Whether you think of them as the pre-game warm-ups of the restaurant industry, or the sound-checks of the hospitality business, pre-shift meetings are a vital part of running a successful restaurant. Starting each shift in your restaurant without a pre-shift meeting or “pep-talk” is to overlook a great opportunity to connect, encourage, and educate your team. Pre-shift meetings can be the most valuable time your employees spend together, and these get-togethers are a chance to open the lines of communication, offer praise for a stand-out worker or a job well done, and convey positive feedback or outstanding reviews received from customers about particular workers.
The Importance of Pre-Shift Meetings
One of the easiest and most basic ways to ensure positive communication between management and staff members is to hold daily pre-shift meetings. With this essential procedure, you’ll be able to keep everyone informed, dispel any rumors that may be floating around, and ensure that everyone knows what you expect regarding performance and responsibilities.
Because a restaurant’s environment is so dynamic – and staff tends to come and go – employees need to be reminded of why they’re there and what the restaurant’s vision is. A pre-shift meeting is the perfect time for employees to gather in one place in order to receive direction from management, and a way for owners and managers to create a work environment that is safe and positive. It is a chance for you to clearly communicate what you need from your staff – some of whom may be new to the job – and to deliver constructive feedback. It is a golden opportunity to build camaraderie among the staff.
Pre-Shift Rituals: Short and Sweet
Pre-shift meetings don’t have to take a lot of time; anywhere from five to 15 minutes should be enough time to cover all the essentials. Taking this time before a shift to focus and motivate the team on the business and operations ahead can set the tone and direction for the entire day. This pre-game huddle, as it were, is the perfect time to discuss new menu items, additions to wine lists, and daily specials. Don’t forget to give time for the staff to ask questions and allow all team members to weigh in and exchange information in an informal way before the rush of business takes over.
From a manager’s vantage point, it is an opportune time to spot minor issues before they turn into major problems or, perhaps, to welcome someone who has been out on vacation or sick leave. Giving staff this pre-shift time to take a deep breath and gather themselves before what may be a stressful shift ahead allows you to set a positive tone that will be reflected in the service provided in the hours to come.
What to Include In a Pre-Shift Meeting
Managers can maximize pre-shift opportunities by having meetings that are well-planned, clearly defined, and somewhat interactive. In an article entitled, “What Should You Cover at Daily Pre-Shift Meetings,” the Restaurant Expert website offers advice about how to hold a daily pre-shift staff get-together. For example, they recommend that, regardless of the topic at hand or what you are planning to talk about, it helps to make the discussion interesting and fun; in other words, boring and serious just doesn’t work. Ideally, the article says, the pre-shift meeting should be held 15 minutes before the start of the shift, and staff should attend in their uniforms or, at the very least, ready to work.
Pre-shift meetings are for everyone, so front-of-house employees (managers, hosts, wait staff, etc.) should attend side-by-side with back-of-house workers (essentially kitchen staff and admin employees – or those that don’t regularly meet the customers). Holding one meeting for these two sectors of your staff together will create a unified atmosphere, which will promote better service and a team mentality. In addition, when you are introducing a new topic – a first-time menu item or a new policy, for instance – it’s a good idea to review the topic at more than one meeting. Go over new information every day for a few days in a row to ensure that everyone hears the message and understands the importance of what you’re saying.
No Lack of What to Talk About
Things are always happening at a busy restaurant, regarding building renovations, staff additions, menu changes, training opportunities, etc. If your restaurant is undergoing renovations, for instance, talk about how that will affect operations or impact service. Or, if the holiday season is upon you, you can talk about business forecasts, which may affect shift allocation or staffing levels. If time allows, and you want to have some fun, introduce a new menu item by including tasting, preparation information, and how the recipe was derived. It’s also a good opportunity to talk about which items have been selling briskly and which you want your wait staff to push with a little more energy.
Encourage team members to exchange information in an atmosphere that is non-threatening and non-judgmental. Try to open and conclude your pre-shift meetings on a positive note that will help carry an up-beat tone into the shift and that will reinforce a sense of shared purpose among team members. Take the time and make the effort to put together pre-shift meetings that are engaging, educational, and energizing (the three E’s), meetings that will motivate your service team and inspire discussion topics for the next meeting.
The Three E’s: Engage, Educate and Energize
There are any number of ways to engage, educate and energize your staff. For example, if wine is an important part of your restaurant’s menu, as it is at the Double Eagle Steakhouse in New York City, consider an interactive pre-shift meeting. Between the lunch and dinner shifts at the Double Edge, servers and bartenders gather in the wine cellar to learn about that night’s wine offerings from one of the restaurant’s sommeliers. Staff members get to sample the wines (obviously, without overdoing it), learn pairing opportunities, receive lessons about creative descriptions, and play educational games.
Similarly, a pre-shift meeting is a good opportunity to highlight a chef’s signature dish or other interesting menu offering, so servers know how to describe and present it. Then, to further engage your wait staff, have your servers act out the sales pitch, with a reward going to the person who gives the best description, i.e., by giving him or her a choice of work stations for the evening. Sharing success stories will also inspire and energize coworkers, and, because they are engaging with each other, it is also a wonderful team-building exercise.
Focusing on education will not only make your pre-shift meetings more effective, it will also foster a comfortable learning environment within the restaurant. Share any insights you have about menu items that just aren’t working (with a discussion about why) and focus on sales methods to use during the shift that could improve the restaurant’s bottom line. The pre-shift meeting ensures that your staff members will have the tools to work the shift successfully.
Keep it Focused, Keep it Concise
The All Food Business website explains how to conduct a pre-shift meeting and discusses how it can be a great way to get everyone on the same page. Start on time and prepare in advance, so that every topic is covered concisely yet comprehensively; don’t “wing” it or you’ll lose your audience. Try to focus on the majority of your workers – not the upper echelon of your staff that is already highly motivated – or the lower 10% that may be contemplating other jobs at this very moment. Aim your discussion at the “belly” of the beast and build unity and motivation by offering a simple reminder that everyone is an important member of the team, and that their efforts will be rewarded.
Maximizing the Pre-Shift Talk
To get the most out of your pre-shift meetings make it your goal to build connections. Encourage team members to sit with staff they might not know because they are new or because they usually work at different times of the day. It can be tough for a team in a fast-paced environment like a restaurant to communicate effectively, and this is the time for optimal intra-staff discussions. Make sure everyone feels welcome: Promoting collegiality underscores the subtext of every pre-shift meeting, which is to deepen and affirm relationships.
Pre-Shift Meetings: A Tool for Success
The pre-shift talk – whether a meeting, a pep talk, a shared meal, or a training session – is more than just a get-together; it’s an indispensable tool that you can use to tune-up your team and fix problems before they get out of control. With proper preparation and knowledge of team-building techniques, you can engage, educate, and energize your team, motivating them for success in the shift ahead.