Are you taking advantage of low lobster prices? | O’Dell Restaurant Consulting blog

Lobster prices | NPR.orgWhen prices move significantly on food, it usually worries restaurant owners. There are times when prices going down OR up can offer you a good opportunity to earn extra revenue though.

Currently, Maine lobster prices are tanking. There has been a glut of Maine lobsters caught this year and prices for lobsters on the East coast have hit a record low. While a restaurant owner might normally think “prices are down, that’s great for me“, it can be a double edged sword. You do not want prices on your already low priced products going down, especially if those products make up a large portion of your sales. While initially you may earn more money from lower recipe costs from those items, eventually your customer is going to want some of those savings passed on to them. When you do decide to drop your prices or offer featured items with these low priced ingredients, what you might experience is a skewing of your product mix to those lower priced items. This can actually canabalize sales of other items that may have a higher food cost percentage, but also likely contribute more gross profit dollars to your bottom line. That means less money in the bank.

Low lobster prices are a different story. When typically high priced food items drop in price, they allow you to lower your prices and skew your sales mix toward those items. Even though those items cost less than they normally do, the lobster is probably still going to be higher priced than your average sale and contribute more gross profit dollars than your average item sold. This represents a huge opportunity to improve both sales and profitability. By offering a lower price on lobster, your guests perceive that they are getting an incredible value so more of them order the lobster. Your average ticket goes up and so does your average gross profit per item sold. Win for you and a win for your customer.

O’Dell Restaurant Consulting offers operations and marketing consulting for independent restaurants. Visit for more information.

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Direct feedback from Robert Irvine on my Poco’s in KC article | O’Dell Restaurant Consulting blog

I recieved some feedback via Twitter from Robert Irvine of Restaurant Impossible about my recent article Restaurant Impossible at Poco’s in Kansas City.

I posted some pics of the outside of Poco’s in Kansas City while the Restaurant Impossible crew was there giving the restaurant the “Robert Irvine treatment”. In the article, I commented that I didn’t see the “frenzy” of activity I always see on the show and I asked some questions that I’ve been curious about since shows like Restaurant Makeover, Gordon Ramsay’s Kitchen Nightmares and Restaurant Impossible have been helping struggling restaurant owners fix their menus, their decor, and even their attitudes.

My questions include inquiries about what happens after the Restaurant Impossible crew is gone. Is there support after the makeover? You can read those specific questions in my article here.

I tweeted a link of my article to Robert Irvine and apparently he read it because he tweeted back to directly answer my most pressing questions. Here is our Twitter conversation, and make sure you are reading my own tweets back to keep everything in context. Also, I believe in full disclosure. I am a fan of the show, though it does not reflect the type of work I do with restaurants, and I appreciate Robert’s willingness to engage his fans.

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Restaurant Impossible at Poco’s in Kansas City | O’Dell Restaurant Consulting blog

Poco's Latin restaurant

Poco’s on the Boulevard in Kansas City, MO

I took a drive by Poco’s on the Boulevard today to snap some pictures of Robert Irvine’s Restaurant Impossible crew in action. Poco’s is a Latin restaurant that is near Kansas City, Missouri’s hispanic neighborhoods, and competes with a lot of great Mexican restaurants located just down the street.

Restaurant Impossible at Poco's in Kansas City

The “rear” view of Poco’s in Kansas City, MO and the Restaurant Impossible tents

When I drove up to Poco’s I expected to see a beehive of activity. Based on the show, the two day makeover is a mad dash to get finished, with Chef Robert yelling that they’ll “never get done on time”. That’s not at all what I saw though. What I witnessed was what appeared to be an organized and calm effort, with most the people helping either sitting or standing around. No running or hurrying and no stress. At least not outside the restaurant. Behind the restaurant, I saw servers in Poco’s uniforms sitting and talking. From across the street, I couldn’t tell what they were doing, whether it was training or helping with the remodel or something else.

As a restaurant and food service consultant, I’ve always wondered what happens when the Restaurant Impossible or Ramsay’s Kitchen Nightmares crew leaves. The restaurant has a new look, the menu is smaller, fresher, and likely higher priced, there is a boost in business due to the publicity and the owners have a new energy to “make it work this time”. My real concern for these restaurants is what happens next. Are the owners left with their same bad habits, only to revert to what is easiest? Do they continue to cling to the old crowd of customers that wasn’t enough to keep them in business, and alienate all the new potential customers by reverting to old habits and menus? Do they have new organizational systems in place or someone teaching them what information to record and how to organize their restaurant’s data to make sure they can be successful in the long run? Is there support after the reboot?

