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Tools to foster effective team communication AntGor/iStock/Getty Images Plus

Tools to foster effective team communication

Beverage directors share what works for their employees

Constant, timely and effective communication among management is one of the most crucial elements of running a successful of a bar or restaurant. Whether it's during service when things are happening at light speed or during the day when preparing for the onslaught, a restaurant is a buzzing hive of activity nearly 24 hours a day. Any issues, problems or updates that happen pre-, during, or post-service require managers to share that information quickly with their teams. And for those running multiple operations as part of a restaurant group, the need for clear communication becomes even more compounded.

“On a scale of one to ten, the importance of managers remaining in communication is a ten,” says Maurice DiMarino, beverage manager for the Cohn Restaurant Group in San Diego. “If something goes wrong, you can bet that the cause leads back to not communicating properly.”  

With over 20 restaurants in San Diego and nearly 150 managers and chefs, Maurice and his team are in constant communication.

“Each facet of the business has its own importance,” he says. “Hospitality is our bread and butter, so managers need to be all over guest relations. Labor is also very important. Do they have enough people, too few people, when are they cutting, do they have the right people in the right roles? Daily walkthroughs of the building, checking lights, safety, bathroom checks, temperature controls in kitchen, and proper food health safety are also important and can sometimes get overlooked. And education is important as well. Teaching staff about the food, wine, beverage and proper service. All of these aspects are little bits and pieces which need to be communicated amongst management so that the restaurant's goals are met, providing an amazing experience for guests.”

Using a combination of software tools, DiMarino and team remain in constant contact. Primary communication happens via Ctuit restaurant management software. “Ctuit has a manager log-in which managers are required to review and communicate with each other when their shifts start and end,” he said. “I am able to look into each log and communicate with each of them. We also use systems such as Plate IQ to track invoicing and purchasing, so we are in continual communication with our accountants. Some restaurants use inventory management systems such as Bevinco, Bevager or Accubar. These systems allow the management teams to know how much product they have on hand.”

Also in San Diego, Urban Kitchen Group’s corporate beverage director, Augusto Ferrarese, stresses the need for constant communication, as he oversees five restaurants, and works closely with 19 managers.

“It’s better to over-communicate,” he says. “We have different platforms: Shiftnote, for managers only; HotSchedules, for the whole staff; and Dropbox or Google docs to share files and work on projects.”

Bringing new selections onto the beverage menu is a big part of Ferrarese’s job, and since he’s able to source larger quantities to spread out over the different operations, he can get better pricing. But ensuring the managers at those restaurants know all about those items is key for sales.

“For each item, we build a tech sheet. We also add maps, and info on the grape varietal. All this info is saved and available in Dropbox for managers to print and share with staff. It’s a great platform that allows all the managers to have access to the info in real time. Additionally, we taste one wine per location each day, and have recently committed to offering two hours paid staff education per store, six times a year.”

Managers also receive monthly newsletters that detail the happenings of all the locations, including new food and beverage items, and events happening at the properties.

Across the country in New York City at Temple Court, wine director Brooks Fraser also uses a number of communication tools. As a hotel restaurant, they serve three meals a day and operate room service. Tracking sales and costs becomes essential, as well as ensuring all managers are receiving that info.

“We use Avero Slingshot which creates a report of all sales for the three meal periods, as well as in-room dining,” she notes. “The previous day’s info is automatically shared with all in-house and upper management via email every morning.”  

Tracking of likes, dislikes, allergies, and ordering habits of VIP guests is also common practice, and needs to be communicated in real time.

“We use OpenTable’s ‘guest notes’ feature that lets us add pertinent information to their profile,” says Fraser. “When they dine, the system creates a printed chit that identifies them and lists that info. These are distributed to management, the captain, the sommelier and the kitchen, so everyone is alerted.”  

And while there are many software systems available to restaurant managers, there’s simply no replacing face-to-face, regularly scheduled, management meetings, the managers say.

“We meet once a week at the store level with the management team,” says Ferrarese. “We discuss sales, repair and maintenance, training, new menus, and any issues. We also have a corporate director meeting once a month with the owner, myself, director of operations and HR, which can be 6 to 8 hours long. We report on the status of sales, staff training, events, new openings, etc. And on the ground level, each restaurant’s managers holds a pre-shift meeting with the staff at 4:45 pm.”

At the end of the day, whichever communication tools one chooses to use, it’s imperative they are constantly analyzed for effectiveness and ease. For as the old adage goes, “Communication works for those who work at it.” 

David Flaherty has more than 20 years of experience in the hospitality industry. He is a certified specialist of wine, a certified cicerone and a former operations manager and beer and spirits director for Hearth restaurant and the Terroir wine bars in New York City. He is currently marketing director for the Washington State Wine Commission and writes about wine, beer and spirits in his blog, Grapes and Grains.

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