A lot of business owners like to bring in restaurant consultants to evaluate their operations. The idea is that input from an outsider can uncover gaps in your training, processes, and procedures. A new perspective can open your eyes to aspects of your operation that haven’t been on your radar. Unfortunately for most operators, great restaurant consultants come with a hefty price tag. If you’re thinking you’d never have the budget for that sort of thing, you’re not alone. And you’re also not out of luck.
Your restaurant is already full of problem-solving consultants, and you’re already paying them. Restaurant employees — from your star server to your brand new hostess to your veteran line cook — have insight into your operation that no consultant could ever have. While a completely external view can sometimes be helpful, save that for financial audits and tax time. For operational issues, avoid the learning curve and go straight to the source.
Follow these guidelines to get the most out of your internal restaurant consultants:
Ask specific questions. If you have already recognized a issue that you’re trying to fix, ask a variety of employees very targeted questions to help with problem-solving. Avoid yes or no questions. Instead, ask open-ended questions, and follow-up questions that require employees to really think about their answers. If you’re trying to uncover issues you might not be aware of, try to at least give employees a general direction.
Listen openly and without judgement. Your employees have a wealth of information to give, but you won’t get anything but spare change if you don’t create an environment where employees feel like they can say what’s really on their minds without fear of repercussions.
Focus on solutions. A conversation about problem-solving can easily turn into a complaint session if you’re not careful. Guide employees in a dialogue that is focused on finding solutions, rather than just identifying problems. Ask employees this question: “What’s your suggestion?” Accept and consider all answers, even if they seem far-fetched at first.
In it for the long haul. The idea of using your employees as expert consultants might redefine your relationship with the employees you put in this role. That’s okay. When employees see themselves as trusted advisers rather than just another staff member punching a clock, they’ll be more invested in their position. You’ll soon find their bringing issues to your attention with a solution already in mind.