I don’t have the answers to any of those questions, but I do know one thing. More restaurants fail as a result of bad management practices than bad food. That doesn’t mean you can plan on being successful with bad food. The food is obviously very important. It just means that having good food isn’t enough. You have to have management systems in place and a process for tracking and saving important information about your restaurant, to allow you to make better, more informed decisions. You also need to have someone to talk to that knows what successful restaurants are doing that you aren’t, outside of the food.

Restaurant Impossible in the parking lot of Poco's in Kansas City

Most of the Restaurant Impossible staff sitting outside of the restaurant

These restaurants that receive free makeovers from the likes of Robert Irvine, Gordon Ramsay, or the Restaurant Makeover show are getting an incredible gift. The type of remodels and assistance they are getting is worth many, many times the $10,000 budget these shows stick to. The publicity they are getting is absolutely priceless. I don’t expect to be able to get into Poco’s for the next month. Especially in a food crazy town like Kansas City. I just hope the makeover shows are doing something to provide these restaurants with some support after the makeover. THAT is where the battle will truly be won or lost.

Update 8/10/12 – Robert Irvine answered some of the questions raised in this article via Twitter. See his replies here.

Brandon O’Dell and O’Dell Restaurant Consulting provide marketing and operations consulting services to small and medium budget independent restaurants and small chains, and offers downloadable organizational tools on their website. Brandon also operates a home chef service in the Kansas City and Wichita, KS metropolitan areas. Visit visit and for details.

Creating a manageable menu ¦ Reblog ¦ O’Dell Restaurant Consulting blog

One of the best articles on my blog, make sure to read “Creating a manageable menu”…

O'Dell Restaurant Consulting's Blog

Two of my favorite shows are Restaurant Impossible and Gordon Ramsay’s Kitchen Nightmares. If you haven’t seen them, and you’re in the restaurant business, you’re missing out on a lot of free lessons.

Gordon Ramsay is a bit of bully. He likes to push people’s buttons. I think one of his other shows, Hell’s Kitchen, is just a stage for him to berate future chefs for ratings and money. Robert Irvine is a bit more respectful, but still tough. That said, I still think those two show are the most important shows on television for current and would-be restaurateurs.

If you watch Kitchen Nightmares or Restaurant Impossible, you’ll notice a reoccuring theme with many of the failed restaurants Ramsay or Irvine help; large, unfocused, unmanageable menus. I’m not sure what it is about the restaurant business that turns an average cook into an overbearing, pretentious egomaniac chef or restaurant owner that thinks they can stick something on a…

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O'Dell Restaurant Consulting's Blog

High failure rates for restaurants. Yes they’re exagerated, but they’re still high. According to recent studies from Cornell and Ohio State universities, 59-60% of restaurants fail within the first three years. As many as 75% may fail within the first five. Why are they so high? For a list of the six biggest reasons, see The biggest mistakes restaurants make, and why they have a high failure rate.

For the purpose of this article, I’m going to talk about a key fundamental in restaurant concept design, keeping it simple.

Big menus with too many items, oversized dining rooms, multi-ingredient dishes, huge liquor selections and wine lists and over decorating. They’re all symptoms of the same problem, overcomplicating your concept.

As a restaurateur, you may find yourself getting bored with traditional menu items. For you, eating in a restaurant might need to be an adventure. You may have to see or…

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The Do’s and Don’ts of text message marketing

I’m not sure I agree with the author of this article on the importance of text message marketing. Most the people I know consider text marketing from a business annoying. She does give some great tips on “do’s and don’ts” if you are going to use text message marketing though.

The Do’s and Don’ts of text message marketing…

20 steps to lowering your food or liquor costs

food inventory spreadsheet from O'Dell Restaurant ConsultingThis article will be one of the most important I’ve ever written for restaurant owners and managers in other food services. In this article, I’m going to do something you won’t see from another consultant. I’m going to share with you the exact steps of an action plan I created to help a restaurant create a food cost fitness program, along with some helpful commentary from me. These steps would be the same for liquor costs, but would focus on different employees in a different area of the restaurant. What you won’t find in this list is steps for purchasing. Negotiating lower prices is kind of a “no brainer” in controlling food costs, so it is not mentioned here. Other steps that are not mentioned, but are important none-the-less include proper monitoring of your vendor prices during the year, receiving goods properly, securing storerooms and surveillance of storage areas. In truth, anything you do with your food can affect your food costs. This 20-step list is meant to focus on those 20 things that are my first focus when I am working with a restaurant.

