hospitality business

How to run a better hospitality business

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By Matt Rolfe

Whether you’re part of a large national multi-site operation or a single location operator, the facts show that running a healthy and successful operation is simply getting harder with each month and year that passes. Costs are rising, great management and staff are increasingly difficult to find and even harder to retain, and, based on the pace of today’s business, we are busier than ever.

I consider the pace of the hospitality industry one of our largest concerns. So many of us are putting in the hours and at the end of the week, we’re not delivering on the results and expectations we have set for ourselves and our teams. This is not due to a lack of effort but rather a lack of focus, alignment, and momentum around what matters most in your operation.

Over the last 10 years, I have observed a set of behaviors and rules that great operators follow religiously to ensure they run a successful operation. This article will not give you quick tips on how to run a better bar, restaurant, or quick service operation. As an entrepreneur who has tried and failed more than most, my goal is to provide you with insight from my experiences into proven approaches that can help you run a better business.

If we want our business to improve, we need to find a way to do things differently — to get outside of our comfort zone and set goals that will excite the leaders that take the time to read articles like this, but also excite the managers and staff we work with and ultimately the guests and customers that we serve.

Before diving deep, I want you to pause and be honest with yourself when considering this question: What is the benefit if you take the time to change and try something new this year versus the risk if you continue to do what you did last year? According to Einstein, the definition of insanity is doing the same thing over and over again expecting different results. If we want something new, then we must do something that we have never done before.

What is your number one goal?

Clarity in business is power. If you want your team to get excited and engaged with the desired direction for your hospitality business, they need to know your clear goal. If we look at any professional sports team, they have absolute clarity on how they win, accompanied by a scoreboard that tells them whether they are winning or losing. In the hospitality industry, I rarely find an operation that has one single goal to define their ultimate success for the current year. However, when I do, the success of those operators is always amazing and inspiring.

Often, setting one single clear goal for your business and committing to it is not an easy task. It requires time to think through in full detail. It is not as easy as saying, “I want to increase my revenue,” since revenue without profit is pointless. Nor is it as easy as setting a target profit margin goal; focusing solely on profit may lead us to shrink serving/portion sizes or staffing numbers that will, in time, affect our guest experience and hurt our operations. I cannot tell you what your number one goal should be, but I will tell you about the goal-setting process that has worked for several of our clients.

If you are an owner-operator you may work through the below steps on your own, but if possible, I urge you to share the process with your partners or senior leaders in your business. There is power in co-creating goals with others; this ensures there is buy-in and momentum around your goal as you begin implementing the required changes to achieve your goal. Whether you have two staff or 200, you will need to engage them all if you are going to be truly successful.

Book the time – You will need to book a full day planning session outside of your business. “But I can’t afford to spend a whole day away from my business!” If you are telling yourself this, that is a huge warning sign and part of the problem.

What’s working vs. what’s not – Take time to study what is currently working and what’s not over the last year in your business. Consider all elements of your business from the physical space, menu offerings, sales and profits, to the quality of your staff and staff retention. Take the time to consider what’s working vs. what’s not within your competitive set, taking time to compare your location to your competitors is a powerful part of the exercise.

How will you succeed – Put yourself three years out, in the year 2020, and ask yourself what we will need to do to be successful in three years’ time. What would need to change, improve or stay the same? Based on what’s working and what’s not within your business and competitive set today, what is needed to truly succeed in three years’ time? Have some fun with this exercise and honestly visualize your business in the future. What are your sales and profits? Think about your staff and team. Consider your location or locations. What is different with your menu and who are your customers?

What must we achieve to claim a success – Based on answering the questions above take the time to align one clear goal that when achieved, would allow you to celebrate with your team at the end of 2017. How could you have only one goal? Trust me, and trust the exercise, as those that are laser focused have the best chance of success.

There is more work to get done than you can possibly do – accept it and focus! – With how busy we all are between dealing with our guests, staff, suppliers, emails, text messages, meetings and fires, it is next to impossible to get it all done. Trying to accomplish everything can often be the source of many of the business issues we face in our operations. Rather than setting clear priorities on a few key items, we are trying to do it all at once and this causes us to be reactive to our days rather than focused. The weight of constantly playing catch-up can crush us all over time.

