There´s a line at the door. The locals are mulling around, waiting for a table, but none are available. The dining room hasn´t turned once yet and it´s past eight o´clock. The second turn is history. And, as Drew Nieporent once said, “if you are not turning your dining room two plus times a night, you are just playing restaurant.” But that isn´t the only criteria separating thosejust playing from those winning.
One way to keep winning, or at least appear as though you are, is to completely cross train the front of the house staff so you can move into a different defensive formation if all isn´t going well. You must develop the ability to turn on a dime, change your game plan in the middle of a play, and regroup to solve any unexpected problems, quickly. If you can´t develop this instinctive ability, you too are just playing restaurant. And, that is an awfully dangerous game.
Let´s look for a moment at the dysfunctional dining room that isn´t cross trained. Three bussers are standing at their assigned posts, watching attentively for food to be delivered to the majority of the tables so they can eventually begin clearing plates. But, most of the food is in the window, cooling slowly under the heat lamps while the infra red rays cook the sauces on top of the cooling entree to a thick, pasty film. The dining room staff is three waiters down. The remaining three waiters are unable to handle the entire dining room using the standard section breakdown without help. Everyone is in the weeds. The hostess is beginning a meltdown. The locals are getting angry, raising their voices, and others are losing patience waiting for their food ordered long ago. The night will end on a disastrous note. Customers will leave unhappy and the damage that word of mouth will do will possibly do irreparable damage to month´s worth of potential business.
It´s time to change the game plan. If everyone was cross-trained, the three bussers could very easily and quickly be called into action as food runners. In many busy restaurants the food runner concept saves the night not only for the waiters and the front of the house, but also for the kitchen. Nothing can stop the momentum and change the rhythm of a smooth running kitchen than numerous plates of returned luke warm food. It isn´t unheard of to cross train hosts to be wait staff, wait staff to be hosts and managers, and managers to do both. Of course one of the most obvious cross training candidates are the bussers. It is only natural that a good busser rains his or her replacement so they can move up to a waiter or waitress position. In many restaurants it is not uncommon for the busser to move up the ladder to become a trainer for other bussers and new waiters.
Another method of constant cross training is to promote your best wait person to the position of trainer. A dollar or more an hour, buys a lot of responsibility and respect. Try it if you have a star wait person who you feel is qualified and hungry to train other people in the art of the dining room. It is often more effective for one of the staff members make the effort to train others than it is for the manager or the owner. And, although that buck an hour seems exorbenant now, it won´t be on an evening when three wait staff doesn´t show up and he line at the door is growing longer. Remember, cross training is often the difference between playing restaurant and winning. And, if you want to play, buy a tennis racquet it´s cheaper.