Okay, it’s January, perhaps a day or two after New Year’s. You’ve survived the holiday season — barely — and a sense of calm-after-the-storm has settled over your operation. A sharp decline in guest traffic begins to pummel your sales, but it comes as no surprise. At least everyone gets a chance to catch their breath.
If you’re not careful, however, a post-holiday lag can stall preparations for your next wave of sales opportunity. Does the Super Bowl drive business your way? What about Valentine’s Day? Look around your bar or restaurant — has Christmas chaos left your facility in need of a facelift? What’s the state of your liquor inventory?
By all means, allow your employees a little R&R during the dreaded January blahs, but not at the expense of your bottom line. “January is the time to get your ducks in a row,” advises Liza Mason, a managing partner for Premier Ventures, which owns and operates four high-volume restaurants in Denver. “The idea is to re-energize your crew and restore order in the house.”
Consider throwing a Christmas party for staff members, especially if your operation has been a popular Yuletide scene for the past several weeks. As part of your festivities, pass out year-end bonuses — cash, bottles of wine, even thank-you notes. Let people know you appreciate the hard work they’ve done.
If you’re going to have the party under your own roof, don’t emphasize liquor-liability issues so much that it deflates the spirit of gratitude and camaraderie that should be pervasive at this time of year. Yes, communicate that underage employees will not be served alcohol. Yes, limit consumption as much as possible, perhaps using drink tokens to help control over-indulgence. And, yes, arrange taxis for those unable to drive safely. Just try not to be a Scrooge unnecessarily.
Share the wealth
If you’re like most restaurant and bar managers, your staff is led by top performers that you’ve stretched thin over the holidays. To optimize floor time and take full advantage of their salesmanship, you scheduled them, night after night, when the house was busting at the seams. Now they’re tired, frazzled and possibly contemplating a career change.
Assure members of your key staff, both front and back of the house, that they’re in the right place. Individually, pull them aside to recognize their tireless contributions. Kind words as well as, say, a hundred-dollar bill will speak volumes. Sharing the wealth also underscores their pivotal role in the profitability of your operation, heightening their sense of ownership in the business now and in the future.
Monitor the pulse
January can be take-the-money-and-run month for some employees, especially those who had already decided to quit their job but stuck it out over the holidays to pocket the big bucks. Others may be currently perched on the fence, weighing the benefits of a change of scenery.
Monitoring the pulse of your operation will give you a timely heads-up — just in case you need to persuade someone to stay or replace someone who’s leaving. After New Year’s, schedule one-on-one meetings to touch base with everyone on the staff. It’s an opportunity not only to say thanks company-wide, but also to ask point-blank: “What can I do to make 2001 rewarding for you?” If they’re checking out, you’ll know before you’re left high and dry.
These meetings are also an ideal occasion to grant vacations and find out what kind of hours your employees need over the next month. Do they need a break? Or a full-time schedule to pay off credit cards swollen with gift-giving?
Clean as you go
By the turn of the year, your physical plant has probably built up multiple layers of Christmas crud. Doling out cleaning chores, however, could be perceived as overly burdensome to employees still weary from double shifts and the buzzed demands of merrymakers.
“You have to make the mid-January cleaning fun,” says Bill Franz, a 24-year industry veteran. “We used to have a pizza party every year where members of the staff rolled up their sleeves, ate some food, had a few laughs, and got the job done. You have to pay them to be there, of course, but it’s also a good idea to consider other rewards.”
A cleaning incentive might be just the trick. Consider “The Golden Bow,” taken from Playing Games at Work (Pencom Press, $19.95, 800-700-9787). To motivate and reward your staff, all you’ll need are golden bows and a handful of 20-dollar bills.
Prior to the pizza party or other clean-up activity, place half a dozen golden bows in places that only a thorough cleaning would reveal — behind a coffeemaker, underneath the microwave, stuck to a wad of gum below a chair seat. Hide them well enough to infuse drama into the incentive, but not so well that they can never be found. Whoever finds a bow gets a crisp 20.
Once you’ve celebrated the holiday yourselves, parceled out praise, solidified your staff and cleaned up the joint, it’s time to ready your operation for the new year.
As far as your bar goes, analyze product-mix reports for the previous year, especially the last few months. What sold well? What collected dust? If it’s within your authority, you may want to shuffle the cards a bit, replacing your low-performing beer, wine and spirits with something fresh.
Consider, too, that a lack of training — not necessarily a lack of guest interest — may have undermined sales. If servers, for instance, sport little knowledge about a particular wine and haven’t been coached to recommend it tableside, it’s no wonder the amount in inventory has remained constant. Sometimes the numbers tell only half the story.