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How to Answer the Drive-Thru

14 Oct

One of the top tips I gave for increasing speed of service is to streamline words, phrases, and questions at the drive-thru.  This caused quite a bit of controversy in the comment section, so I decided to clarify a bit.

Let’s take a peek at an employee at my last restaurant, who is a great example of what not to do.  I will present a typical order from her, followed by a critique:

Customer: I’d like a Whopper, —

Order Taker: Would you like cheese on that?

Customer: Sure.  And I’d —

Order Taker: Is that a meal?

Customer: . . .  Uh, yeah.

Order Taker: What would you like to drink with that?

Customer: . . . Um . . . I’d like . . . a . . . Coke, and —

Order Taker: Small, Medium, or Large?

Customer: The drink?

Order Taker: No, the meal.

Customer: Oh. . . Uh, I guess . . . uh, Medium.  Uh. . .

Order Taker: Is that it?

Customer: No, I’d like . . . uh. . . a. . . Chicken Sandwich —

Order Taker: Original or Tendercrisp?

Customer: Which one is on the long bun?

Order Taker: The Original.

Customer: Original —

Order Taker: Would you like cheese on that?

Customer: Uh, sure, I guess. . .

Order Taker: Would that be the meal?

Customer: Well, uh, . . . sure —

Order Taker: What kind of drink?

Customer: Uh, . . . uh . . . Maybe . . . Diet Coke?

Order Taker: Small, Medium, or Large?

Customer: (quietly) Small, Medium or Large?

Friend: . . . (almost inaudible) Not sure . . . Large!

Customer: (loud again) Large.  And —

Order Taker: Is that it?

Customer: No, I got more comin’ . . .

I’m not impressed, and I’m annoyed.  I would have had this order taken already, in its entirety.

How could this possibly go quicker?  There are two critiques I have, in addition to politeness.  “Is that it?” is not a proper way to attempt to close an order.  It’s a bit rude and off-putting.  Always say, “Will that be all for you, today?”  Or something like it.  Note also the number of “–“‘s that end the customer’s side of the conversation.  This is where our order taker has cut the customer off to ask a question.  Also very rude.

The critiques that will assist speed of service, and thus the body of this post, are that she is overselling and over-clarifying. Continue reading


Habits 1 and 2 of Highly Effective People

25 Jul

The first habit of highly effective people, according to Stephen Covey, is to be proactive.  The second habit is to begin with the end in mind.  If more fast food managers adopted these habits, we wouldn’t have half of the problems with fast food managers that we do.

I first encountered the second habit in the book Lead or Get off the Pot by Pat Croce.  I can’t say that it has always influenced me as much as it should.  It isn’t a habit.  Starting with my next store assignment, I am going to ingrain this habit into my head; I am going to always start a new assignment with what I want to accomplish by the end of the assignment.

In this particular case, it is promotion to the rank of senior manager.  I have a long way to go–senior manager is two levels above my current rank.  It is reserved for folks who are general management material but who have no store yet.  This is a manager who leads in place of the current store’s GM.  The Go-To Guy.  Every step I take from the start of the new assignment will be taken with the goal of senior manager in mind.  In a future post, I’ll break down the vision I have for being a senior manager and offer some commentary on the action steps that I will take.

If only every fast food manager began new assignments with specific goals in mind.  Most, however, begin a new assignment with nothing more in mind than running a few shifts and doing what they are told.  This leads us to the next point: being proactive.

For the food service manager, food prep is the place where being proactive helps out the most.  I’ve noted that most managers, when they show up for work, dive in and start helping to alleviate the rush that is inevitably going on at that moment.  That is a huge mistake.  The first thing that the incoming manager should do is check on all food prep.  At Burger King, I check the salads, bacon, tomatoes, onions, mac & cheese, and all of the kitchen stock levels (burgers, Whoppers, and fried product) when I walk in the door.  If something is low, I mentally note it and look for an opening in the business to fix it.  The second thing to check is the cleanliness of the dining room (which includes the trash) and then the cleanliness of the kitchen.  If something is amiss, send someone to take care of it.  Then I check the back-of-house: the dishes, the trash, and the paperwork.  If all is good, then I start helping clear the rush.

After the rush is clear, it is time to confer with the outgoing manager.  There is usually at least some overlap between management shifts, and communication is the key reason for that overlap.

