Get Your Shift Together: How Miscommunication Is Killing Your Restaurant's Profits

Jan 7, 2016 12:43:18 PM / by Matt Thompson


Great communication is the cornerstone of any successful business, especially for restaurants. With that many employees and shifts moving through the restaurant, communication often falls through the cracks. Yet shift-to-shift communication is an incredibly valuable key to success.

The Ken Blanchard Companies performed four studies between 2003 and 2006 on key traits that can make or break today’s leaders. When surveyed, the respondents stated that easily the most critical leadership skill is communication.

43% of respondents said communication skills were the most critical while 41% stated that inappropriate communication tactics was the biggest mistake a leader can make. Additionally, effective people management was labeled as the second most important skill-set for great leaders to possess and 15% of respondents stated empathy and emotional intelligence as the third most important skill.

Even the idea for ShiftNote began with leadership communication in mind! The owner, Matt Thompson, worked as a restaurant consultant and explained to restaurant managers the concept of Observe, Direct, and Follow Through as a communication loop. The most important skill a restaurant manager can have is communication.  Communication sets expectations and drives company culture.  When observing employees as they work you should listen as much as you watch, then direct their actions with effective communication.  The fortune is in the follow-through, as they say.  When you follow through on what you communicate you are driving change and fortifying your expectations.

It doesn’t stop there! In a blog from Clear Company, 86% of employees and executives cited a lack of collaboration or ineffective communication as the source for most workplace failures. Having a place where employees can collaborate on their tasks and tactics to accomplish their job is incredibly important as well as having leadership that clearly communicates goals and objectives to their employees.

The problem with restaurants is it is difficult to get all employees in one place at one time. For leaders, managing shifts in the fast-paced workday is a balancing act that will test you. You will find out if you are an effective leader with excellent communication or a poor one that is grasping onto shift-to-shift communication by the tips of their fingertips.

But what does good communication entail? Many leaders make the mistake believing that communication is broadcasting their message. That is the opposite of what managers want to do. There are many facets of good communication that leaders do not incorporate into their style, no matter how chaotic their restaurant is or how little they see their employees at once. Once you can rock communication as a leader, it will trickle down to your employees to increase collaboration between shifts and productivity as a whole.

If you have noticed more problems on shifts, irate or confused employees, unhappy customers, or any other breakdown in your business structure, the problem could very well be your communication style and be what is blocking you from being a great leader. It is time for you to get back to basics when it comes to communication!

Let us throw some quick skills down that you will need to be a great communicator and therefore a great leader.

  • First, you have to develop a keen external awareness. This requires you to keep on top of everything that is happening on each shift so you know what the heck you should communicate about!
  • Second, you have to develop a heightened sense of situational and contextual awareness by being a great listener with accurate observations.
  • Third, your message you are trying to convey has to be adapted for the environment. For example, how you word your conversation will be different right before a rush as opposed to slow times during the day. Another example is speaking to an employee who is calm and responsive as opposed to an agitated or frustrated employee.
  • Fourth, the communication has to be structured to meet the needs and expectations of your employees. Don’t talk to hear yourself talk – make sure what you are conveying meets employee needs!

Sound overwhelming? Being a great leader with awesome communication skills does not happen overnight! Let’s break down how each of these skills can be learned and applied.

Dialogue, Not Monologue

Good communication starts with having a dialogue with your employees, not a monologue. Even though you are a leader, you have to treat each interaction with employees as if you were talking to family member or friend. If you went off on this big speech about expectations without giving friends or family an opportunity to provide input, it would be frustrating! The same goes for your employees. Make each conversation engaging and personal by allowing employees the chance to respond or object. Demonstrate that you care about their opinion to develop a meaningful relationship with everyone on shift.

Exuberant Knowledge and Be Specific

Leaders who don’t know what they are talking about immediately put employees on the defense and they will not listen to what you have to say. Sure, you aren’t in the nitty gritty of each shift like back when you started, but that doesn’t mean you can’t know what their day to day is like and be responsive to it when communicating. Being a smooth talker with no substance will make employees ignore your message. Always address the how and why with knowledge to back it up.

