[Part 2] How to empower your restaurant staff without comping your profits

9/15/15 7:00 AM Richelle Starke


In our last blog post, we looked at how empowering your employees can have a positive impact on customer experience. But there's another compelling reason why, as a restaurant owner or general manager, you should empower the team you have working for you.

It’s simple: you can't do it all yourself.

The one-man army approach might work at first, but as your restaurant grows it could very well be your downfall.

“Believe me because I speak from experience, if you don't let go and empower your team to get the job done, you'll alienate your staff, and work your fingers to the bone, and end up resenting what you've taken so long to build.” – Kris Edwards

Instead of trying to fight a losing battle, why not make use of a military technique known as Commander’s Intent?

Leaders and managers in the business world have started applying this concept for empowering their subordinates. According to Harvard Business Review, it’s an ideal tool for “a chaotic, dynamic, and resource-constrained environment” – which certainly could describe the restaurant industry!

Commander’s Intent (or you could call it Owner’s Intent or GM’s Intent) is simply your description and definition of what a successful “mission” looks like. Then, when things don’t go exactly according to plan or your team needs to react in the moment, they can think back to your intent and find the best available solution to get to that end point. “Good Commander’s Intent allows employees and teams to adapt the plan using improvisation, initiative, and adaptation to reach the original plan objectives.”

One Ameego client, Cory Medd, owner of Two Guys and a Pizza Place, has developed a similar approach to help empower his staff around a common set of values. “What I post on a sign to remind employees – especially during times when we’re experiencing change or turnover – is what I call my three C’s: cohesiveness (or compatibility), character and capabilities. Our inside motto is: Serving great pizza with a smile. No matter the situation, the team can ask themselves, ‘Are we doing that?’ and know whether they’ve been successful.”

It seems, then, that the first step toward empowering your employees comes with clear direction and strong leadership.

As Parry Roy, Director of Human Resources for Brewsters Brewing Company observes, “Regardless of how new they are or what position they hold, all good employees want direction and guidance from you. They want your leadership. And if they don't, they likely shouldn’t be working with you in the first place.” He also encourages his managers to give regular on-the-spot coaching to the team they supervise. “People are afraid to give instruction,” he says, “because they don’t want to come across as telling others what to do. But that’s part of what makes a good leader; they should be showing and training.”

Mark Rousseau, GM for Via Cibo North York and Crave It Restaurant Group, agrees with that sentiment. He says that when hiring managers, he looks for individuals who demonstrate two key traits. “Number one is leadership – they have to have a willingness to care for the restaurant, and take it upon themselves to teach people and explain the reason behind a policy or why we’re asking them to do things a certain way.” The second trait? “Fortitude. It’s not an easy industry; it takes mental and physical strength. The people who have it are the ones who succeed in the end.”

In addition to communicating his intent, a strong restaurant “commander” builds a successful team by first training and equipping his managers, and then empowering them to follow suit.

Former U.S. Marine Rye Barcott puts it nicely: “We were being trained to obey orders, but also to make them. We were being trained to think, to be teachers as well as students and soldiers. As young lieutenants, we learned that we needed to set the example, communicate the commander’s intent, and then empower our corporals and sergeants.”

The question is: are your “lieutenants” – that is, the members your restaurant team – able to say the same? Imagine what this kind of empowerment could mean for you and for your restaurant!

In case you missed it, part one of the series can be accessed by clicking hereHow to empower your restaurant staff without comping your profits [Part 1].


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Restaurant Profit

Topics: Leadership, Restaurant Culture