Outlining this plan for you may be to me a little like a restaurant owner publishing their secret recipes, but my main interest is not in keeping the things secret that I do to help restaurants. My main interest is in improving the restaurant and food service industry as a whole.

This list may not be completely comprehensive for every restaurant. There are likely considerations that would change the process slightly for another venue, but I believe if you take this list and apply these 20 steps to your efforts in organizing a food cost fitness program in your restaurant, you will be miles ahead of your competition. Some of these steps include spreadsheets and tools you may not have or may not have the ability to create. If you cannot create them, you should be able to find them in several places on the web to download for a small cost or with a membership to a food service website. One of these places is our webstore at If you can’t find the needed Microsoft Excel or Word templates in our store, we likely still have it available or can direct you to another site that does have it.

There are two main objectives that this 20 step process seeks to accomplish:

  1. It gives you the ability to always measure where your cost fitness is at any given time. If you don’t know where you are, you can’t know how to get where you want to go.
  2. It gives you the ability to measure where your cost fitness should be. This is one step in the process that many owners skip. They do not use ideal or theoretic food costs to measure where theirs should be. Instead they use some made up cost percentage goal that doesn’t take into consideration their menu item sales mix which can affect the ideal cost percentage greatly without it being a good or bad thing. If you don’t know where you should be, knowing where you are doesn’t do you any good.

Lowering food costs is also tied directly to three other areas of food production that these steps will help with. These other three areas are:

  1. Production speed – 80% or more of your sales come from peak periods in your restaurant. Your ability to push as much food out of your kitchen during peak periods as possible without affecting consistency or quality is the key to making money in your restaurant.
  2. Food consistency – Food and beverage consistency is the key to meeting your customer’s expectations when they come in your restaurant. When your customers receive food of a certain quality in your restaurant, they will expect that same quality of food every time they come into your restaurant. You need to have a system for reproducing your food or beverages to the same standard of quality for every order.
  3. Food quality – The quality of your food is the key to delivering on your “promise” to your customers on what to expect from you. While customers in McDonalds don’t expect fresh-never-frozen 1/3 lb. beef patties, they do still have a quality expectation. They want their hamburgers still to be juicy and hot. Your marketing, name and implied level of quality set the expectations for your customers. Now, you have to have a system in place to make sure those expectations are met consistently. It’s okay for quality to be lower than another restaurant, like McDonalds might be to you, if that is what your customers expect and they still feel they receive a good value. The key is to make sure they get as good or better quality than you promise. Your customer’s perception of value inside your restaurant is directly attributable to the quality of your food and beverages.

If you see terminology in this article that you don’t understand or think is important, please follow the links to other articles explaining these terms and their importance. If you have further questions, don’t hestitate to contact me.

Now, without further ado……..