Creating focus in your hospitality business

To be successful we need to move away from the addiction of being busy and take the time to identify how we truly serve our businesses. Many of us have become great at doing all things but over time we move away from doing what we are best at and the true intention of our role or position inside our businesses. So often I see managers changing a light bulb during a peak shift rather than investing time with their guests, and similarly, I observe owners or leaders that are spending hours a day on email rather than investing some of that time into the development of their managers and staff. Simply put, do you spend time each week doing things that you know are not your job or on tasks that do not move your business forward? If you answered “Yes,” even as I just did when thinking about it, then it’s time to make a change and the steps below will provide clarity on creating focus in your day, week, and year.

Accept what is – Give yourself permission to accept that you cannot get it all done right now. Allowing yourself to let things go is the first step towards focusing on what matters most.

Break down your current week (by task and time) – Each member of your ownership or management team should take the time to list each of their core tasks and responsibilities week-to-week and beside each task, include the amount of time they spend on it each week. For most of you, that list will be long and the hours will add up to significantly more than 50 or 60 hours. The hardest for most is when they complete the list, they see that the tasks that will help them achieve their number one goal are not given the time needed or are missing from the list all together. This is normal so don’t panic.

Set your top three priorities – Based on working through your goals and tasks you’ll need to take the time to set three priorities; only three that when achieved will ensure you deliver on the rest of your goals. For the rest of the items on your list go through the exercise of “Stop, Start, Continue.” What are you going to start doing, what are your going to stop doing all together or delegate to someone else, and what are your going to continue doing as is or continue doing but find ways to reduce the time required to become more efficient?

How often does your team meet? Whatever it is, it’s not enough – That’s a bold statement, I know, but 90 per cent of the time it’s true. I find most operators in our industry are spending too much time working in their business instead of on their business. From my studies, the best operators take the time to meet as a team significantly more than the average operator. I’m not suggesting that you need to have meetings for meetings’ sake; they should be focused, where the core element of every meeting is passionate and positive conflict. Top operators create a space for conflict to exist in their meetings for the purpose of ensuring everyone is truly aligned towards common goals. The best operators follow the below meeting rhythm and I feel it is one of the most critical elements of success.

  • Daily Meeting – 10 minutes
  • Weekly Meeting – Two to three hours
  • Monthly Strategy Meeting – Full day
  • Quarterly Off-Site – Two days

(If you would like more info on the meeting rhythm, possible meeting agendas and keys to running successful meetings, email me at matt.rolfe@resultshospitality.com)

Celebration and recognition

I meet with thousands of staff each year in workshops and meetings and I have yet to speak with a staff member that says their team celebrates too often or recognizes them too much. The challenge is when I ask owners and managers if they celebrate enough, they often think they do. I think the divide between manager and staff opinion in this situation is normal and not the core issue. As leaders we need to be continuing to look forward and setting new and big goals. Where this does become an issue is when we achieve a goal and forget to celebrate, or we build a culture that only focuses on what’s wrong in the business rather than ensuring to recognize the great things that happen in your business each and every day before tackling and correcting any new opportunities.

Your staff need you to recognize great behavior every day, they need you to take the time to slow down and celebrate success with them, and they need to win, and know when they have won. To do this I recommend building a one page plan that outlines the following.

How will your staff celebrate great behavior on a daily basis? Build a scoreboard that is posted in your operation that allows everyone to know if you are winning or losing in relation to your one ultimate goal, or any related goals.

How often do you get the whole team together in a social setting to celebrate yourselves and your goals? The holiday party does not count! Put together a social calendar for monthly, or at least quarterly events that bring everyone together to celebrate your successes.

I have the pleasure of working with both large and small businesses and helping them work through this process to watch the wins and results come quickly. If you would like more information on some or all of the steps outlined above, email me, and I would be happy to send you more details on each step and insights on how to best execute them with your team.

At the beginning of this piece, I posed the question, “What is the benefit to your business if you change, and what is the risk if you don’t?” It is easy to read this article and not actually act, but what do you think the impact could be if you take the time to work through this process, what would the benefit be for you, your team, and your guests? I am here to support but also encourage you to act. Change can only happen by having the courage to take the first step.


About the author:

As the CEO for Results Hospitality and Westshore Hospitality Group, Matt Rolfe is a coach, speaker and hospitality industry thought leader. His company Westshore Hospitality Group focuses on helping leaders and leadership teams in our industry gain the clarity, focus and action needed to run healthy operations. The team at Results Hospitality supports their clients in achieving their desired results when it comes to their people, profits and processes. To learn more about how Matt and his team can assist you and your team please contact him at matt.rolfe@resultshospitality.com.

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