With the on-premise industry reeling from temporary closures, layoffs and furloughs to slow the spread of COVID-19, many restaurant teams have been disbanded for the short term. Here are some tips for inspiring the staff when it’s time to regroup and rebuild.

These suggestions come courtesy of Cliff Dragonetti, general manager of Rare650 Prime Steak and Sushi by Anthony Scotto in Syosset, NY. He presented them in a seminar at the International Restaurant & Food Service Show of New York on March 10—just before the coronavirus had advanced significantly in the U.S.

For starters, “Surround yourself with employees who can think on their feet,” Dragonetti said. “Look for leaders during the hiring process” who are smart and trainable. Dragonetti always keeps an eye out for talent, even when his restaurant is fully staffed, so that he already has some options when he needs to fill a position.

Your staff needs to know what’s expected of them to be successful. Technical execution in a restaurant is customer service, he notes, but hospitality is customer excellence—how you make the guests feel, and that starts with the first impression.

Staff must understand what teamwork is and the importance of consistency and synchronicity. Being a professional, Dragonetti said, “is being able to come to work and do the same thing over and over and over and get paid for it.”

People are motivated by money, he explained, so it can be helpful to show them a way to do their jobs better that can result in a wage increase or promotion. Make it clear to staffers: “If you impress me, I’m going to notice.”

But while success may be defined as what a person earns and achieves, significance is how one feels about themself when they are doing what they are doing. Both success and significance are necessary for a harmonious team, Dragonetti noted. “Everyone wants to feel important.”

Show time

Dragonetti likens restaurant work to putting on a Broadway play: “When the door at work gets unlocked, it’s show time—you are a performer.” And you have to play the part, even if you wake up that day with bad biochemistry, he said.

Managers must be mindful about their own physical and mental preparedness. If you’re not in a good mood that day, he said, delegate responsibilities to others rather than infect the team with negativity.

You must be able to read your guests and your team members, and like a good baseball coach, know when to take the pitcher out. “Switch it up if a server is not meshing with a table,” he said.

Dragonetti cited the Disney World approach to business, in which everyone understands their roles and attitude is everything. “Know your scripts and roles, be genuine, lovely, welcoming, ingratiating,” he says, and be sincere. “Customers and humans aren’t stupid—they know fake.”

When employees share your vision and understand how to execute, the results are increased sales, higher check averages, new business, repeat customers, glowing social media reviews and a team that works together for a common goal. Bottom line, Dragonetti said: “Revenue will rush into your business if you treat guests like Disney does.”

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Melissa Dowling

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