The 20 steps to lowering your food costs

  1. Observe a busy service period in the restaurant. Make any suggestions to staff or management that could immediately increase the speed of service until a system is in place. This could include things like adding an expeditor or increasing staff levels or preparing a sauce for a dish during the prep work instead of when the dish is being plated.
  2. Evaluate the talent level of your existing kitchen staff and chef and gauge their ability to use the cost control tools you would be putting in place. If for example you expect your chef to use spreadsheets and data from your point of sale system to evaluate your costs, then that chef must have strong computer skills and the ability to use those tools.
  3. Evaluate the current kitchen, equipment and setup. Do you have enough storage for all your ingredients considering the number of deliveries you get per week? Does your menu have lots of fried items on it while you only have one fryer? Does your line setup require cooks to cross in front and behind each other during the preparation of dishes?
  4. Evaluate your current P&L and customer counts to determine a needed gross profit per person to later be used in pricing a new menu. The only way to make sure your prices deliver enough dollars to not only pay for the cost of the food, but for labor, rent and every other expense of running your restaurant while still delivering a profit, is to consider ALL those factors when pricing your menu, not just the food cost.
  5. Evaluate your soft beverage, alcoholic beverage and food vendor contract and invoices, and current inventory. Are you getting good pricing compared to other restaurants in the market? How do you know? Are your inventory values up to date? Are you doing an inventory weekly so you don’t have to wait until the end of the month to know there was a problem?
  6. Get feedback from servers and bartenders on menu. Ask for evaluation and suggestions they may have from customers. Organize an informal survey to be conducted with customers by service staff to gather suggestions and feedback. Your servers are the people who know your customers better than anyone. You or the chef should be consulting with them when creating a new menu or evaluating an existing one. They are the only employees in your restaurant that truly know what the customer thinks. Get them on board and the whole process gets much easier and more effective.
  7. Create a menu that can be produced quickly within the constraints of your existing kitchen equipment and the talent level of your kitchen staff. Food would of course have to appeal to your target market and taste delicious, while also contributing the necessary amount of gross profit. Create a manageable menu, not one that asks more than your kitchen or staff can deliver.
  8. Create recipe spreadsheets for all the menu items. Creating these recipes in spreadsheets gives you the ability to link individual ingredients to your inventory spreadsheet so your recipe costs update automatically when you update your inventory prices. A good recipe spreadsheet can also be used for batch recipes on items like sauces and mashed potatoes that have to be made in large batches, then costed into portions. Updated recipe costs can then be used to calculate your ideal food cost.
  9. Create a food inventory spreadsheet that assists in calculating recipe portion costs, and also assists the food ordering process with par levels and automatically calculated order amounts. This spreadsheet is the heart of your food cost fitness program. It not only helps you determine your actual costs of food for the period, but it also provides the necessary information to all the recipes spreadsheets you link to it so recipe costs are updated automatically, which then links to your ideal cost spreadsheet to help calculate what your food should have cost you to sell.
  10. Create an ideal cost spreadsheet to help calculate what the food you sell should have cost you to sell. Ideal costs are calculated by multiplying your sales of each menu item by the recipe cost of that menu item. Adding these individual costs together gives you an ideal or theoretic food cost that should then be compared to your actual food costs for discrepancies. Linking your recipe spreadsheets to your ideal cost spreadsheet keeps your theoretic costs up to date all the time so you can do ideal cost evaluations weekly by only entering sales by item data.
  11. Create a menu analysis spreadsheet that helps you evaluate your best selling items and categorize all your menu items by their popularity and gross profit contribution. There are many versions of this spreadsheet available on the web. I believe the first version was created by a professor at Cornell University. It helps you classify your menu items into categories that assist you in evaluating your menu and determining what changes need to be made. My version of this spreadsheet also helps you calculate ideal gross profits for menu items, which is a number that can be used to strategically price your menu for almost guaranteed profit.
  12. Create a recipe book with plate pictures for all menu items, to stay in the kitchen as a training tool. Train on the new menu for two weeks before implementation. Use nightly features to practice the production of the new items during these two weeks. This is also an incredible training tool for new cooks. Good recipe spreadsheets should include complete instructions on how recipes are prepared. They also allow cooks to see the cost of each of your menu ingredients so they can help you better monitor the prep and waste of those items. Tools like this help turn low level employees into leaders and future managers.
  13. Create menu descriptions for the training of wait staff that includes plate pictures. Train on the new menu for two weeks before implementation. It’s just as important for wait staff to see complete menu descriptions as for the cooks. The wait staff are supposed to be the “expert” on your food in relation to your customers. If you waitstaff doesn’t know your food, they can’t sell your food. These menu descriptions should have already been created in the recipe spreadsheets. For the wait staff, all you have to do is assemble each desription with each picture.
  14. Create prep lists for every station in the kitchen. Prep lists tell each cook exactly what items they have to prep for the shift. When you create a list you create accountability. You have a tool that management can use to verify the employee has done their work. This list should have space for your chef or kitchen manager to add prep items for features or specials for each shift.
  15. Create line setup diagrams for every station in the kitchen. Line setup diagrams show cooks exactly where prepped items are placed in steam wells and coolers so their efficiency of motion is maximized. Since speed is so very important in a kitchen, proper placement of prepped items is also very important. Line setup diagrams should also include a description of the exact utensil that should be used to measure the portion for each prepped item. Portioning is very important to keeping food costs where they should be.
  16. Create job descriptions for all positions in the kitchen. Job descriptions not only tell employees what their duties are, but they also define to them the hierarchy of your restaurant, so they know who they answer too. In addition, a good job description should include the physical demands of the job. Creating good job descriptions also gives you a template to create effective job evaluations for employee reviews. When you tell an employee exactly what their job is, you then have a basis to measure their performance. More informed and properly focused employees are more efficient and can greatly affect your food and liquor costs.
  17. Design a menu that features high gross profit items prominently and employs other known psychological selling tactics to direct diners toward high gross profit items and increase sales. A well designed menu tells customers what they want to order. Once you know how many gross profit dollars each menu item contributes, you can know which items to push on your menu. You can then place items on your menu where they will get seen first, highlighting them with boxes, backgrounds, color and icons. You should also make sure your prices are properly placed, NOT listed in a column, NOT bold typed or highlighted, NOT containing a “$”, NOT listed next to “”……..” and rounded to a whole number OR to “.99” instead of “.95”. That extra .04 per item can add up to thousands of dollars without being noticed by your customers.
  18. Train staff, managers and owners on preparation of new menu items. Now that you’ve created all the tools, the training is organized, focused and much more effective.
  19. Train staff, managers and owners on proper inventory, purchasing and receiving procedures. Having the tools makes the training of key staff and owners much easier, but you also must know the “whys” of inventory, purchasing and receiving. Who should check in the orders? Who should do inventory? Should the chef be the only one purchasing food?
  20. Train staff, managers and owners on use of all spreadsheets and checklists. Any tool you create will be useless without consistent followup, enforcement and discipline. You could have the greatest system in the world, but if no one is managing it, it isn’t likely to work. Likewise, managers need to be managed. They should be regularly questioned and periodically observed on their inspection habits, their use of checklists and their disciplinary procedures. What are the consequences if an employee doesn’t use the checklist? What are the consequences if the manager doesn’t inspect the employee’s work? Set your expectations and let employees and managers know the consequences for not performing up to your standards in advance. The more informed they are and the more consistent you are, the less you’ll have to worry about disciplining anyone.