Not only should you know what you are talking about, but you have to be specific. Not only does this help employees understand the exact point you are getting at but it also makes your communications simple and concise so you are not superfluous and wasting anyone’s time.

Be Open-Minded and Empathetic

It is difficult to admit you are close-minded, but important to overcome and change to an open mind as a leader. If you shut employees down who have different opinions, have different positions, challenge you, or confront you, this will have one of two effects. The first – they will start challenging you more on pointless items since you rejected their right to speak on the important subject. The second – they will shut down and stop communicating with you all together. Instead of shutting them down, understand what is on their mind and where they are coming from without trying to change their opinion. If they have trouble communicating, teach them! It will be your perfect test as an excellent leader.

Now that you have taken the first step in reducing your ego to admit you may need to open your mind, it is time to start practicing empathy. Leaders who apply empathy into their communication style come off as more authentic and transparent. As Mike Myatt from Forbes states perfectly, “Understanding this communication principle is what helps turn anger into respect and doubt into trust.”

Listen and Observe

Actually listening to your staff and observing their actions and body language will greatly improve your communication and interactions. If you keep broadcasting your message without allowing response, it turns into a lecture. Know when to cut it down or stop talking altogether. Additionally, you should watch your staff for a while and see how they interact with each other and with you. You will learn a lot about the character of each employee and decide which way would be best to communicate with them.

Read Between the Lines

It is rare that employees will come right out and tell you when they are mad, frustrated, tired, or confused about something in your business. However, they will absolutely give hints by what they say or their body language. Learn to read between the lines to decipher what their needs are and communicate solutions. You can learn more about what employees are hiding or how they are interacting on shift than you can by broadcasting a loud message of do’s and don’ts.

Speak to Groups as Individuals

This is definitely the hardest good communication skill for leaders to master, especially in a fast-paced shift industry. You will likely not have the time to speak to each employee individually in a communication style they best resonate with (plus it would eat up a lot of your day!). But how do you get your message across when you have to broadcast it to the whole shift? It takes practice, but you can learn to work the room by tailoring your message so each employee feels like they are being spoken to individually.

Adapt, Adapt, Adapt

Life is a learning experience that never stops. Situations in your business will change rapidly and sticking with one kind of communication style will not work 100% of the time. You have to use all of the previous skills listed above to know when you have to change your message and delivery style. Have a backup plan for communication in place and be ready to deliver a different style on the fly.

As a leader, you spend most of your time in interpersonal situations, so it makes sense that you want your communication to be high quality and effective so you can experience financial success! When you consistently communicate using the skills previously mentioned, your teams will be highly focused, motivated, and productive! Collaboration between shifts will increase with a clear and communicative path from the leader so sales, quality, and the customer experience increase, putting more back into your company profit.

Let’s go back to the Observe, Direct, and Follow Through concept that helped create the ShiftNote software. Observing is such an important concept because you can read between the lines and dissect what your servers and cooks need to be successful. For example, if your servers are complaining about the customers or the cooks or the shift in general, there is a problem with your communication. However, if your servers are sharing tips to get more sales and helping each other, then you can leverage their interest in growing by offering training and guidance.

This concept is so important that we create a software program for restaurant leaders to accomplish it. ShiftNote is an online communication tool that dramatically improves your restaurant. ShiftNote was built by restaurant managers for restaurant managers. It makes it easy to communicate great, become a great leader, and see great success without any additional training. This all-in-one communication solution between chaotic shifts replaces any and all paper log books managers may be using with a powerful, web-based application that is 100% customizable.


Tags: communication, manager communication, News, restaurant training, Shift Management, Tips & Ideas

Matt Thompson

Written by Matt Thompson

Matt has let his lifelong passion of food and people lead him to 15 amazing years as a restaurant manager and another 9 years working as a Director with a major food service distributor. He has channeled this passion to help create and run ShiftNote. When he's not dominating the food service industry, he's spending time with his 4 children and cheering on the Tigers as a Mizzou Alumni.

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