Then require each employee to read the notes and initial that they have done so.
  • Keep ‘em – keep your notes, especially after they have been posted and initialed. Remember, this could be used in a labor hearing or dispel the old, “I didn’t know” excuse.
  • Repetition is a good thing – whenever you are introducing a new menu item, a new policy, etc., you will want to make sure it is covered every shift every day for at least a week. This will ensure that every employee has heard the message at least once if they are part-time and that you have been crystal clear with everyone else.

Embrace the benefits

If you like chaos in your operation and babysitting a group of high school students, no matter where they are in their life, don’t change a thing. But if you are like me, and are frustrated by the petty little games that poorly informed employees play, then start communicating right away and every day by conducting pre-shift meetings. Start organized by using the Shift Meeting Notes template.

Not only will your restaurant run better, you will increase your sales and make more money as a by-product. Don’t wait another minute. Log into the Member site, print off the Shift Meeting Notes form and start using it. It doesn’t get much easier than that.

David Scott Peters TheRestaurantExpert (1)David Scott Peters is a restaurant expert, speaker, coach and trainer for independent restaurant owners. He is the developer of SMART Systems Pro, an online restaurant management software program helping the independent restaurant owner remain competitive and profitable in an industry boxed in by the big chain restaurants. He is best known as the SMART Systems guy who can walk into any restaurant and find $10,000 in undiscovered cash before he hits the back door… Guaranteed! Learn more at

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