RE-THINKING FOODSERVICE POSITIONS

I don't have to tell you that the dining market is changing. The labor market is also a lot different than it was even a few years ago. As the demands created by these market forces change, the structure of the jobs in your organization should evolve as well. And as the structure of the jobs change, the titles of these positions should change along with them. Contemporary workers will be more attracted to contemporary jobs and, when you think about it, the structure and titles of foodservice jobs have not changed very much in 50 years!

In the following article, I present a modest proposal on how position titles in our industry might be re-defined to be more responsive to evolving market forces. The material is taken from my book, The Foolproof Foodservice Selection System which explores these notions in more detail.

To help you get oriented to this new way of looking at foodservice positions, the table that follows gives the rough equivalents between traditional job titles and the updated structure I suggest:

CONVENTIONAL TITLE / CONTEMPORARY TITLE
General Manager / Head Coach

Assistant Manager / Assistant Head Coach

Bartender Beverage / Manager

Assistant Beverage Manager / Cocktail Server, Bar Back

Chef, Sous Chef, Cook / Production Manager

Dishwasher, Prep Cook / Assistant Production Manager

Greeter, Host, Hostess / Floor Manager

Waiter, Waitress, Server / Service Manager

Busser Assistant / Service Manager

COACHES
One of the first things you will notice is that the System eliminates the title of "manager" at the supervisory level. The reason is that if you call someone a "manager," they may try to manage people. Often, this is little more than advanced manipulation. When you think about it, our model of management is closer to law enforcement than it is to enlightened leadership. If you like being a cop, consider applying to the Police Academy!

In my experience, the only effective way to get things done through others is to lead them. With a tip to the hat to Don Smith, I use the title of Coach instead of Manager. The reasoning is simple - managers look for problems while coaches look for strengths. Coaches approach their work with an eye toward how they can use their available talent to best accomplish their mission. Approaching your job as a coach is not only more productive, but a lot more fun as well.

Donald I. Smith is a former football coach, longtime industry leader and teacher who has always counseled that the coach makes the difference. Here are some of Don's thoughts on coaches and coaching that are worth considering:

"Great coaches are first noticed by their uncanny ability to produce championship teams. However, to be called 'coach,' a leader must be measured by more than balance sheets, battles won or lifetime win-loss records. Great coaches have one more gift. They change the lives of those they touch. I suggest that great coaches can be measured by the number of success stories they leave in their wake. For once they give their players a taste of sweet success, they will have more. They leave behind a legacy of winning which becomes a lifetime habit. The players ultimately become champions of the coach's values, beliefs and passions for the rest of their lives."

Doesn't that sound a lot more fun (and more productive) than the typical foodservice manager's job? When the people in charge start to approach their jobs as coaches would, their emphasis automatically changes. The measurement criteria shift away from the number of problems they have identified and solved toward what degree of success their staff is enjoying. Perhaps the coaches' job could be defined as "achieving success through the activities of others."

Now many people whose jobs presently carry the title of manager already approach their work with a coaching mentality but many more do not see their roles in quite this way. The distinction between calling someone a coach instead of a manager may sound like splitting semantic hairs, but language is powerful. When the leadership positions in your operation carries the title of coach, I think it helps those people approach their work from a fundamentally different (and infinitely more productive) direction.

STAFF POSITIONS
The title of "Manager" more properly belongs at the hourly level. I don't think you can manage people, but I believe it is possible to manage activities . . . and who better to manage the activities than the person who is performing them? The position titles and the job responsibilities are intuitive: Production Managers manage the production flow in the kitchen, Service Managers manage the flow of service to the guest, Floor Managers manage the flow of traffic in the dining room and Beverage Managers manage the flow of the beverage service.

Each manager, in turn, acts as a mentor to their assistants. So, for example, the task of the Assistant Beverage Manager is to learn the Beverage Manager's job and the Beverage Manager's job is to teach it to them. Think what this will do to create a supportive work environment!

Because we are so accustomed to thinking of foodservice positions in the same old terms, perhaps a brief discussion of the function and content of these restructured positions would help.

PRODUCTION MANAGER
If you call someone a cook, they may think they have done the job if they simply cook! On the other hand, if the position is described as "Production Manager," they may better understand that their job is to manage the production of food. This involves far more responsibility than just cooking. In most operations, it also sidesteps the controversial distinctions between cooks and chefs. The structure of this position encourages workers to learn all aspects of kitchen operation instead of getting stuck in a slot on the line. Because the position requires not only the ability to perform but the willingness to teach, you will be looking for a different set of qualities when considering candidates for Production Manager. Ideally, the Production Managers work under the guidance of an Assistant Head Coach who has a strong kitchen background.

ASSISTANT PRODUCTION MANAGER
A common problem in all types of foodservice is finding and keeping dishwashers. I found that the dishwasher position is difficult to fill because few people really want to be dishwashers. The first corollary to Marvin's Law of Creative Laziness says never to waste energy solving a problem you can eliminate, so why expend energy trying to fill a job that nobody wants? Why not create a position that people will find more interesting? In this spirit, I developed the position of Assistant Production Manager.

