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How to Run a Pre Shift

Have you ever wondered how football coaches rally their teams before a big game? They start subdued, with a few simple reminders about the game plan. Then, they slowly increase the energy of their speeches until players begin to jump up and down with unrestrained excitement. Before you know it, the players are almost frothing at the prospect of lining up against their opponents. The best pre game speeches come from football head coaches who know how to mix in a little psychology, with healthy doses of clear communication and unbridled passion.

I am not advocating the same type of speech for restaurant managers, who have the unenviable task of running two pre shifts per day, for roughly 360 days a year. That translates to about 720 pre shifts every year. Turning your pre shits into a Vince Lombardi style presentation will send you to the burn out farm. 720 pre shifts also means that you and the other restaurant managers have to come up with at least 720 topics per year. You might be pacing back and forth thinking, “I can’t come up with that many topics.” Yes, you can, as you will see later in this article.

Here are a few tips to help you run a pre shift:

One Topic

Restaurant managers only have a few minutes to rally the troops before a shift, yet most managers treat pre shifts as if they are delivering a commencement address. I worked for a general manager who treated pre shifts in the same manner that politicians treat discourses on legislation. During every pre shift, he rambled through a list of at least a dozen topics. The first tenet for running an upbeat pre shit is to stick to one topic. Not only does this maintain your team’s attention, it also gives you more to discuss down the road. You can introduce a new menu item, discuss how to suggest an appetizer, or describe a new operational policy.

Short and Sweet

We had to arrive thirty minutes before our shift just to listen to the general manager’s incoherent ramblings. He invariably went on and on every morning, boring us to the point that one server muttered, “Put me out of my misery.” You will lose your team once they become distracted, anxious, or bored. Keep every pre shift to a maximum of five minutes. You can do this by working under the “less is more” rule. Look at how quarterbacks run their huddles in less than forty-five seconds. Pre shifts are moments, not meetings.

Once the doors open…

…the pre shift ends. How many pre shifts have your participated in or ran that continued on, even though the doors had opened and guests were coming into the restaurant. The minute the door opens is when the pre shift ends. You lose all of your servers and bartenders, who begin to look around at the inflow of guests. I know, you are probably asking, “How does that rule apply for dinner shifts?” Work by the rule that a server or bartender’s priority always lies with the guests. Consider any team member who has guests in their section excused from pre shifts.

The 80% Rule

You are not David Letterman performing a daily monologue. You should speak 20% of the time and allow your team members to speak the balance of the pre shift. Let’s say you want to review the steps of service. Instead of reciting the steps as a police officer recites traffic violations, involve your service team in the discussion. Go around the group and ask different team members to describe one of the steps. This type of pre shift format delivers focus and shared product knowledge. Moreover, it provides your service team members with insight into what areas they need improvement.

Teach, Not Lecture

Many managers believe pre shifts offer the perfect platform to lecture their team on missed opportunities, failed teamwork, and shoddy service. Your team does not want to hear five minutes of negativity. Pre shifts present you with a teaching platform, not a platform to denigrate team members. You teach a number of topics; just make sure they captivate your audience. The best teaching moments include personal stories that include why a certain service step works or how a team of unified servers helped turn around a floundering restaurant.

You can call the meetings conducted before each shift alley rallies, warm ups, lineups, or pre shifts. Whatever you call the team meeting, remember that you do not have to spend half of your day planning the agenda. After all, you are not storming the beaches of Normandy. Pre shifts only require you to take a few minutes to come up with a topic that engages and motivates your service team. If your mind goes blank trying to summon a compelling topic, spend the five-minute pre shift recognizing team members for jobs well done. You will notice an immediate spark in the eyes and a jump in the step of team members who you recognize during pre shifts.