Lessons in Action, Part II: Pre-Shift, Making the Most of the Most Important 15 Minutes

Every day I think of Michael O’Grady and the creative ways he coached and mentored so many to new heights. In this new series, Lessons in Action, I share my insights, breakthroughs, tools, and techniques that honor Michael’s legacy of helping others grow and succeed.       

Are your pre-shifts bland and boring? Too many managers suffer the common pitfalls of struggling presenters — zero planning, data dumping, telling rather than showing, lackluster audience interaction and the absence of clear expectations. The result is participants who endure rather than engage in this critical piece of time real estate.

Ramp up your pre-shifts.  

1) Think like a rock star: Do you think Elton John jumps on stage without an arduous  sound check? Hardly. Consider your stage. Is it built to captivate or filled with attention-diverting kitchen clang and dining room din? Are your team members leaning on counter tops or craning their necks to see and hear you? Create a comfortable learning environment in a quiet corner or private room. Then, position yourself in a command position.

2) Stop asking, “How’s everyone?” This closed-ended question is guaranteed to get a begrudging “fine” response. Michael made it fun with, “Ladies and
gentleman, boys and girls, welcome to another fun day at the Yippee Kai-Yah Café.” Brighten things up. Break the ice. Open the hearts and minds of your audience.

3) Preview the positive: “You’ll make an extra 50 bucks if you tune into today’s lesson on food storytelling,” will inspire the troops to listen. Every great presenter is a master of the “what’s in it for me.”             

4) Get relevant: Too many meetings are mind-numbing data dumps. Make the connection between a wind chill of 10 below and the tomato fennel soup. Remind servers to avoid the 30-minute prep time lasagna on a busy Thursday night. Develop a strategic game plan based on guest demographics, days of the week, current events, seasonal items, special parties, and the weather.

5) Lead a discussion: “How’d it go last night?” is a favorite dead-end question managers ask. Or, “Any questions or concerns?” has servers huddling down as if to say, “The first jerk that prolongs this agony will pay!” Become a master opened-ended question asker. “What’s one thing that was difficult about delivering the guided tour of the menu last night?”          

6) Stop telling and start showing: “Tonight I want you to sell more appetizers,” was a directive I remember as a rookie waiter. I followed orders and asked guests,  “Would you like an appetizer?” and got, “No, I’m saving room for dessert!” Don’t tell. Demonstrate. Develop curriculum-based training. Create a list of topics and build mini-training modules. For instance, discuss and demonstrate how to use the “airplane landing technique” to deliver dishes, how to avoid “yes/no” questions, give guided tours, or make hello special. 

7) Get interesting with food: The  daily special presentation is another problem child. Final plates are presented with jargon-laden culinary speak, “Here is our Barramundi served atop tapenade mashed with baby turnips and Vincotto.” Huh? This leaves servers waiting for the “OK” to attack the dish like a pack of wild dogs. Deliver the “raw, prepped, final” food show. Display a whole Barramundi from Western Australia with clear eyes, red gills, and bounce-back flesh. Lay out the olives, capers, anchovies, and olive oil to show how tapenade is made. Pass around the baby turnips. Have servers taste the nonfermented grapey syrup known as Vincotto produced in Southeastern Italy. The sight, sound, smell, taste, and story of a dish super charges learning. Also, consider a family style meal before the shift to avert attention-draining hunger

8) Be upfront about coaching: Next, ensure success with on-the-floor follow up. “Ladies, and gentleman, I’ll be out there tonight to support you and offer feedback on today’s lessons. I’ll focus on the ‘airplane landing technique,’ your presentation of the Barramundi, and making hello special,” you might say. Now you avoid, in Michael’s words, being a host hugger, office dweller, ping-ponger, or museum guard. You’ll have less stress and stop saying to yourself, “I feel like a babysitter.” Your artful execution is guaranteed to boost morale and improve performance—and make the most of the most valuable 15 minutes of your day.



About the Author

Bob Brown, president of Bob Brown Service Solutions,, pioneered Marriott’s Service Excellence Program. He has worked with clients such as Disney, Hilton, Morton’s of Chicago, Nordstrom, Olive Garden, and Ritz Carlton and works internationally with the prestigious Burj Al Arab in Dubai. He has appeared on the Food Network and is author of the bestselling The Little Brown Book of Restaurant Success, selling over 100,000 copies worldwide. Contact Bob for keynotes, workshops, breakouts, and executive retreats at 571-246-2944 ©Bob Brown Service Solutions 2016.

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