If you follow these 20 steps to lowering your food or liquor costs, I know your costs will come in line. These are the same steps I use as a food service consultant, and they’ve worked for me many, many times. Remember though that “low” isn’t always the goal with food costs. You are better off selling a $25 steak that costs you $10 to produce ($15 gross profit) than you are an $8 cheeseburger that cost you $2 to produce ($6 gross profit), even though the cost percentage on the steak is 40% while the hamburger is 20%. What you should compare is the gross profit contribution of $15 for the steak to $6 for the hamburger. That extra $9 will go a long ways to pay for labor, rent, expenses and profit. What is more important is that your actual food cost and ideal food cost are within 1.5% of each other. If your food is costing you what it should be costing you to serve, then you know your waste and theft is under control. From there, if you’re not making money, you know the problem is your other expenses or your prices and not your product cost. Without comparing ideal and actual costs, you’re just guessing what the problem is.

Take these steps and implement them in your restaurant. No one solution can make all restaurants profitable, but this one can help eliminate the biggest issue in most restaurants and food service, cost control.

Brandon O’Dell
O’Dell Restaurant Consulting
(888) 571-9069

Attacking the restaurant industry | A dangerous and inaccurate post on the Mayo Clinic website

I would like to share a very inaccurate and damaging post from the Mayo Clinic website from two dietitians, Jennifer Nelson, M.S., R.D. and Katherine Zeratsky, R.D.

The author(s) claim that the “average” burger size in the U.S. is now 12 ounces, without toppings, the “average” fry portion being 6.7 ounces, and the “average” soda portion being 42 ounces. They may or may not have gotten their information from a CDC report they cite but don’t reference. These “averages” really represent the largest portions available in most markets and are nowhere near accurate. McDonald’s, the largest burger seller in the country, has a 2 ounce, 4 ounce and 5 ounce burger, with 2 – 4 ounce buns. The most popular pre-formed patty sizes sold through distributors are 4 ounce and 5 ounce sizes.

It’s articles like this that lead to regulations like what is being proposed in New York City by Mayor Bloomberg to limit the sizes of soft drinks available for purchase.

They wrote the article implying that restaurants might be responsible for making people eat larger portion sizes, as opposed to the real relationship between customers and restaurants of restaurants responding to customer demands and doing whatever it is that will keep customers coming through their doors so they can simply keep those doors open. This blame game starts with finger pointing and ends with the government eventually stepping in to tell you what you can and can’t sell in your restaurant, as witnessed currently with the proposed regulations in New York City. These regulations limit competition, drive up pricing and put independent restaurants out of business.

