The 10 Best Bits of Advice We Heard on Season 1 of the Restaurant Growth Podcast

The 10 Best Bits of Advice We Heard on Season 1 of the Restaurant Growth Podcast
D. J. Costantino

By D. J. Costantino

We started the Restaurant Growth Podcast in 2021 to provide a platform for the best and brightest minds in the restaurant and hospitality industry. About a year and more than a dozen episodes later, we had the privilege to interview a wide range of folks with advice on everything from hiring staff, to creating content, to providing benefits, and increasing profits.

We wanted to take a look back and highlight some of our favorite moments during our first season. From big, important ideas to use-today tactics, here are the best takeaways we heard on Season One of the Restaurant Growth Podcast.

1. Your smartphone is your restaurant's media center

Cali BBQ in Spring Valley, CA is more than a barbecue restaurant. It's a full-on media company. And it's proprietor, Shawn Walchef, is redefining what restaurant marketing can be.

Shawn is the host of not one but two podcasts—Digital Hospitality and Restaurant Influencers—and he stopped by ours to talk about creating a media brand out of your restaurant.

“That smartphone is your media center. That literally is a multimedia center. It allows you to tell your story of why you get up every day to go and open up your restaurant. I mean, you've done so much work. Restaurant owners do so much. Yeah. Like we run a marathon before the real race begins to get a restaurant,” says Walchef.

Walchef stresses how easy it can be to use your smartphone to tell guests who you are:

“Now the real work begins. And then nobody told you along the way that a pandemic is going to come and shift everything upside down. But what can you do? You can go onto your camera app and press record, and record something that's less than 60 seconds of who you are, what you do, what you're doing for COVID-19 safety, why you're reopening, why you care about the community, why it's important that somebody comes and buys gift cards, whatever you're doing.

You post that content online on all those different social platforms. Now there's a compelling reason for someone to go, “Hey, when I'm thinking about barbecue, I'm going to go to Cali BBQ, because I just saw them the other day on Facebook...,” he says.

Walchef leaves us with a simple reminder:

“The opportunity lies in everybody's pocket.”

Listen to Shawn Walchef's episode here, and check out 7shifts CEO Jordan Boesch on Digital Hospitality.

2. Storytelling is an essential part of the hiring process

Jensen Cummings is a believer that we can do much better when it comes to hiring—especially when it comes to job descriptions. Cummings is a lifer in the industry—a chef-restaurateur turned podcast host for Best Served Creative, where he interviews industry leaders and helps advocate for a better restaurant work environment. That starts with storytelling:

“It's not enough to just go, 'Hey, hiring line cooks. Hit me up.' That's not going to build a foundation. So those uninspired job posts have to go,” says Cummings.

He stresses the importance of storytelling:

“You have to tell a story. Why the hell should I come work for you? The reality of that is important because if we're saying we're putting in so little effort, so little time and thought into trying to hire you, at what point are we going to hold ourselves to esteem and to higher standards? It starts at the beginning. So I want to really make sure that's important,” says Cummings.

Cummings goes on to talk about the six red flags that jobseekers should avoid, and that job posters should consider. Check out our blog post breaking these red flags down with what to avoid in a job description. This will make sure you're not putting them out into the world.

Listen to Jensen Cummings' episode here.

3. Workers are going to gravitate towards restaurants who appreciate them

Ken McGarrie is the cofounder of Korgen Hospitality and uses his decades of experience to help restaurants across the country become more profitable and reach their potential. In his work, he realized that many employees get thrust into management positions without any training. So he created a universal training manual, his book—The Surprise Restaurant Manager. He stopped by the show to chat about it, and he left us with some advice for those who may be unsure of their future career in hospitality:

“I would give the advice to make sure that you are dedicating your time for somebody who's truly appreciative of it. It's, it's definitely more true now than it ever has been. If you're a good server or a good bartender, you can get a job anywhere, legitimately anywhere.”

He advocates for strong culture and making sure that management is expressing gratitude towards employees:

“Your management should function from the standpoint of not. 'You're so lucky to work for us.' It should be, 'Thank you so much for working here. You make the conscious choice every morning to choose to come into work here. And we appreciate that.' Throughout the last year, some restaurateurs chose to pivot. And instead of trying to go through traditional avenues, turn their kitchens into community food banks, and worked to develop the community and have been really, really exceptional leaders during this very challenging time.Those places are not having the same challenge of staffing as other ones are, simply because for the last year they were seen as the people in the community that were just helping out,” says McGarrie.

Listen to Ken McGarrie's episode here.

