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The Five Keys to Successful Restaurant Goal Setting

​Having team goals with a written, executed action plan is essential to running a successful food service operation whether you’re a 200-seater restaurant or a four-wheeler food truck. In a study by Bersin by Deliotte, they found that organizations that make it easy for employees to set clear goals were four times more likely to score in the top 25 percent of business outcomes. Similarly, organizations that have employees revise or review their goals quarterly or more frequently were three-and-a-half times more likely to score in the top 25 percent of business outcomes as well. For most businesses, usually by the 4th quarter of the year, owners or corporate leaderships whip out the financial results for the current and past years and begin the arduous task of creating their financial forecasts for the coming year. These are then sent off to the rank and file managers to achieve. I know as a General or even Area Manager, I would look at the numbers and say, “Are you kidding me!” and initially lament about the bonuses I was not going to receive in the coming year. Shortly thereafter, I would start working on a way to achieve it if my team had any chance to succeed. And consistently succeed we would, not only reaching the goal, but usually surpassing it because our self-esteem and employment depended on it. I knew from experience I would have to:

  • Establish effective S.M.A.R.T. Goals

  • Sell my team on the vision

  • Involve my team in creating an action plan

  • Set up a follow up system

  • ​Provide timely performance feedback

Establishing SMART Goals

Fortunately, early in my educational and restaurant career I was introduced to S.M.A.R.T. Goal Setting. It is a systematic method to creating an actionable goal. You may be saying, this is not new stuff. True, this concept has been around for decades in one form or another. But many small business owners or manager don’t use any form of goal setting. I have seen the S.M.A.R.T. acronym used by different teachers and in different ways over the years, but I like the version from the original author G. T. Doran the best. In 1981, he published “There’s a S.M.A. R.T way to write management’s goals and objections”, Management Review, Vol. 70, Issue 11, p35-36, 2p. I have used it for myself and my team for years and found it the best system for me. He called goals objectives and ideally they should contain these five key components:

  • Specific –Target a specific area for improvement.

  • Measurable – Decide how progress is going to be determined.

  • Assignable –Specify who will do it.

  • Realistic – State what results can realistically be achieved, given available resources.

  • Time-related – Specify when the result(s) can be achieved.

So, an objective in your restaurant could look something like this: Specific: Improve food cost from 24.5% to 23.1% or -1.4% Measurable: Yes. It can be tracked monthly and quarterly by inventory and financial results. Assignable: It would be the manager’s job to achieve this through their culinary and hospitality teams. Realistic: Let’s see. If my sales were projected to be 1.5 million for the year and my current food cost performance of 24.5% is $367,000 for the year, I need to reduce it to 23.1% or $346,500 for the year. This is a difference of $21,500. $21,500 divided by the of weeks in the year (52) means I have to improve my food cost by $413 per week. That sounds like a lot, but how much is it really per shift? I divide the amount by the number of shifts in my restaurant per week (3 shifts x 7 days = 21) So that $413 actually is only $19.66 per shift. Wow, that seems easy! Time- Related: The team has to achieve this annual average by end of 2018. You can set interim monthly goals, if needed, however if 23.1% was not achieved that month or the sales were different, the deficit needs to be added to the next month’s dollar goal. Let’s put it all together: Objective: To improve the food cost from 24.5% to annual target of 23.1% by the end of 2018. It will be the responsibility of the management team to achieve this through the culinary and hospitality teams by executing the action plan which will be measured and monitored monthly by the food inventory and financial reports. Selling Your Team on the Vision Winning teams need a winning leader. The behavior and attitude you present to your team will be what they model. When you present the goals to your team, your tone and body language must show confidence that they will achieve the goal even if you know some of them may struggle reaching it. Be reassuring. Realistically, you will have some managers that are optimistic go getters, are motivated by challenges, and consistently meet or surpass the goal(s). There will be others that are the pessimistic glass-half-full doomsayers. Their attitudes and confidence may improve as their competence and skill with the task of reaching goals improves and they experience some success. It is your job to determine which group they fall and provide the support they need. Obviously, you will have to spend more time with the weaker or newer achievers to monitor their progress and provide additional coaching. You may find lack of confidence in yourself as well if you have not had much experience in goal setting and leading your team to the finish line. Don’t procrastinate. Be optimistic you will achieve the goal, ask for help from someone with experience, start forming your action plan, and execute! Remember, the old adage about trying to do the seemingly impossible:

How do you eat an elephant? One small bite at a time!

Creating an Action Plan Once you have the goals or objectives set, then a plan with actionable steps must be created. This will lead your team through the process and keep them on track. The plan should include the following:

  • What is to be done

  • How the actions will be done

  • Who will be responsible for certain actions

  • When those actions must be completed

I found that if I included my team in creating the action plan I experienced better results because they had more ownership. For example, to hit our target of reducing our food cost would be simple if we knew the areas where the problem exists. Some companies have great inventory systems in their POS that compare actual usage against theoretical usage and will provide a print out of the top food items where waste occurred. That is great if you have that advantage, but if you are small and don’t then you will have to focus on areas that you feel will give you the biggest bang for your buck. These areas could include:

  • Proper Portioning

  • Server Check Audits

  • Security and Theft

  • Waste

Here is a brief example of some simple actions steps for the portioning issue:

Objective: Reduce food cost to 23.1% or -1.4%

Follow Up Frequently: Most great plans will fail, even if there are exquisitely detailed actions steps due to one thing—lack of execution due to lack of follow up. It is common that we think that when the plan is created, and everything is time dated and assigned, therefore our part is done. Not! It is the leader’s role to make sure that it is being executed and done to the expected level of performance through the desired time frame. Otherwise it will become just another failed initiative or as the employees call it “the flavor of the week” by the umpteenth manager they’ve seen come and go. Make sure your plan includes when you will follow up or have someone who is honest and capable to do so for you. In our action steps above, you will see that Amy was assigned to monitor if the portioning was consistently being executed. First weekly, then monthly. Things that don’t get inspected or rarely receive attention often will melt away as quickly as that ice cream I mentioned. Provide Feedback Frequently: When employees are learning new skills, which will often happen when an action plan is made, they need frequent feedback to build their skill and confidence. There is nothing better than catching them in the act of doing the new requested behavior and giving them an “Atta boy or girl” to keep their morale and commitment to the task high. I found tracking the progress and reporting it to the team on a weekly basis worked the best so I could congratulate them and keep them motivated throughout the initiative and if I found results weren’t occurring as planned, I could evaluate where the plan failed and could provide more coaching or completely change the course of direction. If you set feedback periods that are too long such as a month or longer it is often too late to make up for the lack of results. Meeting with your team to share the results—good or bad, is a missed opportunity for many restaurants whether big or small. The Bersin study also reported that 51% of senior leaders in organizations (corporate leaders or small business owners) met regularly to discuss goals and the progress toward those goals with the business leaders or managers, but only 6% of those leaders used the same approach to communicate goals to their direct reports. I am sure those same senior leaders were assuming their teams were mirroring their proactive behavior. It is common knowledge that the people and businesses who have written goals, with written action plans, who follow up on their progress frequently have a much higher chance of achieving those goals. Make this year the year that your team has a strong plan of action and achieve your desired results. It’s all up to you! Want to learn about harnessing the power of letting your cooks, servers, and dishwasher set their own goals. Then check out How to Get More Out of Your Restaurant Employees We would love to hear your comments below. Tell us about what goals you are working on in your restaurant? If you are interested in learning more about Restaurant Goal Setting, please contact us at Restaurant Success Center at For more blog posts on Performance Management click PREVIOUS below!

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