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Stop, Look & Listen

As Robert Nyman sees it you can reinvigorate your F&B staff by engaging them in the decision making process. Here’s how.

Wednesday, May 18, 2011
Robert J Nyman
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It’s been an interesting past couple of weeks or so, depending on how you view the world and what is of utmost importance to you personally and professionally. The usual “talking heads” are putting their spin on things; all coming up with excuses, new ideas and we should have done this and we should have done that. Some people are so tuned into the events of the day it seems they start to think they invented a new way of critiquing and communicating to us their opinions and ideals. Oh you thought I was going to opine about Donald Trump? Hardly, Seth Meyers said enough about that for all of us.

With the price of oil continuing to rise, consumers have decided to use less gasoline, which translates in some areas as less visits to restaurants and going out in general. Plus with rising food costs as we are told due to increasing fuel costs, hang on to your whatever, we might be in for a bumpy ride all over again or should I say still? I spoke this week to several operators who already told me their cover counts were off and even with the traditional nice weather in the country this time of the year (with the exception of the flooding areas), business in general is not in a significant upward trend, according to all the “experts” who predict what we are going to eat, spend and the like. If all of the above is true, and who would doubt the prognosticators, then I guess we might as well close our doors and give up!

But hey I have an idea for you, why not have a staff meeting and ask your employees how they feel about things, what the guest is telling them about your food, portion sizes, prices and operations policies? Maybe you should talk to the person(s) who answers the phone and see what he or she thinks and the questions customers are asking about.

How about calling your suppliers and talking to them about what is new in the meat, fish, dairy and produce marketplace versus what you’re normally buying; along with speaking to them about upcoming seasonal items and of course pricing too. Maybe even call up your two favorite beer, wine and liquor suppliers to talk about any specials or discounts that might be available and then call their competitors, the vendors you don’t normally use and ask the same questions.

As an example, we recently introduced a client to an Argentinean wine, no not another Malbec but a wine varietal called Bonarda. It’s from the same region and because it’s not as well known, the pricing on the wine was substantially less than the current selection on their wine list for Malbec, one of the restaurants most popular wines. We told the operator to blind taste the wine with their staff and then ask for comments not just about the taste of the wine, but its potential for the restaurant, matching the wine with food, salability to guests and how much the staff thought they could charge for the wine.

First of all, the staff in the past was never asked to get involved in this way but rather lectured about wine and in no way asked for their true opinions, so this opportunity was a new way for management to get the team to buy into the concept. Secondly, once the commentaries were done, the service team along with the kitchen staff who also tasted the wine came up with multiple ideas for what to serve the wine with and also helped in setting the price for the wine, both by the bottle and with the team’s insistence and support, also offered by the glass. The margin on the new wine are substantially better than then on the current Malbec offering, so it was definitely seen by management as a better profit for the operation.

In the meantime, the Chef was so enthused by the wine experience, he started contacting his existing suppliers and some new ones too, to get samples of new products and pricing, and now each week the entire team gets together to taste and vote on new menu items and wines that can complement each item. The host and hostesses who answer the phone now also participate in tastings as well as give their input and share guest comments in daily pre-shift meetings.

All these simple implemented changes at the restaurant has not only lowered food and beverage costs but the entire staff is now involved in the day-to-day operation and by all measures made the place more profitable with rising guests counts and more unique offerings. Pitted against the PT Barnum naysayers with their wild predictions and false statements, all the management team had to do was stop what they were continually doing, look at the position they were in and listen to the most important people in their operation, the ones who make the difference every single day.

Robert Nyman    Robert J Nyman
Nyman Group

Bio: As President of The Nyman Group, Robert J. Nyman steers the company along its course with agility and experience. He began his career in a family-owned liquor store and delicatessen, but really began to “cut his teeth” in the industry with Restaurant Associates, where he served as Director of Operations in the airport division, a position which he held for six ...
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RE: Stop, Look & Listen article link
Great thoughts for the 5% of F & B outlets who most likely already implement this progressive kind of thinking. This article reinforces that they are doing it right; working as one integral team, making everyone feel respected and important.

For the other 95% of F & B outlets, if they haven't implemented this kind of strategy already, they won't now. I've seen articles like this for 30 years and only maybe that 5% has embraced that change; only to increase profit, improve relationships and install self-confidence in their staff, working pro-actively instead of re-actively.

It really is to bad too as so much potential is tossed aside by managers who think short term and self interests instead of long term and leadership.

Supportive actions inspire positive reactions.

Thank you for your time.
Posted by: David Jones
Email: courteousactions@gmail.com

RE: Stop, Look & Listen article link
This is a great story. The insights about involving and challenging vendors and employees are right on. The Bonarda story illustrates this well and contains a couple of bonus ideas for wine sales.
Posted by: Ned Barker
Email: ned@grillvc.com

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