Shift Notes: 14 Things to Consider Before Your Shift Gets In The Weeds

The fortunate thing about time, is that it doesn’t stop. And even a bad shift will eventually end. The question is what do you do with the de-brief? This situation offers an tremendous opportunity to learn from and come out on the other side, more aware of what actually went wrong and how to prevent it in the future.

1. NEVER, EVER get pinned down in a position. You have got to train your staff to the point where they can be moved to cover shift critical positions – like the bar. If you get slammed unexpectedly, you have to have a plan to move core staff into positions to support the business and be able to reinforce, not outright work, the weakest position. Make a few drinks, have servers that can make a few of your most basic, as well as get beer and wine tickets filled, make a round of the business, then return to the bar after you have checked on everyone else. When you have multiple fires, you have to prioritize them and then attack them. If you have to, shut down alcohol service and serve only beer and wine.

2. Servers should be trained to check on their tickets as they make their rounds through the kitchen to ensure that they have been received and are working.

3. Once you see that your shift is sinking into the weeds, you need to rally the troops. Call a short 60 second meeting of all staff and explain what is happening (like they don’t already know) and talk about recovery and support for every position. This is your “2 minute drill” and should actually be practiced for just such events.

4. You need to have people who are loyal and talented enough that you can call in on a short notice. If it takes 30 minutes for them to get there, so what, you don’t know how long the rush will last, (in this case it was 2 hours) so you can always utilize them as long as you need. A host or other key employee should be able to make these calls as well as you.

5. You may have to incorporate a false-wait in order to slow down the flow enough to take care of the guests you have. If you have to lose a guest, best to lose them at the door, instead of the table.

6. Every time a guest walks into your business, it’s because it’s an occasion in their lives. Birthday, anniversary, first date, last date, job promotion, bad mood pick-me-up, divorce final, winning the championship, etc….And even when a guest has a coupon for a free meal, they are still a guest in your business and are still choosing to celebrate their special event with you. Why do we want to discount their discontent about poor service or food just because they are getting it for free in the first place?

The first rule of recovery involves hearing the guest out, then taking action. This is about more than a lost ticket. Which no one ever wants to take responsibility for. It’s about the guest and his family being in your business on a very important occasion in their life, with very high expectations because you do have a good reputation for good food and service, only to be disappointed because they received the ultimate act of disrespect – a forgotten order – and on their birthday. I wouldn’t stick around to talk to you if you lost my order on my birthday. And to be upset because you didn’t get to apologize first? That’s just plain hubris.

I’ve lost tickets before, but I also never let a guest leave unhappy. Understanding that guests don’t necessarily want a comped meal but rather better service is paramount to being in the business business today.

The zeitgeist of our culture isn’t about apologies, although they are the first point of good manners for a host, its about correcting the wrong done to a guest because IT IS PERSONAL TO THEM, because it’s a celebration of a day in their life. It’s never “just food”. And your response to them should be as personal as the slight. A bottle of champagne or an invitation to a special night of entertainment and dining on you, or something even more personalized would have been appropriate.

AND NEVER EVER SEEK REVENGE FOR WHAT YOU CONSIDER UNRULY BEHAVIOR ON THE PART OF A GUEST! If you tell them you are comping their meal, changing your mind because you think you were insulted or abused is simply you not keeping your word. Which is worse? Did the guests at the next table hear you and now see you not keeping your word? What word-of-mouth will you get out of that? We’re not in the food business, we are in the PEOPLE business.

7. Servers have to be trained to guide guests to choices that don’t further bog down a bad shift. If you don’t have enough talent behind the bar, servers should let guests know up front that a non-alcoholic, beer or wine (servers can pour beer and wine), choice can be made later in the dinner (entree order or at dessert) or when the pressure from the bar has eased to the point that regular patronage of it can be resumed.

8. Talk to your staff once the doors are closed and seriously ask them what could have been done best to manage the shift. “What’s next?”

9. Servers never “screw up” orders. This kind of thinking will only serve to alienate more people. Your staff doesn’t get up in the morning and try to think of ways to “screw up”.

Where was the expeditor? Was there an expeditor? Other servers? Why didn’t the server ask for help? Why wasn’t the server trained to never take out an incomplete order? Why wasn’t the culture in the business established to inculcate the server that he/she MUST ask for help if needed to satisfy a guests order?

EVERY SERVICE FAILURE IS THE DIRECT RESULT OF A PROCESS BREAKDOWN. If not, then the breakdown was a direct result of not having a process in the first place.

10. POS systems lose tickets. But it’s not the POS’s fault. You are the professionals who should have had a system in place to double and even triple check on orders if necessary, to make sure all tickets get worked in a timely fashion. Everything that occurs in your business is a direct reflection of you. Relying too much on a system that you know will eventually lose a ticket is unacceptable. Why? Because you may have more guests after you lost the guest whose ticket was lost, but they only have to lose you once to start talking bad about you. That’s way too much “losing” for my tastes.

11. If it’s the last night of a promotion or coupon drop. Assume it’s going to be busy- period! You should actually manage your business to expect every shift to be busy anyway. Otherwise, you’re never going to get busier. Work each shift like it’s the volume you expect and want and you will eventually get it.

12. Staff look to you for leadership. You need to do whatever you need to in order to maintain balance in your emotions to the point of being able to take “unreasonable crap” and still make good on your promise of great experiences for your guests. And continue to offer smiles and encouragement to your staff who still have to work in those weeded shifts. If you don’t keep your cool, who will?

13. Stop looking at “comps” as the answer to every problem. If you are in the FOH, you need to have the skill to talk to people and make them happy without giving away your profit. This is what a true host does. If you’re just looking at each guest as a dollar, they will know and treat you accordingly. Everyone gives a comp for mistakes. We have trained the public to demand them if they feel wronged. This is our fault. Stop the madness.

14. Train your staff on recovery! Then train them again. And again. And again. And train yourself while you’re at it. Look at getting some help with trying to understand the recovery event best and creatively dealing with these situations when they happen.

Jeffrey Summers
For four decades, my coaching, consulting, public speaking, workshops, management team retreats and articles have helped hundreds of hospitality leaders worldwide, build successful Hospitality businesses. The Summers Hospitality Group is a global full-service hospitality consulting firm best known for its unique results-driven, strengths-based system for developing extraordinary leaders and demonstrating the performance impact they have on their organizations.