Eliminating the problem requires more than giving a new title to the same old job. (Today's workers are smarter than that anyway.) The solution involves a subtle restructuring of the way the kitchen operates. The Assistant Production Manager still washes dishes and cleans, but there is far more to the job than just that.

Assistant Production Managers are in training to be Production Managers. This means they must also learn receiving, storage and basic food preparation. In the middle of the rush, Assistant Production Managers are on the line helping to get the meal out. When a Production Manager is off or out sick, the Assistant can temporarily fill in for them.

In most operations there is no real reason, other than force of habit, why dishes have to be washed during the rush. All it takes to defer this activity is to invest in some additional china, a few more bus tubs and a few racks. During the rush, load the racks with tubs of soiled serviceware and pack the dishroom full. When the pace slows, put two or three people into the dishroom. Wash all the dishes in an hour or so and get on with preparation of the next meal! This approach can work for most operators, High-volume operations may still have to wash dishes during the meal to keep up with the demands of business but even in this situation, Assistant Production Managers could work part of their shift on the line and part in the dishroom without compromising the intent of the position.

Because the job content is greater, the position of Assistant Production Manager merits a higher wage than a dishwasher. The job also requires a different motivation in the applicant. When the entry level kitchen position is Assistant Production Manager, it will automatically demand more motivated applicants. At the same time, the job will be less attractive to people who are just looking for a few dollars before moving on.

BEVERAGE MANAGER
The traditional bartender's job also takes on more meaning. Besides the responsibility for making and serving drinks, the Beverage Manager teaches their assistants (servers, bar backs) how the bar operates. Beverage Managers are also responsible for teaching their assistants and the service staff about beverages and beverage service. Job responsibilities can also include pouring cost control, ordering, inventory control, merchandising and other activities usually reserved to management. The teaching content of the position requires you to do more than simply find a good mechanic to fill the post. Ideally, the Beverage Managers work under the guidance of an Assistant Head Coach who has a strong beverage background.

ASSISTANT BEVERAGE MANAGER
Assistant Beverage Managers assist the bartender and serve cocktails. In addition, they are evaluated on how quickly they are learning bar operations. For typical cocktail servers, learning to tend bar is an upgrade in skill that they can get excited about. So, for example, during slow periods a cocktail server could tend bar with a smile as opposed to having a bartender cover the tables and grumble about it. The structure of the position requires a desire to learn and expand professional skills. A worthy candidate must show more than just basic experience and a desire for a paycheck.

FLOOR MANAGER
What do you typically want a world-class greeter to do? Maintain an accurate record of reservations? Create a positive first impression with arriving guests? Effectively resolve minor difficulties with guests? Accurately determine the type of seating guests want? Provide accurate quotes of waiting time? Manage the wait for guests who cannot be immediately seated? Make sure guests are in good spirits when they finally get to the table? Balance the flow of newly-seated guests among the various stations? "Dress the dining room" by distributing parties so the room always looks full? Pick up the slack if a server is occupied or needs a hand? Create a positive final impression with departing guests? Sounds a lot more like someone who manages the flow of traffic on the floor than a typical happy-faced hostess, doesn't it?

SERVICE MANAGER
The Service Manager manages the level of service provided to your guests. The position has greater responsibility and authority than a typical server/waiter/waitress job. If someone is truly managing the service, they must have the latitude to do what you think is necessary to be sure the guest is delighted. The current buzzword for this is empowerment, but it is simply an acknowledgment that the person on the scene knows what best to do. As with the other managers, exceptional candidates must display not only professional competence, but the willingness and ability to share their knowledge with others. Ideally, the Service Managers work under the guidance of an Assistant Head Coach who has a strong service background.

ASSISTANT SERVICE MANAGER
Under the System, the busser position evolves into the Assistant Service Manager post. This person assists the Service Managers in delivering legendary service to the guests. Their entire perspective changes from doing "grunt work" to a realization that they are becoming an increasingly important part of the guest gratification system. The change in structure may or may not increase the length of time a worker remains with your organization. It will definitely change the level of interest and enthusiasm they bring to the job during their tenure.

Of course, to get the maximum benefit, you have to change more than just your job titles. There is certainly training required. There is obviously the need to re-educate your crew about what they are expected to do and what latitude they have to do it. The biggest change, however, has to come in your own way of looking at your staff. If you do not fundamentally change the way to think of your staff's roles in the restaurant, this will all be a wasted exercise.

However, I hope something strikes you about these changes, radical as they may sound - something that causes you to make some changes. Doing more of what you have been doing will only get you less of what you have got! This really means that if you want something to change you have to change something. I hope this article gives you some ideas to start that process. There is an entirely different game going on in the market these days. You might want to get in on it before your competitors do.

This material was taken from "The Sure-Fire Staff Selection System" by Bill Marvin, The Restaurant Doctor. For further information, contact Bill at Effortless, Inc., PO Box 280, Gig Harbor, WA 98335. Phone: (800) 767-1055, Fax: (253) 851-6887.


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