Strategies for Delivering Effective Pre-Shift Meetings

Over and over again, restaurant operators and General Managers ask me what I consider to be the number one thing that restaurant operators can do to reduce turnover, improve service and increase sales. The answer is simple, the execution hard: deliver an energetic pre-meal meeting, every shift, every day.

Now I realize that asking most restaurant managers to deliver a pre-meal meeting every shift is like asking Moe Howard to baby-sit a colicky infant. But the cost of doing nothing is greater than the cost of investing in pre-meal learning. Ignorance is stupidity, not bliss. No matter what you call them—Alley Rallies, Pre-Meals, Q-Times, Pep-Ups—the pre-meal meeting is arguably the best tool we have to both prep and focus our crew on the critical behaviors that will make a shift rewarding for both the employee and the guest.

Having personally conducted a few hundred successful pre-shift meetings in the restaurants I’ve owned or managed and having successfully taught a few thousand managers how to do it in theirs, I’d like to share some do’s and don’ts on how to stage pre-meal meetings that get results:

One meeting, one issue

A common mistake managers make is trying to cover too many issues in a pre-shift meeting. What happens with multiple objectives is that the team members learn “everything and nothing”. Chet Enten from Ryan’s Steakhouse concurs: “We’ve found that the key to staging successful pre-shift meetings is stay focused on one objective—two maximum—for each shift. Otherwise, the team tends to lose focus and you end up watering-down the shift’s potential.” Pick one focus area to emphasize and stick to it: quick tableside greeting, no trash on floors, upselling desserts, clean aprons, every plate presentation perfect, etc. This doesn’t mean you can’t discuss other topics, just choose one or two as your focal points so that everyone can remember the goal and you can collectively measure the success. Tomorrow, build on the experience with another topic. You’ve got time after all. If you’re open for lunch and dinner everyday you have 729 more pre-meal meetings this next year in which to emphasize another topic.


Rule number two: keep it short and sweet. I’ve seen too many managers ramble off on ten-minute monologues (with gusts up to fifteen) in front of antsy, bored, or distracted servers or cooks right before a busy shift. No pre-shift meeting should last longer than five minutes in my opinion. Set an egg timer and when the bell rings, the crew should be allowed to walk away. Less is more. Think of these get-togethers as pre-shift “moments”, (like a quarterback before a big play) not meetings, if it helps you better focus on the desired result.

Dialogues, Not Monologues

Interactivity makes any meeting more lively and effective. Remember the 20/80 rule: managers should speak for 20% of the meeting, crew should speak for 80% of the meeting. In other words, briefly present the objective and opportunities for the shift, assess the key concerns from previous shifts, and then ask team members to repeat and review those focal points.

Teach Everyone Something New Each Shift

The pre-meal meeting may be one of the best times to teach your team together, but don’t forget to find opportunities throughout the shift to share your expertise with every crew member. As Golden Corral CEO Ted Fowler says, “Don’t just ‘reach and hire’…teach and inspire.”

Never Set Individual Sales Goals for the Staff

If for instance you say “Joan, I want you to sell 8 appetizers this shift.” Well, those are your goals, not hers. Let servers set their own goals at pre-meal sessions. You’ll be surprised how often those goals will be higher than what you would have set.

Generate Electricity

And finally, remember that pre-meal meetings are opportunities to teach, inspire and pump up energy levels of your kitchen and dining room teams before “the big game.” Your enthusiasm for both teaching and having fun learning together will drive the shift. Maybe Perkins Director of Training, Toni Kottom, says it best: “Attention goes where energy flows.”

My experience has taught me that the key to competitiveness is innovation and the key to innovation is people. Exchanging knowledge with your team members daily is taking care of your people. Therefore, it’s an essential way of taking care of business. We are what we repeatedly do. Learning, therefore, is not an objective, but a habit.

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