4. Your core values deserve your attention

As VP of People at Hopdoddy Burger Bar, Kelly McCutcheon leads a lot of restaurant employees. That's a whole lot easier to do when you can lean on amazing core values like Hopoddy does. But how do you put those core values to paper? Kelly and her team have the playbook:“The first thing Hopdoddy did was to gather all of its key stakeholders. For a company of their size, it was around 8 people. For smaller restaurants, it may just be an owner and general manager. The most important thing is to make sure everyone is together for the conversation. You'll also want to choose a facilitator to write things down and run the session. Then the work can begin:

“We were each challenged to list 3 team members, and those team members had to be ones who were difference makers. The ones that, if we could only build out the team with these 3 people, who would it be?” says McCutcheon.

Then they each wrote them down (in secret) and shared them amongst each other.

“The first thing we realized was how much overlap there was. We already had 20+ locations when crafting these core values. We chose everyone from hourly, to managers, to regional and beyond. We had a lot of commonalities,” says McCutcheon.

From there, the team was able to hone in and craft four core values that help them make decisions across their business.

“Core values are that guiding light and vision for everybody to lead the way,” says McCutcheon.

Listen to Kelly McCutcheon's episode here and read our summary on how to create your core values.

5. Hire for fit rather than skill

7shifts had the pleasure of hosting Danny Meyer for a fireside chat with our CEO, Jordan Boesch. Among many stories, Danny dove into his hiring process from the very beginning at Union Square Café, how it evolved into the process they use now at all of his restaurants. Below, we've recapped Danny's process and the 6 qualities that all great restaurant team members should have.

“At USHG we are looking for talent whose skills are divided 51-49 between emotional hospitality and technical excellence. We refer to these employees as “51 percenters.” I'll take Shake Shack as an example because nobody in the history of Shake Shack has ever been asked to show on their resume how many times they've made a hot dog. Rather, the majority of what we're hiring for at a restaurant like Shake Shack—and I would say that this also applies to our full-service fine dining restaurants at Union Square Hospitality Group, are six key emotional skills, that when possessed at a very high level, means someone has a high hospitality quotient, or high HQ,” says Meyer. Measuring HQ is a way to ask, “What's your propensity to care about making other people feel better when you do the thing you do?”

Listen to the full conversation between Danny and Jordan, or read more about Danny's hiring philosophy and the six emotional qualities of great team members.

Danny Meyer Restaurant Growth Podcast

6. Texting is a valid format for team training

Rachael Nemeth paints a familiar picture in the restaurant business:

“Imagine what it would feel like if you're walking in, and it's your first day as a server at an 11 unit restaurant. And everybody is doing a great job, but it just so happened that the GM isn't there that day. So you have somebody else who really doesn't know that they're supposed to be training you, you have no assistance to how to do your job,” says Nemeth.

It's a big reason to why they founded Opus—a mobile platform that enables businesses to create mobile-first training for deskless workers and frontline teams. Simply put: training employees through text message.

Why texting?

“The beauty of the age is the fact that we're for everyone, no matter what, everyone knows how to text message. There are grandparents who are texting their grandkids. There are moms that are texting they're little ones. There are aunts who are texting their nieces and nephews. This is how we interact in the world today...Ttext messages are the great uniter, and really is for everyone,” says Nemeth.

Listen to Rachael Nemeth's episode here.

7. It's not enough to just add digital ordering—you have to build your business around it

Carl Orsbourn and Meredith Sandland wrote the book on the future of restaurants. Literally.

On their busy press run for Delivering the Digital Restaurant, Carl & Meredith hopped on the podcast to chat all about the what's coming for restaurants—and how to go digital, the right way.

Hint: it's not as simple as slapping on some online ordering and calling it a day:

“You don't succeed by just appending digital on the side of your business,” says Meredith Sandland.

“We had a lot of people, while we were at Kitchen United, who would say things like, 'Oh, this delivery thing's just a fad. It's not going to make money, it will go away.’ I had people say to me during the pandemic, ‘oh, sure deliveries up because of COVID-19. But once it's over, people will go back to the way they used to do things.’

I just don't believe that that's not going to happen. And if you make the best of it and slap some digital on, because you think that some people want it, or at least they want it in the interim, it's not going to work. You need to rethink your business model in light of all these digital tools,” says Sandland.

...and treat delivery drivers like a member of your team

As part of his research for the book, co-author Carl Orsbourn took the driver's seat—of a DoorDash vehicle. And he had some surprising revelations:“I think the drivers themselves are playing a significant role in this overall ecosystem system. And certainly what we found, in the kind of ghost kitchen environment, is if you treat them right, that actually they're going to leave your restaurant in a much better frame of mind for when they eventually end up in front of you or your guest's door.

