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Opinion: Restaurant management teaches team tactics

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My nephew, Christian, is a restaurant manager with a very cool company in Park City, Utah. It’s called Bill White Enterprises.

The chain has five restaurants, all different concepts, from a classic bakery to southwestern fare, according to www.billwhiteenterprises.com.

Owner Bill White isn’t interested in cookie-cutter franchising – not that there is anything wrong with franchising. It just isn’t for him.

All of his eateries are committed to the “slow-food” movement, meaning they encourage their guests to make dining the evening’s entertainment. Staff members there do not rush table “turns.” And, it means that they seek out and serve locally produced food. The menus adapt to what is in season and what can be procured daily.

As part of a creative effort to increase sales in the off-season, White’s sales team reached out to corporations that may want to learn from Bill White Enterprises’ unique approach to customer service. Recently, members of a major car manufacturing company spent a few days visiting one of White’s restaurants, called Wahso. Wahso serves Asian and French fusion cuisine in a lovely setting, right on Park City’s historic Main Street.

The staff at Wahso crafted a presentation for the auto executives. Team members demonstrated how their departments contributed to the whole experience. The execs spent time on the restaurant floor with the dining room managers, who shared what they do to create a positive, memorable evening for each diner. The chef demonstrated the flow of the kitchen, for example.

I chatted with Christian after the event and asked him to reflect on lessons learned and the impact the experience had on the team. Here’s what I learned:

• Training is a benefit, not a burden.

Train your team and help them become trainers. The team loved showing off what they do so well.

• Don’t copy your competition.

What do they know that you don’t know already? The car execs turned to the restaurant folks for ideas and inspiration. And the restaurant employees enjoyed being exposed to people from another industry, who also focus on creating outstanding customer service.

• Teamwork produces collective pride.

An unexpected benefit came when the employees who previously had little interaction with each other worked together to create an amazing training event.

• Owners have power.

Christian described a powerful moment when White addressed the executives. Basically, he said, “We buy a squash for 50 cents. That evening it will be on the menu as an accompaniment for $9. How can we do that? How do we add that much value to a simple squash? We prepare it with love. It’s the love that we put into our food that gives it extraordinary value.” Can’t the same be said of what you sell?

• Managers can perform at their best levels even under heavy stress.

A good restaurant manager could teach us something about triage. Once upon a time, as a new restaurant manager, I pulled my general manager aside to let him know that I was completely overwhelmed. He told me, “Great. That means a lot of people have trusted us with their evening. Hang in there. Put your best self forward. In a couple hours, this rush will be a dim memory and you will wonder if you made the best of it.”

Hmm. On a busy day, wouldn’t those words ring true for you?

Ellen Rohr is an author and business consultant who offers systems for getting focused and organized, making money and having fun in business. Her latest book is “The Bare Bones Biz Plan.” She can be reached at ellen@barebonesbiz.com.
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