The waiter took my order and left to attend the other tables.

After observing him on the next tables, I realized how lucky this establishment are to have him.

The guy had managed to smoothly double my bill… and the best part is, I was happy to fork out the extra cash.

He was good. Not an order-taker. A salesman. A great one. He sold experience. He could have sold chicken to a vegetarian.

Why? He cared.

Then I turned to observe the other order-takers and realized that actually it was not luck – they were all really good!

It reminded me of a few years back when I was working closely with my teams in upscale restaurants – putting together a great team can be hard work, but good managers can make it look so easy…

I remembered why I always had one of the best return rates with my customers – whether you looked like you could afford it or not, I was always determined to give you the absolute best experience in the World. And it worked. Period.

Beyond attracting these talents, keeping them was always going to be a challenge, especially in this highly competitive industry where top talent is rare.

Here are 7 lessons I learned along the way.


Lesson 1: You need a mission

Bottom line is this – if you want to attract the best, you need to get them excited about your project. I can tell you that some of the greatest experiences I have had as a customer were at places you would never suspect while some of my worst experiences were in well-known establishments I was excited about.

How is that?

When the staff works with a common purpose or mission, not only are they excited but they get you excited as well. Size does not matter, quality is secondary. The emotional connection (aka experience) is priceless.

In one place I managed, the mission we had was to become the best service team in that whole city. In another, the mission was to be the coolest place to walk into. The staff acted accordingly and took pride in wearing the uniform.

As a manager, this made my job easier.


Lesson 2: Give them a challenge

Have you ever worked for a boss who did not challenge you? When that happens, there is usually one outcome: the staff is running the show, not the boss!

Wake up and smell the rainbow…

You think your staff wants it easy? Sure, nobody wants stress. But we are not talking about stress here. Unmotivated staff stink, and your clients can smell it.

Believe me; your best employees want to be taken out of their comfort zone. The other ones will want to get away with the minimum, but don’t be angry; you are encouraging them to be that way.

Challenges can be on many different levels – on daily sales targets, weekly tests, improvement projects, general knowledge etc…

Most of the time you would not need to hire outside consultants if you just listened to your staff. But if you don’t care about them, do you think they will care about you?

When I worked for the Four Seasons, what always fascinated me was the ability for this group to be so innovative. I quickly learned why. Most of its innovations happened because the line-employees were encouraged to share their ideas with the leaders. This is why we have 24-hr room service, by the way.


Lesson 3: Play hard but pay fair

I remember working in a seasonal restaurant in the South of France one summer years ago. We were serving over 1100 meals a day (+ drinks and ice creams) between 10 waiters. I lost about 15kg over 6 months that year. I lived in a tent this whole time.

Every month before receiving our pay-check, half of us were already making plans to move on. Then we received the pay-check. And we were happy to stay on. More than happy.

This was a tough season. Tougher than anything else I have done in the industry. People came and for a trial and left after 30 minutes, 2 hours, 3 days, 2 weeks, 5 years… all in the middle of service. The boss was tough. The hours were tough (+14hrs / day, 6.5 days / week). The environment was tough (blistering hot and dry). The intensity was huge (high table turnovers).

Would I do it again? You bet. I would do it all over again. Why? The boss was clear – you want it easier, I get more people and pay you less.

He made us play hard. But he was more than fair with the pay. We would have followed him anywhere.


Lesson 4: Train them for greatness

What’s the use of training someone to just take orders, bring dishes, and clear a table? Right? Right…

The arguments I have heard against training your employees are bottomless – they will leave anyhow, too expensive.

What if they leave to work for my competitor? Let’s change the question– what if they don’t?

I could literally write books on this subject.

You want to retain the best? Train them up.

Training your staff is not a cost – it is an investment.

You can invest in the most expensive machinery, but without a skilled driver, it is wasted. Yet, in my experience you can have the cheapest equipment and make magic happen with a skilled hand.

You can’t afford training? Everyone can afford to spend a few minutes a day to develop someone for a particular skill. As a manager I spent about 60% of my time with my staff – guidance is training when it is done with care.

It’s like an ex-girlfriend always reminded me: “I don’t care about an expensive gift, I just want something that comes from you.” In other words, don’t limit yourself to a diamond ring! Your staff is more sensitive to you taking the time to be with them.

