Make money by investing in your staff during the offseason

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by Dave Rudman

There’s a popular saying these days: Summer bodies are earned in the winter. This same idea can be applied to the hospitality business: The seeds of a successful busy season are planted in the offseason.

In the hospitality business, it’s easy to think that we’re in the simple transactional business of selling goods and services – a bottle of wine, a well-appointed room, and a delicious meal. However, there’s much more to it, and the value of those goods and services increases significantly when you recognize the importance of the intangible elements that create the experience. While money might change hands on the days you are open, the time to build that value is when you’re closed.

When you have this mentality, you come to understand that the busiest times are when you have the least opportunity to think and grow. It is when times are quieter, such as in the offseason, that you can invest in training your staff as a means to ensure that your operation will maximize every dime during the busy season.

Unlike trying to lose weight and get ripped in time to don your beach attire, making the most of the offseason to maximize your busy season requires four easy steps:

  • Understand the value of education. Shortsighted operators fail to invest in this upfront expense because they don’t understand the profit that an educated staffer can make for their business. Great operators view education as a benefit, which returns its cost many times over. Show your staff, and the community, that you invest in education. You will attract and retain the best talent, who will repay you again and again with their knowledge, training, and passion.
  • The best learning is not attached to brands. Knowing a story about a brand’s founder or exactly where each unusual ingredient is sourced isn’t education, it’s marketing. Non-profit organizations exist for this very purpose: to provide objective fundamental education on a wide variety of topics for professionals and enthusiasts. Employers recognize that a quality training program has more than just superficial knowledge; it has a deep and broad knowledge of categories and processes.
  • Be consistent. Make learning a part of the culture of your operation. It should occur regularly, with talented and knowledgeable individuals leading the way. It should be open to all. You might even choose to make parts of it open to your guests. Ultimately, a culture that values education will result in a staff that naturally seeks more knowledge on its own time and brings it with them to work.
  • Lead by example. Learn alongside your employees. Teach them if you can, but don’t worry if that’s not your role. Simply doing your job well can be a terrific way to establish excellence among the rest of the team.

Think about it this way: When servers passionately upsell your product, the effect can be profound for your bottom line. When they fail to, you lose money. But in the heat of the moment, is that server prepared to upsell? Do they know the premium options available to them? Are they able to describe them? Are they motivated to sell them?

With proper education, all these questions have already been answered before your server is tableside. They were answered during that server’s first two weeks of training on the floor from another server who once upon a time was trained by yet another server. Eventually, you can go back far enough to hit your opening night, when everyone was new. Did you make the decision back then to give your staff the power, the motivation, and the capability to make you money?

If you take the time and invest in your employees from the beginning, they will be able to collect money at every opportunity. Upon hiring, insist that the new employee sit in on trainings every week and have him/her spend a night shadowing established employees. When that employee goes on to train a new team member, he or she will communicate the importance of knowing about the policies and procedures. That is the importance of educating your staff.

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