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21 questions that will improve your business

Take a hard look at operations to reveal opportunities for growth

Jim Sullivan is a popular keynote speaker at leadership, franchisee and GM conferences worldwide. This article does not necessarily reflect the opinions of the editors or management of Nation’s Restaurant News. 

In a foodservice world where the status quo changes quicker than U.S. Cabinet members, it is incumbent upon operators to assess and challenge every process, procedure and system they have to ensure they’re viable and effective in the faster-harder-smarter-more restaurant business that’s coming in 2020 and beyond.

Our industry has evolved more in the last twelve months than it had in the previous twelve years, and staying ahead of change is a primary objective for every restaurant operator.  Witness the recent federally legislated $15 an hour wage, the rise of third-party delivery and “ghost” kitchens, the ascendant 150% hourly turnover rate and artificial intelligence at the drive-thru and in the kitchen. (“Alexa, what’s the breading recipe for our Nashville hot buttermilk chicken tenders?”)

We have a choice: You can either make change happen or let it happen. Choose the former and know that asking the right questions today is the best way to challenge the status quo and build a stronger tomorrow.

Each year, I design and deliver leadership keynote speeches, workshops and breakout sessions for top foodservice chains around the globe.  Prior to each presentation, I interview a cross-section of area directors, multiunit franchisees and general managers to better understand the specific challenges they face and uncover opportunities for learning, coaching, and development. The questions I use can be repurposed by NRN readers as well to identify opportunities for change in your organization. The more detailed your answer, the more effective the question becomes. Here’s my short list:  

  1. Why do some of our teams outperform other teams doing the exact same work?
  2. If everyone agrees that service, selling, cleanliness, accuracy and friendliness are so important, then why do those things get done on some shifts and not others?
  3. Where, specifically, do we excel at recruiting, coaching and retaining people?
  4. Where, specifically, do we stink at recruiting, coaching and retaining people?
  5. What are the current training and talent gaps in my restaurant?
  6. What do we need to know next and do next to make ourselves more competitive?
  7. What can we do right now to improve daily communication among team members, managers and guests?
  8. When do our managers and team members have the most fun at work? How can we replicate that?
  9. Imagine that it's six months, or a year, from now and nothing has changed in our restaurants. What are the implications relative to people, performance and profits?
  10. What processes or systems can be fixed or improved or eliminated? How?
  11. How can I be a better leader?
  12. What’s standing in the way of our managers/team members being more engaged at work and with one another and making more progress on a weekly/daily basis?
  13. Is everyone on our team clear on what our current goals are and what their role is in achieving those goals?
  14. What tasks or duties make our team members and managers feel most productive at work?
  15. What’s one resource you don’t have that you wish you did have?
  16. What are the current training and talent gaps in my stores?
  17. How can we better identify, archive and share best demonstrated practices in our restaurants?
  18. How do we keep pre-shift meetings fresh and relevant?
  19. How can we measurably improve our onboarding process for new hires to maximize retention and minimize turnover?
  20. Who do we admire most for their people practices? What can we learn from them?
  21. How can we become the kind of company that would put us out of business?

If you don’t routinely assess and improve the effectiveness of what you do, you’re destined for second place — or worse — in your market. And if you’re content settling for second place, then your strategy will always be determined by the leader.

Jim Sullivan is the author of the bestselling books Multiunit Leadership and Fundamentals which have sold nearly 340,000 copies worldwide. He has over 400,000 social media followers, and you can follow him on LinkedIn, Twitter, YouTube or at

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