Attention Managers: Cast your Hospitality Super Bowl Team

Winning mangers put their team members in roles that match their talents. Consider NFL Hall of Fame Coach Joe Gibbs of the Washington Redskins — the only coach to win three Super Bowls with three different quarterbacks. What was his secret? Gibbs’ quarterbacks, Joe Theismann, Doug Williams, and Mark Rypien, though talented, may not all make it to the Hall of Fame. Yet, Gibbs cast them where their unique strengths could shine and surrounded them with players who complemented their unique style of play.

I think of former manager, Michelle, who berated me for stacking plates in front of two guests but never offered to help and then banished me to the worst station on the patio. When I finally got a crack at a decent section, I built a $3,000 check helping a publisher close a deal. Michelle was shocked when I bolted to a competitor where my prowess for selling was celebrated and weakness for technical skill managed. Michelle missed the three tactics winning managers use to build a multi-talented ensemble.

Know your players. Like a great coach, recognize and develop talent. First, observe with razor sharp focus the galaxy of attributes that makes your team members unique: their habits, mannerisms, and idiosyncrasies. Then dial into everything from how they read guest cues and maintain an upbeat attitude to how well they work with a prep cook.

Customize feedback. Everyone has a preferred way of learning and taking direction. For some, a simple whisper is enough to make a message stick. For others, showing, not telling, how to perform is critical. For example, role-play how to not ask but suggest a cocktail. You might say, “Eric, don’t ask guests if they want a drink. Suggest one by saying, ‘Maria, our bartender from Morocco, makes a killer Absolut martini.’”

My mentor Michael quickly learned how I liked feedback: straight up, on the spot, and often. One Friday night, he appeared as if from nowhere. “What do you see on table 18?” he probed. “Well, the Wilson’s are on their entrées,” I replied. “Did you notice they need their wine topped off?” he fired back. Ten minutes later I sold a second bottle. Afterwards he found me in the side stand. “Nice job. Now offer a bottle of Veuve Clicquot for the grand finale.”

Cast for star performance. Don’t forget that every player has unique preferences. Some love to do certain jobs, and, yes, hate others. Balancing strengths and weaknesses is a practice that will move your team toward remarkable success. Transform a diverse group to championship status—a staff whose sum ability is greater than its parts. Consider the following starring roles.

  • The side work, teamwork player. If your server is a stickler for tidiness and order, make him the King of Side Work. Have him orchestrate opening, ongoing, and closing side duties. And have employees-in-training shadow him.
  • The hospitality charmer. Put Ms. Congeniality in a front station or at the host stand, where she’ll charm guests with her special warmth. And if she’s not a natural-born salesperson, give her helpful hints.
  • Nimble. Have a restless, easily bored waiter who can turn tables like a whirling dervish? Put him in the busy cocktail station. He’ll hawk beers, martinis, and vino at warp speed.
  • The super salesperson. What about your super salesperson who hates side work? Cast him in the dining section where he’ll sell everything from Silver Oak Cab to the white chocolate banana mousse pie. Don’t fight his aversion to side work. Manage it.

The best coaches avoid a common manager mistake—expecting team members to perform brilliantly on every level, every night. Build an ensemble cast by having each actor work to their strengths and, at the same time, play off the strengths of the others. Never try to make Ms. Hospitality a top salesperson or a super salesperson a side work enthusiast. Let each player excel in the worlds they love. By being a master caster, you’ll build your Hospitality Super Bowl Team.

About the Author

BOB BROWN, president of Bob Brown Service Solutions,, was the #1 speaker at the 2017 National Restaurant Show. He has worked with hospitality icons such as Disney, Hilton, Morton’s of Chicago, Nordstrom, Olive Garden, and Ritz Carlton and works internationally with the prestigious seven-star Burj Al Arab in Dubai. He has appeared on the Food Network and is author of The Little Brown Book of Restaurant Success, selling over 100,000 copies worldwide. Contact Bob for keynotes, breakouts, and workshops at 571-246-2944 ©Bob Brown Service Solutions 2016.

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