9 best practices for restaurant operators

Restaurants that focus on the basics will have more success when the big-picture issues arise. This is according to hospitality industry veteran and author Jim Sullivan.

At this week's Fast Casual Executive Summit, 20-year industry veteran Sullivan delivered the working lunch keynote address, looking at maximizing performance in foodservice by taking care of the basics.

Sullivan, the CEO of consultancy Sullivision.com, has worked for and with companies such as Walt Disney, Walmart, American Express and Coca-Cola, and has penned the books "Multi-Unit Leadership: The 7 Stages of Building High-Performing Partnerships and Teams" and "Fundamentals: The 9 Ways to be Brilliant at the Basics."

The lunch, entitled "Execution: What the Best Teams Do to Get the Job Done Every Shift, Every Day," was filled with pithy quotes ("Business, like life, is experienced forward but understood backward.") and anecdotes from Sullivan, who delivered it with highly engaging and entertaining zest.

The key focus of the presentation revolved around what Sullivan called "the nine essential best practices of high-performing foodservice operators and franchisees," or as in his book title, "nine ways to be brilliant at the basics:"

1. Focus

Focus on what you can control; develop "habitual consistency" or "never getting bored with the basics;" take care of unfinished business; and focus on incremental change

"The main thing is to keep the main thing the main thing," he said. "What you reinforce is what you get."

And don't focus on the wrong things; be sure to focus on what matters and try to implement incremental changes, he said: "Don't wake up a year from now 52 potential improvements behind."

2. Build strong teams

Compete first for talent, then for customers; hire tough, manage easy; make hiring the most important decision; pay people in currencies other than money (e.g., recognition, etc.)

"If you wouldn't hire them today, why are they still on your team?" he asked, before reminding the audience the same can apply to managers: "People join great companies but leave bad managers."

3. Serve better

"Be nice to the people with the money," he said, and "Good service means never having to ask for anything." And remember, habitual consistency is key.

4. To sell is to serve

Teach your team "Profit and Loss 101," so they understand where their paycheck comes from, and how the company has to preserve its margins to remain profitable and in business — so they can continue to have jobs.

5. Watch your waste

Cut costs not corners; wherever there is waste there is opportunity to save, which means make money. "If you don't measure it you can't manage it," he said.

6. Always be marketing

Everything is marketing; re-discover the low-hanging fruit: look around you and see what's nearby, then market there.

7. Out-teach the competition

Constantly develop talent; practice and learn beforehand; "Don't practice on the customer."

"We are drowning in information and starving for knowledge," he said, so be sure to teach why before teaching how and what; don't give trainees 4, give them 2 + 2; teach people how to think, not simply what to do.

"If you don't give your team goals," he said, "they'll presume you don't have any."

8. Lead smart

"Know the way, show the way, go the way," he said; remember, time is more valuable than money; focus on effectiveness rather than efficiency; and "90 percent of service and sales shortcomings are due to broken processes, not indifferent team members."

9. Execute

Operators have to have resolve, discipline and accountability; reduce complexity; and have an action plan, he said: "Today's results come from yesterday's execution."

Read more about operations management.

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