It's Hard to be Innovative When You Are Inundated

It's Hard to be Innovative When You Are Inundated

If you want something new, you have to stop doing something old.
— Peter F. Drucker

I recall the first time I met our client, Jeremy. He bounded into the restaurant, a tornado of energy. He had barely dropped his knapsack before he was swarmed by staffers seeking direction, a vendor with orders to collect payment before completing his delivery and the chef requesting a meeting to discuss a menu change for that night’s service. I could practically see his firefighter’s hat forming on his head as he assessed which burning room to attend to first. 

Managing a restaurant means being flooded with details and daily disruptions to your routine, if you have even managed to get into a routine. For Jeremy, he seemingly had no time to run his day, so his day was running him.

But having too many balls in the air at once is a recipe for a crash – and makes it nearly impossible to think clearly about how to improve your business. And improve your business you must. For your restaurant to succeed in the long run, you must ensure that you stay relevant, make your customers happy and properly manage your fabulous team. But how to find the time to do all of that when brush fires run rampant?

One of my industry mentors repeatedly told me that owners and managers in the restaurant business need to work “on” their business, rather than “in” their business. Given that every day brings unexpected challenges (the walk-in is broken, the printer is out of ink, the bartender called in sick; you know the drill) we are quick on our feet and prone to firefighting. So, given the number of hours in a day and how out of control you often feel about how you spend those hours, how do you take off the fire hat and focus on big picture improvements to your business?

Create Efficiencies

A lack of organization and systems will only encourage firefighting. If invoices are haphazardly filed and often lost, you are bound to find yourself in a bind with your vendors when you most need them. If you don’t have a regular maintenance schedule for your major equipment, you can bet the walk-in will quit on a Saturday night just before service. 

Work with your management team to generate a list of ongoing duties that can be systemized, and then create a plan to ensure that details can’t fall between the cracks of daily busyness. With set systems in place for managing invoices, scheduling, inventory, maintenance and the like, you can avoid many of the snafus that spark the crisis in your day. Ensure that the systems are well communicated and that the person responsible is accountable for the execution and documentation of each system.

Evaluate your ROI

Managing a restaurant can be overwhelming. As the leader of the business you don’t need to do everything- you just need to do the things that get results. Remember the Pareto Principle? Also known as the 80/20 rule, it states that 80% of effects are due to 20% of causes. And, 80% of your results will come from 20% of your efforts. For instance, 20% of your menu items generate 80% of your sales and 20% of your bills represent 80% of your expenses.

So, don’t focus energy on the wrong 80% and sacrifice the return on investment of your time and attention. Focus on tasks that produce the highest value for your business and delegate the rest. When evaluating a task, ask yourself will this generate profit and equity and will it get me closer to the vision for the restaurant? If the answer is no: delegate!  You can spend an hour picking out office supplies or filing paperwork (no value!) or you can meet with a potential investor or create a new menu direction (lots of value!).

Organize Your Day

Once you have become clear about the high-value tasks that are your priority, it is critical to build in time for these items into your daily or weekly schedule. Again, if you don’t run your day, it will certainly find a way to run you. Create a routine for yourself from the moment you arrive at work. Perhaps your first task is to inspect the restaurant and check in with your staff. Book that time into your calendar. 

Then make a plan for your strategic work (deep thinking, planning, long-term projects) and tackle the hardest tasks first. The temptation may be to jump into email, but it is a better strategy to use your early-in-the-day focus and motivation to tackle the highest value tasks first. Break your big tasks down into manageable chunks (try the Pomodoro Technique) and focus intently for short bursts of time. Tasks that seem insurmountable become short, intense bursts of effort that add up to the completion of big projects. 

Finally, have a plan for each day for must do items, and block out time to do them. Before you leave at the end of the day, create a schedule for yourself for the next day based on your big picture goals for your business – make sure you are working on your business and not in it.

For our client, Jeremy, having routines, habits and focus changed the nature of his days. His employees no longer bombarded him as he entered the restaurant as they knew that he would check in with each of them as he completed his daily walk through. Fewer catastrophes broke out over time as the systems he created with his team kept them a step ahead of potential issues. And finally, focusing on the high value tasks that drove his business forward improved his feelings of accomplishment each day and allowed him to put away his firefighter’s garb for good. 


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