Openers vs. Maintenance Managers (Part 1)

Openers vs. Maintenance Managers (Part 1)

Welcome to my first of what will hopefully be a steady supply of insightful, controversial and totally insane streams of consciousness about all things in the hotel and restaurant world.

As someone that has been at the sharp end of the hospitality industry for 35 rewarding and on occasion painfully insane years, I have had my share of restaurant openings. I’ve done three of my own and now as a consultant six more in the last three years. That includes three within a four-month span, with all of them under varying conditions and circumstances, some corporate and others independent. Some under financial distress, requiring major bootstrapping and some were after the uncomfortable but all too obvious 911 call. This happens when they have the epiphany, come to Jesus moment that perhaps things aren’t going according to plan. Too many non-operational owners have unrealistic expectation levels. In all these instances I find there is a consistent core of what goes wrong before, during and after an opening. The reason is simple but what is behind it is a bit more complex – Management selection. I know, I know – your thinking ‘what an idiot’ but no, perhaps not. I said the reason was simple but the definition was complex. I’ll elaborate in a moment.

Don’t get me wrong. Those of you that have done openings know that they can be a stressful, physically demanding but thoroughly rewarding experience. No matter how well you plan expect the unexpected, especially in a major city like New York, L.A., Miami or Chicago. With aggressive media and stiff competition things get very complicated. Tensions run high and hours are long until the restaurant hit its stride. You need a great plan and then a great back-up plan to cover all the bases.

Now lets be more specific about Management selection.

A Manager and for that matter a General Manager must have a specific skill set to be able to handle an opening successfully. In addition to the normal talents required by any competent manager someone executing an opening needs to poses the following:

A strong imagination:
Why? Because they have to be able to ‘imagine’ how the operation will run before it ever served its first guest. You might be staring at a CAD printout of a dining room schematic but you have to feel how the operation will function and operational build systems around it.

Being a fluid thinker:
You used the creative part of your brain to imagine how things might work but once you do that first dry run you have to be able to look at yourself in the mirror and say ‘What didn’t work?’ and ‘I need to adapt my systems to address the reality of what really happened.

Pre-opening structure

Thorough planning. Strong pre-opening communication with the team. Assign specific tasks and areas of responsibility for maximum accountability Mentor and share information. Don’t be a hero. I always stress a management organizational chart. It can be simple but should be clear, avoiding overlapping of responsibilities and establishing direct communication. If I am involved at this level I also develop more detailed job descriptions that are part of an employment letter for each management position, and that includes the Chef, Pastry Chef and Sous Chefs. Accountability is key to moving the ball down court.

Adapt during the opening

Assess situations with total impartiality (its not front vs. back). Look for obvious and the not so obvious. Develop solutions, create procedures and implement them through concise communication with the entire staff body. I am a big believer in bulletin boards, POS pop-up messages and structured pre-shift lineups.

They have to be able to think out of the box.

Try to remain calm:
Avoid meltdowns. Stick to your plan but don’t be afraid to adapt and change as needed. Just let everyone else know what your doing. Give praise and positive reinforcement. Keep moral strong but not at the expense of setting goals that are high yet achievable.

Don’t rush your opening:
One of the most difficult goals to achieve is to implement in the heat of the battle. Too many times openings are done just after the contractor turns the restaurant over to the operation, perhaps even with a somewhat daunting punch list. There is nothing worse than training during construction or little time for dry runs / friends and family. I realize that a utopic situation is few and far between, but spending a few more days prior to opening can save big dollars, improve customer satisfaction and speed up your opening period.