Jan 19, 2024 4 min read

And, One Time At Band Camp…I Learned to Run a Restaurant!

Revisionist history always seems to think prior generations were better than the current one…but is that really the case?
And, One Time At Band Camp…I Learned to Run a Restaurant!
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‘This generation is lazy/has no work ethic’

‘The generation doesn’t want to follow instructions, dress in uniform, show up, come in on time, etc, etc’

Revisionist history always seems to think prior generations were better than the current one…but is that really the case?

Having spent 4 decades in the industry as a frontline hourly employee, manager, trainer, corporate support, multi-unit franchise owner, executive roles and two of those decades consulting with many leading hospitality brands, while I have not seen it all, I’ve seen just about everything…and the first two statements are misconceptions.

Simply watch a high school marching band. They are capable of extremely high levels of performance, precision multi-tasking (playing both difficult music and creating exceptional marching performances), dressing in complete uniform, showing up on time and practicing until they cannot get it wrong. And ‘we’ say this generation is lazy and entitled?

So what are many of us missing in the hospitality industry? Some brands truly get it: Chick Fil A, Pal’s Sudden Service, Raising Cane’s and quite a few others. Many leaders (GM’s, franchisees and multi-unit leaders) within nearly every brand can run successful restaurants and build great teams but it often doesn’t permeate the entire brand.

Here are a few keys many miss and often struggle with guest service, employee retention and true, long-term sales and profit building I learned watching my daughter go thru four amazing years in high school band at a multi-time state champion high school:

  • Share the Vision (i.e. 'The Show')
  • Don't hire mediocre people if you have high standards
  • Train Until They Can't Get it Wrong
  • Developing 'Section Leaders'
  • Lead with Positivity
  • Share Results

Let’s look at each in a bit more detail

Share the vision

In marching band, the entire band gets to see and hear their ‘show’ before any training begins. The director and support team select the music and create the marching sequences and theme for the show. Great leaders share the vision for the brand (or even a single unit). What are we here trying to achieve? What skills are we trying to teach you that will serve you well for life? Share the vision, reinforce the vision and ensure your actions are inline with the vision!

Don’t Hire Mediocre People

Great leaders know what ‘talent chips’ are needed for each position in the restaurant just as a band director knows what type of skills are needed for each instrument, color guard and drum line. In a marching competition, one ‘mediocre’ person will stick out like a sore thumb and ruin the show for the entire band. Why do so many leaders allow mediocre people on the team if they truly have high standards and are trying to achieve a great ‘show’ in their restaurant? Pay more for the rock stars and cut the dead weight. Your guests (and team) will appreciate it…and labor costs will also likely decrease in the near future!

Train Until They Can’t Get it Wrong

High school bands typically learn the music in 20-30 second sections THEN learn the marching steps THEN put both together THEN add the next 30 seconds and so on. Yes, they have about 8-10 weeks to get the entire show ready (keeping in mind the kids are going to school full time and have limited time to practice). The restaurant industry, in most cases, is very different. Training is often very limited, done on the guests before employees are ready and we all wonder why service scores suffer and employees leave quickly. Don’t train ‘until they get it right’. Train until they can’t get it wrong. Micro-learning, repetition to build ‘muscle memory’ and a coach nearby! When an employee has to ‘think’, it slows things down and causes mistakes. Your job as a leader is to develop them to learn their jobs so it’s second nature and habits, not thinking. Divide up the tasks, make them experts in limited things and then grow their role!

Develop Section Leaders

One of the other key band learnings I gleaned was having leaders assigned to manage 10-20 other band members in their section (i.e. by instrument or area of the field). Those section leaders work more 1:1 and help ensure the vision is being executed by their group; teaching, coaching and holding their group accountable. ONE PERSON CAN’T DO IT. Sorry to disappoint you ‘SuperGMs’ out there! Great leaders develop assistant managers, shift supervisors and team leads to be the coaches, trainers, leaders and standard bearers for smaller groups in the restaurant to ensure the team performs at a high level.

Lead With Positivity

My daughter’s band director told the parents at our orientation (yes, the families of the band kids went through orientation as well!), ‘When you have class it shows…when you don’t, it screams’. We were all instructed to give EVERY band performing at a contest a standing ovation! The band directors stood up high on a platform with a bullhorn each practice session. They spewed positivity and redirected in a positive fashion always referring back to the vision and the show as the reason ‘why’. Unfortunately, many of us didn’t grow up in the industry with leaders like these band directors and sometimes struggle with this topic. I am one of those reformed leaders who came over from the dark side. Learned the importance of this approach by offering incentives to align what a team member wanted (i.e. more  hours, schedule/section preference, money, recognition, time off, gift cards, etc) with what the business wanted (more sales, profits and higher survey scores). I call it, ‘Send Flowers to the Living!’ Recognize the RIGHT behaviors and team members while they are here so they don’t want to leave!

Share the Results

Band competitions provide very specific scoring matrices the directors receive. They share them with the entire band and setup action plans with the section leaders to address opportunities. Great hospitality leaders share their entire P&L with their team and setup action plans by area to improve sales and profits…and also share their ‘People P&L’ (aka Turnover/Retention) with the team to help develop everyone on the team…and remove those ‘losses’ from the team.

Who would have thought so much about managing frontline team members could have been learned from watching 300 high school kids in a marching band? Future articles will delve deeper into these topics individually but start marching to the beat of a new drum today – your team will appreciate it!

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