Instead, how do most fast food managers manage?  They react to problems as they come up instead of identifying potential problems ahead of time and fixing them.  As much as we all might hate to admit this, the flowcharts and checklists put out by the company help a lot with being proactive.  As human beings, we are bound to forget something if we try to go it on our own.  Following these aids to the letter is a sure way to run a smooth shift.

10 Steps to Empowerment 6: Feedback

30 Nov

I once heard it said to seek first to understand, then be understood.  When giving feedback to your employees, this statement is very true.

Feedback is the lifeblood of the fast food industry, and quite possibly the most important tool in the manager’s arsenal.   Feedback should be immediate, tailored to the individual, and continuous.

Feedback that is given too long after the fact is ineffective.  To alleviate this problem, the feedback must be given as close to the behavior as possible.  The feedback must be specific.  Always target the behavior and not the person–even when giving positive feedback.

Here is where One Minute Praisings and One Minute Reprimands come in handy.

Feedback should be tailored to the individual for two reasons.  First, generic feedback will seem insincere.  It will seem as if you don’t care enough to observe performance. I’ve been over this in previous posts.  “Good job!” is not nearly as motivating as, “You make a perfect Whopper every time.  I appreciate that, and so do our customers.  Keep making those beautiful sandwiches!”

Specific, positive feedback can be very motivating.  Not only will the employee keep up the good behavior, but they will feel good about it.  Once people start taking pride in their jobs, it will make the entire restaurant run much more smoothly.

To tailor feedback to the individual, it is first necessary to understand each individual’s motives and reason for being in your restaurant.  Managers with hearts are so rare, and the manager who puts in this extra effort will earn people’s commitment.  This pays huge dividends in the running of your restaurant.

Continuous feedback is important because it will keep the employees focused on the customers.  We all know that once service goes awry, it will be very difficult to get back under control.  In really high volume restaurants, service goals are impossible to attain if your staff suffers even one misstep.

But don’t overdo the feedback.  You don’t want to be a micromanager.  Everyone hates those guys.   The real trick to good feedback is finding the balance between too often and not enough; positive and negative.  Master that, and feedback is a powerful tool.

10 Steps to Empowerment 5: Knowledge

28 Nov

The fifth key to empowerment is to give employees the knowledge they need to do their jobs.  If they’ve been properly trained, they know their responsibilities, they know the standard of behavior, and they have the authority to do their jobs, what good is all of it if they are lacking in important facts with which to make decisions?

As the manager, you know if the sales level is leveling off.  If you keep that under your hat and don’t communicate it to your team, then don’t be surprised when they drop enough food to feed a small army.  Conversely, if you see a half dozen cars pull in the parking lot and don’t tell your team to get ready for a rush, don’t be surprised if they run out of food.

It is extremely important that your team have all of the knowledge that they need at their disposal.  In a fast food environment, the best way to do that is to talk to them continuously, making sure that they stay apprised of business trends, food that is already prepped, sandwiches that are “extra,” and anything else of the sort that you, as their manager, feel that they need to know.

One Minute Goal Setting

15 Nov

I finally started reading Ken Blanchard’s The One Minute Manager. My original idea for a book was to re-tool Blanchard’s work specifically for the fast food environment. But then I thought that I should write something a bit more academic for my first published material.

Now, reading The One Minute Manager has got me thinking that I can do both. The One Minute Manager idea will take less than six or seven months to write, while the academic book can be an expanded, more detailed version of The One Minute Manager.

Which leads me to this first post on One Minute Management Secrets: One Minute Goal Setting. This plays off of my first article on empowerment so well, because the whole point of One Minute Goal Setting is to be as concise as possible with the goal.

Now, in fast food, we all know that it is just not possible to meet with every employee prior to a shift and write a one-page goal summary of less than 250 words. But it is possible to set goals for the shift itself that can be communicated in, say, 50 words or less. In turn, these organizational goals translate into between one and four goals for each person on duty.

Let’s talk in more concrete terms. We have Susie on drive-thru, Chet on front register, and John, George, Seth, and Veronica in the kitchen. You’re the One Minute McManager, and you start your day by looking at the performance from the prior shift. You see that you are +5 hours on labor already (darn day shift never cuts), and that means that you’re going to have to cut on your shift. The day shift, despite the high labor usage, has also managed to screw up the service time, leaving it at an average of almost three and a half minutes.

