CGA Peach hosted an exclusive Leadership Masterclass from US restaurant guru Jim Sullivan in May. Now you can learn from some of his priceless masterclass maxims for the benefit of your business
1 Aim for habitual consistency
Master the basics and deliver them consistently. It is the simple things done well that convinces customers to return. What you do every day matters a lot more than what you do once in a while. What stops people coming back is inconsistency.
2 By the yard it’s hard, by the inch it’s a cinch
Hitting big targets is daunting, so break them down into smaller ones. Increasing sales by £30,000 a quarter, for instance, seems a big challenge, but viewed as just under £20 extra an hour it seems much more attainable. Broken down even further, winning an extra 50p in sales only means selling every 12th customer an extra £5.95 starter.
3 Hire tough, manage easy
Effort you spend ensuring you recruit the right team members always pays off by reducing the time and money lost in staff turnover. Recruit by personality and cultural fit, and attract the A-players by investing in training and setting out clear career paths for them to follow. Make hiring your most important decision.
4 Groom ‘em or broom ‘em
Aim high on your standards, and don’t tolerate those who consistently fall below them. Show them the door, but make sure you do it by the book. Low performers drive you and your customers crazy… they steal from you, literally and figuratively. Whenever you see someone underperforming and you ignore it you are setting a new standard. If you walk past a problem you’ve approved it.
5 Each one teach one
Brands that want to accelerate their roll-out usually hit the buffers because they haven’t got the proper infrastructure in place for it. Manage your bench strength so the pipeline of talent constantly flows. Ensure that if any leader in your business leaves you have two people who could take over immediately.
6 The shift is where the game is won
Strategy and theory are all well and good, but restaurants stand or fall by their performance shift by shift. So make sure your teams are prepared and motivated every time you open the doors, and get them together for short pre-shift meetings before they go on duty. Be clear about what you expect. If you don’t give your people goals, they’ll set their own.
7 You are always on stage
Walk through each stage of the customer’s journey and remember that every one of them is a moment of truth for your brand. From the greeting at the door to the presentation of the menu to the state of the toilets to the delivery of the bill—it all counts, so don’t think any part of your operations won’t be noticed. It’s the accumulation of small details. Everything speaks.
8 If we’re not selling we’re being outsold
Upselling is something that comes naturally to American operators, but it is done much more reluctantly here. That’s a pity because it’s the quickest way to grow your business. Target menu sections or specific items to sell more of, and incentivise your team. You’ve got the menu, so why not merchandise it?
9 Serve your own people first
The operators who treat their customers the best are usually the ones who treat their own staff the best. It’s one of the most effective HR tools you have, and it directly influences their performance in front of guests. How you treat your own people determines how you treat everyone else.
10 Always be marketing
Marketing campaigns can be grand in scale, but don’t neglect the local level. Walk the streets around your sites and spot the opportunities for reaching potential customers, like offices, schools, factories, gyms and community organisations. We often get excited about macro marketing and miss the micro. And remember that marketing is also what you do every time you serve food and drink. Consistency in operations is the most effective marketing strategy you have.
11 Teach your team to think like owners
A lot of team members get disgruntled if they think that restaurant owners make a fortune, but a little education about the costs of running a business will soon change minds. Show them a breakdown of the expenses in every pound earned, like labour, food, equipment, rent and utilities.
12 Know the way, show the way, go the way
Good managers lead from the front and by example. Exert gentle but determined pressure on your team to improve and focus your attention on what is important to the business rather than what is urgent. Aim to teach people something new every shift, and try to build your own replacements. Be the big gear. Set everything in motion every single day.
13 Make each team member better than they want to be
Regular, high-class training is essential if you want to get your operations ahead of the competition—and it can help retain your best team members, too. Learning and training are often as important as pay. It’s nice to pay people more, but it’s also nice to make them better at what they do.
14 Culture eats strategy for breakfast
Setting out long-term goals and policies is important, but not as important as establishing your company’s values. Get the internal culture of a business right, and managing your team suddenly becomes a lot easier.
15 Collect best practices
It’s important to share examples of best practice across the business if you want to continually improve. Ask general managers to bring one or two ideas to every meeting you have, and put a reward scheme in place for the best ones. Most importantly, keep a log of the suggestions so you can act on them.
16 You sell more in a clean restaurant
Few things turn customers off as quickly as dirty tables or toilets. Cleanliness breaks down into two types: sanitary conditions and neat and organised environments. Look to Disney, which is relentlessly focused on spotlessness.
17 Retention, not labour, is your biggest controllable expense
Losing team members is not just disruptive but expensive. A company that loses half its 80 employees a year and pays roughly £750 to recruit their replacements is shelling out £30,000 a year. At a 10% profit margin, it means you have to generate £300,000 in sales to offset the cost. That should focus the mind.
18 Make one thing better every week
Visualise what your business would look like if it were perfect, then work towards it. But break down those improvements into smaller goals so you can feel like progress is consistently being made. Don’t wake up a year from now and be 52 improvements behind.
19 Wherever there is waste there is opportunity
Everything that goes unsold has a triple cost: of buying it, storing it and throwing it away. Measure what you’re wasting in the kitchen and look for ways of reducing it. Get your team involved in finding solutions.
20 Service costs us nothing, so pile it on
It sounds an obvious rule but it’s sometimes overlooked: be nice to the people with the money. It’s not always easy. Service is emotional labour—it’s challenging. But genuine hospitality makes the difference between an average restaurant experience and a memorable one. If you don’t yet have a mission statement, use this one: every guest leaves happy.
Key trends in US eating out that could be coming our way
1 Fast casual: grew by 12% in the US last year
2 Big flavours: bold, spicy and sweet are in favour
3 Food photos: plate up with Instagram, Facebook and Twitter in mind
4 Samplers: small tastes of different starters or desserts are in fashion
5 Farm-to-table fatigue: too many imitators mean this badge of authenticity is losing its shine
6 Digital ordering: A new generation is accustomed to ordering without servers
7 The decline of tipping: restaurants where tips are not expected are making headway
8 Flatbreads: an on-the-go growth area
9 Breakfast: the meal occasion with the most growth potential
10 All things craft: beer,cider, spirits, cocktails—they’re all going artisanal