I urge all of you to comment on the Mayo Clinic article (no registration necessary) and express your disagreement with the mis-stated facts, and even urge the Mayo Clinic webmaster to take the inaccurate article down. If these statistics are actually contained in a CDC report, we need to get the National Restaurant Association involved in reviewing the study these “facts” are cited from as they are grossly inaccurate.

Here is the article, please comment:

Here is the Mayo Clinic “Contact” page to request this inaccurate article be removed:

If you are a National Restaurant Association member, contact them to ask that they look into possible damaging and inaccurate CDC reports that restaurants need amended:

Please help myself and others work to protect our industry.

Brandon O’Dell
O’Dell Restaurant Consulting

Trouble shooting your food service | What causes low employee morale in a restaurant?

Low employee morale is one of the most devasting issues any business can face. Unhappy employees steal, don’t show up for their shifts, don’t upsell your products, don’t clean and generally don’t care about your restaurant. They feel that if you don’t have their back, then why should they bust their humps for you.

Making your employees happy takes a lot more than paying them well. For a restaurant, there are some key questions I ask owners when I am trying to help them improve their employee morale. The answers to these questions alert me to possible issues a restaurant might have in keeping their employees happy. Some are “no brainers” but others may seem counter-intuitive at first or may not initially seem they would directly affect employee morale. After each of these questions, I am going to share with you some notes of things I look for in direct relation to the question asked. Even without my notes, simply asking these questions and answering them honestly and getting honest input from your employees could open your eyes to potential issues that may be causing low employee morale in your restaurant. The act of asking alone will let your employees know how much you value their attitudes.

If you have other questions you would like to add to the list, please leave us a comment. For our complete sixteen page list of trouble shooting questions for your entire restaurant, visit our webstore. Though the detailed explanations for each question, as provided below, are not included with the Trouble Shooting Questions, these sixteen pages of direct questions will help you uncover some major potential issues in the day to day operation of your restaurant or food service.

Do your restaurant employees have bad attitudes, and is it your fault?