And, and that probably was the main lesson I learned, because I can tell you, I went to a few restaurants and, uh, I, I didn't feel particularly welcome,” says Orsbourn.

Check out Carl & Meredith's Book, Delivering the Digital Restaurant, and listen to their full episode here.

Carl and Meredith Restaurant Growth Podcast

8. You're leaving money on the table—yes, you.

Josh Kopel wants you to know:

“Everyone's leaving money on the table. If you're listening, and you're like, "that's not me." That's totally you. It's all of us. You could make more money on a Friday or Saturday night or a Sunday night, but we don't really spend our time doing that....We spend our time trying to figure out how to make an extra five grand on a Monday. When there's probably 10 to 15 grand a month just sitting in weekend business that we're not trying to drive. So I think that we also need to look at maximizing our current capacity to meet our existing demands.”A Michelin-rated restaurateur and content creator, Kopel knows his stuff. He goes on to encourage restaurant operators to leverage social media to draw attention to your restaurant—by showing them who you are. This newfound attention can bring people to your website or reservation pages, and into your seats.

Another way to do it? Gift cards.“Gift cards that are the greatest money on the planet because they're never redeemed same day. Right? So it's, it's like an investment. It's like a bond, and your team should be actively trying to sell them. It should be front and center on our websites. We should talk about it all the time on social. There are massive opportunities there to create an ancillary revenue stream that doesn't require the need to create merch or bottle sauces,” says Kopel.

Listen to Josh Kopel's episode here.

9. Your best marketing asset are the customers you already have

Chip Klose has more than a decade of experience in restaurant marketing, And he distilled if down into his own Triangle Principle: attraction, retention, and evangelism.

But Klose recommends starting with evangelism—and making sure that you're providing existing customers with an experience that they can't help but wax to their friends about.“I can't tell you what to do to make it so that people will take pictures of something. I just know that when people are overwhelmed, you know, they find something that's so remarkable, they can't help it take a picture of it. They can't help, but talk about it, tell their friends about it the next day, their colleagues, when they're at work. So. There's no one way to do this. Operators just have to stop and look at this. The worst thing that a restaurant can have is just that they're just enough, right? We don't need just another, anything.”

Klose references a few of the more well-known ways that restaurants wow guests: the Duck Press of The Grill in NYC, Salmon Tartare Cones at The French Laundry, or Black Tap's famous loaded milkshakes (you know, the ones with a whole cake slice on top). At the core, though, it comes down to exceeding guest expectations: “So how do we make it so that I didn't expect, that I didn't imagine that this was going to happen, that this was going to taste like this, that I was going to feel this way... Go above and beyond... That's where evangelism starts.”

Listen to Chip Klose's episode here.

10. Benefits are best when they meet the real needs of your staff

How do you beat the restaurant industry labor shortage? By focusing on the people already working for you. In this employment landscape, team member retention is more important than ever before.

Our final episode of 2021 features Dan Simpson, CEO of Taziki's, which with nearly 100 locations and 3000 employees, manage to retain staff at a rate higher than the industry average. How? By developing a keen understanding of who works for them and what they can do to provide them with a career that is reflective of that.

“Correct diagnosis is key if you want the right remedy. And, and here's where there's a bit of a gift that we all have in our organizations....we go to great lanes to deploy all this technology for customer segmentation and mosaics and, and all this analysis to figure out exactly who they are and what makes them tick and what they value in that. How do we change our marketing to appeal to them? What if we take the same discipline—marketing and advertising—and we apply it to our own staff. Let's first start by breaking them into segments, so we can truly understand their different values and needs and then deploy the right fix.”

The Taziki's team was able to separate their staff into three “buckets”: Young millennials and Gen Z, Working Parents, and Spanish-speaking immigrants and refugees. With that in mind, Taziki's can tailor benefits to what those groups need.

For the younger generation of part-time workers, this means things like real-time pay. For working parents, flexible schedules for childcare and retirement benefits for the future. And for First-Generation Americans, English language lessons. “While we see value across a variety of different languages, we know that sometimes a language barrier can be a barrier to advancement, and we don't want that to be the case, Simpson adds.

This is, of course, just the tip of the iceberg. There are things like a living wage, flexible schedules, an opportunity to advance, and performance bonuses that are part of everyone's experience that serve as table stakes for building great teams.

Listen to Dan Simpson's episode here.

Stay tuned for Season 2, and follow us on your favorite platform.

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D. J. Costantino
D. J. Costantino

Hi! I'm D.J., 7shifts' resident Content Writer. I come from a family of chefs and a background in food journalism. I'm always looking for ways to help make the restaurant industry better!