So the first thing you have to do is organize for speed. At your first break, Chet and Susie are going to have to stock that drive thru and counter area up, plus Chet is going to have to clean up all of his tables before dinner. So grab Chet and Susie, and in one minute, talk them through that. Also mention the horrendous service time and let them know that, once again, “We have to show the day shift how it’s done.”

That’s what I like to say. Most fast food places where I’ve put on the gold manager pin have had a serious day shift vs. night shift mentality, so I play the competition up to get better results from people. It helps when one shift screws up labor or service time, because that way I can use that to motivate the next shift–to show ’em how it’s done.

Next, grab the kitchen staff and talk to them. Let them know about the horrendous service time, and that it’s time to school the day people on how a shift is supposed to be run. Meanwhile, it’s time to stock the raw food products so that no one has to go anywhere during the big rush. Assuming that Seth and Veronica are your closers, I’d also let them know that they’re likely going to have to take a break, as well as deal with others getting sent home early.

In all of these conversations, keep them as brief as possible–less than a minute, if you can. And make all of the expectations crystal clear: the service time, having to cut labor, and making all of the usual rush preparations.

During the course of the shift, it is important to remind people of the goals. I like to yell out the service time, and if it is bad, I don’t say anything. But, if it’s good, I tell everyone that they’re doing great and offer some encouragement to keep it up.

This is the secret to One Minute Goal Setting in fast food.

10 Steps to Empowerment 1: Clearly Define Responsibility

14 Nov

At Wendy’s, managers were to use a “tool” called TTM–Talk To Me.  No one ever actually defined this “tool” while in training, and district managers were very nebulous as to how one should use it.  Training indicated that a manager was only supposed to TTM his employees, not actually do anything–but let me tell you how much trouble I got into from both my GM and my DM for actually doing that!  In fact, the Operations Leader video showed the manager only talking, never doing.

With all of that contradictory information, what is TTM, really, and how is a manager supposed to use it?  Well, Wendy’s divided TTM into three parts: Talk Into Position, Talk Through Position, and Talk Out of Position.  Talking someone into position means defining their priorities and goals for the day.  Talking someone through position reinforced the goals and priorities set for the day, as well as the restaurant operating procedures.  Talking someone out of position gave them feedback on their overall performance, as well as establishing goals to work on for the next shift.

I propose that TTM was never anything more than a way to clearly define the job responsibility assigned to a person for the day, as well as maintaining that person’s focus on his priorities.  This is the first principle of empowerment: Tell people what their responsibilities are.

It is important not just to define the responsibilities, but also to tell employees how their job fits into the overall scheme of things.  In Teach Your Team to Fish, Laurie Beth Jones gives the example that every cell in the human body has the DNA code for the entire body in its nucleus.  This way, Jones reasons, each cell knows not only its job, but also how its job fits in with the big picture.  That is important, especially for menial jobs.

In fast food, workers deride jobs that they think are pointless, such as moving the fryers and scrubbing behind them.  It’s tough work, no one enjoys heavy cleaning, and–let’s face it–it gets really nasty back there.  But, an employee will feel a little bit better if they understand that detail cleaning of that sort are the types of things that inspectors look more closely at than the “important” jobs, like cashiering or preparing food.  A clean restaurant is important for serving safe food and preventing foodbourne illness.  If anything, this “menial” job is actually more important than the main jobs.

If the manager explains all of that to an employee who complains about detail cleaning, that employee is far more likely to take pride in his work.  Which means that he is going to do a better job, a more efficient job, and perhaps even a faster job!

The middle component of TTM may have been the most important of the three.  Talking someone through position was playing the role of coach.  Reinforcing daily goals and priorities was a must.  Setting the goals is important, but keeping an employee focused on achieving them is far more important.

It is especially important that the manager, who knows the big picture, communicates when priorities change.  We all know that sometimes, plans change.  People call off, others may not be up to performing where they’ve been assigned.  Sometimes counter gets unusually busy.  Sometimes drive-thru gets unusually busy.  All of these unexpected things will change priorities, and it is important for managers to let everyone know, and let everyone know why.

Why is the most important detail, because Diane Tracy observes that ego is tied to responsibility (27).  That means a person will feel a sense of disappointment if he is taken off of a responsibility that he felt he was doing well.  People automatically feel that they are a disappointment to their bosses if they are reassigned without explanation.  Always explain when reassigning someone.  Always explain why priorities are changing, too.

When utilized correctly, these tools will build morale and make the manager’s job so much easier.