  • Are employees positive and upbeat?
  • You may have already determined you have a morale problem, but maybe you are just asking questions to see if you do. The first question to ask yourself is this one. Employees are either upbeat or their not. If their moods are not positive, it’s time to start searching for the cause.
  • Are there “problem employees” who reduce the morale of the remaining staff?
  • No problem originates with “everyone”. Most times, there are individual employees who other employees are drawing their negativity from. Often, these are employees who seem to be “leaders” of some sort. Not that they are your appointed leaders, but they may be leaders of different groups of friends within your restaurant who end up sharing the same negative attitude of this person.
  • Are there “sacred cow” employees who have been promoted past their ability?
  • One of the most frustrating situations for a good emnployee is to have to take direction from an employee who may not be as talented or knowledgeable as them. In operations who have been open for a long period of time or who may have inherited employees from a previous business they purchased, there are oftend “sacred cow” employees. These are emnployees who may have a lot of popularity or clout with customers who have been promoted beyond their ability due to their long tenure with the operation. Some owners feel these employees are more important to their customers than they are themselves, so they advance them into management positions when what they truly excel at is being an hourly employee. This creates a situation where the employee themselves feel insecure about their own role, are defensive and negative. Other good employees who may be more able to fill the position feel frustrated having to be subordinates to such an employee.
  • Are there job descriptions for every employee in your restaurant?
  • Job descriptions are the backbone of all communication and goal setting with your employee. They give the employee an overview of what it is you will be judging their performance on. Without job descriptions, you could set the employee up for a very frustrating cycle of focusing on the wrong skills and work traits then being judged poorly for it.
  • Do servers and other service staff feel they have been well trained?
  • Proper, structured training is the “foundation” of creating a happy workforce. Service staff must feel they know what your expectations of them are and be secure in knowing they are doing things in a way that will make them more valuable to you. They must know what your standards for service are and have a good feel of the quality of service you expect from them.
  • Do servers and other service staff feel they have all the tools necessary to perform the job expected of them?
  • Beyond training, service staff need to have the tools to do the job. This may include having enough serving trays to go around, enough pitchers to pour tea and water or might even be a point of sale system that helps make ordering, tracking charges and pricing tickets much easier. Everything a server needs to properly serve your guests is your job to provide them with. Short changing them on any one of these tools could be very frustrating to them.
  • Do kitchen employees feel they have been well trained?
  • Proper training of kitchen personnel is all-too-often and afterthought for restaurant owners. Just like servers, bartenders and bussers, you should have training manuals for all your kitchen positions.
  • Do kitchen employees feel they have all the tools necessary to perform the job expected of them?
  • Tools can be even more important in a kitchen than in the front of the house. Are you allowing your chef to buy the quality of product that allows him/her to meet your quality expectations for the food? Are there enough saute pans and do all the pieces of equipment in the kitchen operate as they should? Poor equipment and tools make kitchen personnel feel like you are setting them up for failure.
  • Do supervisors and managers feel they have been well trained?
  • Even moreso than with kitchen personnel, the training of managers and supervisors are constantly overlooked. It’s not enough to have a new supervisor or manager “shadow” an existing one to train them. Seeing their job is only one part of training. You should have training manuals for managers just as you do for service and kitchen staff.
  • Do supervisors and managers feel they have all the tools necessary to perform the job expected of them?
  • Beyond computers and clipboards, “tools” for managers means having the right “systems” for success. Just as hourly employees, managers need to know what the proper process is to achieve anything in your restaurant that you want them to. It’s not your manager’s job to figure out how to accomplish a task, it’s their job to carry out your system for accomplishing that task. Leaving managers to find their own way will only make them insecure and defensive when you need to make changes to the processes they put in place.
  • Does management properly convey goals and expectations to all staff members?
  • Every employee needs goals to strive for. Just as important as “having” goals is having a boss who accurately and regularly conveys those goals to you. There is little that is more frustrating for an employee than a manager or owner who is judging them based on benchmarks that have not been shared with them.
  • Are goals achievable?
  • Having goals are a waste of time if they can’t be achieved. 100% guest satisfaction, for example, is a goal that will not motivate your staff because it is impossible to achieve. Telling employees that you expect them to be perfect will only frustrate them because it is impossible for any employee to actually be perfect. Setting goals they can attain, and structuring rewards for achieving those goals, helps keep them motivated to reach for the next goal.
  • Are incentive programs simple and easy for employees to self-measure?
  • Not only do you need goals, but you need to provide an incentive to the employee to achieve those goals. When those incentives aren’t easy to measure however, it can be very frustrating for an emnployee. They may be under the impression they are meeting your expectations to receive some sort of payoff, only to find out in the end that they didn’t because they couldn’t accurately measure their achievement along the way.
  • Are monthly employee meetings held?
  • Monthly meetings are not only a great way to communicate goals to employees, but are also perfect for correcting mistakes, clarifying miscommunication and furthering training of employees. Without monthly meetings, employees may be left with not real training or communication between their hiring and their one year evaluation.
  • Is employee performance evaluated at a minimumm of once per year?
  • Employees need to know where they stand to be happy. Though I suggest meeting with every single employee one-on-one at least once per quarter, once per month ideally, a yearly employee performance review is the minimum effort you should make to communicate with and focus each of your employees on particular goals you have for them. To keep them secure and focus, I suggest providing them with 3 areas to improve and 3 areas they can help other employees improve in. For several Employee Performance Appraisal templates, you can visit our webstore.
  • Are shift meetings held in both the front and back of house religiously?
  • General communication can be effectively conveyed once per month, but many issues need to be addressed must sooner. Without meetings every shift, your staff can be left to feel that you are ignoring pressing issues in your restaurant or may be left feeling unprepared and untrained to sell your featured menu items and drink specials.
  • Is the kitchen a reasonable temperature for the kitchen staff during service?
  • Temperature affects attitude, plain and simple. Being hot makes cooks more irritable with each other, their bosses and their service staff team mates. Too hot of a working condition can not only put kitchen personnel in a bad mood and make them perform worse, but it can also be hazardous to their health. An employer who does not show concern for their employee’s health is one that isn’t likely to get the best out of that employee.
  • Are staff members allowed to purchase menu dishes at a discount?
  • Trying to describe food that you have never tasted to a table you are trying to sell that food to is incredibly frustrating for servers and bartenders. There should never be an item on your menu that your servers can’t tell a guest that they have tried. Guests expect your servers to be experts on your food and not having that expert knowledge of your food and know first had how your food tastes makes your service staff feel insecure and possibly dishonest when selling your food to guests. No employee wants to work under those conditions.
  • Is there an employee meal policy?
  • “Old school” thinking used to tell us that keeping your employees “hungry” made them try harder. Luckily for employees, decades of research has shown that premise to be completely misguided. Having a plan to keep your employees fed and fueled is a great tool for keeping them healthy and happy. Not every food service can afford to feed their employees for free, but any restaurant should be able to budget time for employees to eat and allow them to purchase their food at a discount.
  • Are proper break times allowed?
  • Some states regulate breaks and some don’t. Regardless of regulations, an emnployee’s productivity starts to fall off after a certain amount of time on the the job. Whether it is during a long shift or between shifts, not allowing your employees to recharge could make their actual problems at the job seem much larger than they really are.
  • Do employee benefits meet or exceed industry and geographic norms?
  • Your employees are going to compare their pay and benefits to those of other restaurants and food services in your area. There’s nothing you can do about that. To keep them happy, you have to make sure they are getting compensated at least at the industry norm within your geographic area. Don’t waste time researching what restaurants pay in other markets because your employees aren’t going to either. They are going to look in the paper and talk to their friends to see what everyone performing a similar job is making, and if you aren’t paying as much as they can make somewhere else, don’t expect to keep them for long. A simple Bonus Plan Example for employees is available for download in our webstore.
  • Are employees scheduled two or more days off per week?
  • The restaurant industry is one of the biggest offenders of overworking employees. Because many of us came through management and ownership positions where we worked 60 to 80 hours or more per week, we think that our employees and managers should just accept that working in the restaurant industry means you can’t have a life outside of it. Humans aren’t built to be productive 12 hours a day, 6-7 days a week. If you want to be a “preferred employer”, find a way to get your employees off at least two full days per week, even if it means working them longer hours on the days they are there.
  • Does management consistently and fairly enforce employee policies?
  • This is probably the most important key to keeping employees happy. Though it sounds a little counter-intuitive, reprimanding employees consistently and fairly will actually build a happier workforce. Your good employees aren’t likely to be the employees violating your policies on a regular basis. When they see other employees showing up late for work, no showing for shifts or not completing all their work according to your direction, then see that same employee get the same raise and enjoy the same job security they have, it’s offensive. Not consistently and fairly reprimanding employees who break your policies and don’t follow procedures will chase away your good employees who don’t feel you appreciate them following the rules, and will create an environment of comfort for bad employees who have no reason to leave a job they can keep on their own terms.
  • Are employee reprimands recorded and signed by employees?
  • Properly recording reprimands and requiring employees to sign them helps you best communicate exactly what it was an employee did that was against your policies. Along with recording the discretion, this also gives you an opportunity to record and communicate a remedy to the discretion. This type of communication and consequence puts employees on sure footing about your expectations of them.
  • Is management accessible and effective at solving employee problems?
  • Having managers that do not have the ability to correct the issues an employee has, or worse, don’t even care, is extremely frustrating for an employee. Read our Steps to Effective Problem Solving for a tutorial on using the Scientific Method to solve problems.
  • Is there a defined chain of command that all employees are made aware of?
  • He said, she said” is a situation that frustrates employees in any workplace. It’s created when there is no defined pecking order in your restaurant. Employees can be given conflicting direction by different managers and owners, then feel extremely frustrated when another manager or owner reprimands them for only doing what they were told by someone else.