You want your staff to be satisfied? Train them!


Lesson 5: Service is an art – the art of selling

For years now, we have seen a surge in interest for people to become chefs thanks to those great TV shows – they are excited to be considered as artists, part of the culinary revolution.

Why not waiters?

The art of selling is always the most challenging aspect of the job to most. Why? We are mostly focused on the selling. Don’t fool yourself – it is an art! And like any art, it takes a bit of time to develop. The point is that anyone can do it with proper guidance.

Let’s make this clear – good staff can take orders well. Great staff can sell whatever you need them to and increase your revenue drastically.

Your customers want to be sold. Sure they know what to order, but there is nothing like being sold into trying something new. That usually means you have built enough trust in that short interaction.

I don’t know about you, but I usually end up having an indifferent experience when everything goes according to plan. But if someone can sell me something unexpected then I can rave about it for days.

From a staffing point of view, taking orders is the equivalent of a slowly rotting apple in the middle of the desert – you just wish someone would end your misery already!

Great waiters I can watch all day long – they are on fire, having fun and being contagious with their customers and other team members. Why? Ask any salesman how great it feels to make a sale… That’s what they’re doing all day long and this will put a smile on their faces!


Lesson 6: Create Opportunities

Creating opportunities for growth will help ensure that your high performers are keeping an eye on the next steps within your establishment rather than with your competitors.

Change is inevitable. Accept it. Embrace it. Move on.

You think your waiters are not thinking about taking your place one day? Think again. Those who are satisfied with no movement will not get you anywhere.

I bet you did not get where you are without looking to create your own opportunities. Am I right? This is where you need to be creative at times.

I know some of my old bosses tried to keep me by offering me the next step in their business, shares and even partnerships on a new venture. They knew the inevitable was coming and made the decision more difficult for me to leave them.


Lesson 7: Be the leader they want to go to war for

Ok, that might be a bit overboard… let’s take a look at the essence.

Nothing will happen to a good general in war (think of that guy in Apocalypse Now) – they will follow him to the end of the World to make sure he leaves each battlefield unscathed.

Yes, ok, a bit overboard again. But is it really that far-fetched?  Just like the need for a mission, the emotional connection to the leaders is vital.

So what will make them want to go to war with you? There is no magic formula. A bigger outlet will use different methods than a smaller operation. Do what works for you. It is always the same thing: if you don’t care, they won’t care.

In the past, what has worked for me time and again is to lead by example – work not just harder but smarter than everyone.

In Amsterdam, one of my managers was this tiny lady who was seemingly unbreakable – truth is she had been quite sick and despite her petite size, she was showing up all the bartenders by carrying 2-3 cases of drinks at a time… would you complain about carrying heavy boxes after that? Yeah, I didn’t think so…

On the other hand, I had managers whose sole purpose was to hide from the team. You want to work for that guy? You want to be that guy?

The restaurant industry is awesome. A lot of people look down on it because it does not necessarily require a lot of skills or education.

There is only so far that a pay-check can take you for gratitude from your staff.

At the end of the day, if you are not going to care for your staff, they won’t care for you. The best ones will leave because they want to be able to make a difference. The others will stay because they don’t care either way; a steady pay-check is good enough for them.

Great service does not happen by chance. Great service will make anyone come back and again and again. Why? Your guests want to have an emotional connection. Between all the Social Media outlets they have, the real-life emotional connections are restricted. Why not give them that and much more? It’s a great way to end up as a personal recommendation on their Facebook or as a review in TripAdvisor.

If you look more deeply at all the lessons presented, they all point to the same quality – people want to know you care about them. The same is true for your clients as your staff. That is no secret – it is one of my keys behind being a great F&B manager.

So, tell me, how do you make sure your staff are the best?

Written By: Nicolas Horvath


Foodzaps_Blog_Posts_7LessonsOnKeepingTheBestF&BTalent_300px_002 Nicolas Horvath is an international Food & Beverage Manager & Consultant. A graduate of the prestigious Ecole Hoteliere de Lausanne, he has experience at the highest level on 3 continents, managing large teams and multiple venues. Nicolas appreciates the unique challenges that operations face – whether independent or as part of a group. He believes that change is a dynamic process that can never be laid to rest if you want to become great in this business. This is why he is with FoodZaps Technology.



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