This list is a long one, but all these questions are important to ask if you are truly interested in having high employee morale and fostering a great attitude in your food service establishment.

If you would like to see our complete list of Trouble Shooting Questions we ask restaurateurs to trouble shoot their restaurants, it’s available for download in our webstore, or you can get it directly by clicking the “Buy Now” button below. The download does not contain the same in-depth explanation on every question as this article does, but you can keep your eyes peeled for more Trouble shooting your food service articles on this blog that will. What is does contain is sixteen pages of questions you should be asking yourself about your own operation, separated into different areas of restaurant operation. Use these questions to trouble shoot your own restaurant and give us a call if you need to know why any of these questions are important or if you need assistance in repairing what you discover about your restaurant or food service.

Trouble Shooting Questions

Trouble Shooting Questions

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Download this sixteen page list of Trouble Shooting Questions that O’Dell Restaurant Consulting uses to trouble shoot our client’s restaurants and food services. The questions are separated into 22 different categories, each dealing with a different part of your operation such as Cost Control, Employee Hiring & Training, and Marketing. These insightful and detailed questions to ask yourself and your employees are the key to helping you or us pinpoint what area of your restaurant needs the most attention.

If you need help finding solutions to the issues you uncover by answering these questions, contact Brandon O’Dell of O’Dell Restaurant Consulting to take advantage of our offer for a free 30-minute consultation to evaluate our services.

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