Dear Food Fanatic: Managing Upstarts, Running Promotions

Seasoned advice for the front and back of the house

Q: My sous chef recently told me he’d rather expedite because he doesn’t think he needs to cook anymore (he’s 24). I nearly choked on my coffee. Is he salvageable?

A: Tell him to see "Jiro Dreams of Sushi" to get an idea of how long it takes to hone a craft. If the kid is talented, call a few of your chef friends and arrange for a stage or two to let someone else slap him around. Everyone loves free labor, and your upstart may get the picture if it’s coming from someone else.

Q: I just started a new gig and inherited some serious losers—servers who refuse to help with side work, show up late and have bad attitudes. The owner says to just deal with it. Any ideas?

A: Aside from whaling on every one of them, your best bet is to keep good records of bad behavior, either through emails or written notes, detailing the infraction and its date. You can also mess with their hours by cutting them back—slowly at first. When the hours become insignificant, the bad apples just might go away on their own.

Q: We have a lot of success running promotions for holidays like Mother’s Day, so we’re thinking of doing more but aren’t sure which ones would be as good. Ideas?

A: Depends on your restaurant. If you’re a bar and grill, promoting National Chicken Wing Day with lower priced wings could net a good turnout. As a general rule of thumb, it’s best to avoid cashing in on somber memorial holidays like Martin Luther King, Jr. Day or Veterans Day. Google “wacky holidays” and you’ll find plenty of possibilities. Make sure it makes sense for your operation and promote it several weeks in advance through in-house marketing and social media.

Q: I’m debating what to do with our outdoor patio besides putting out the tables and chairs. Gardening isn’t me, so I’m thinking of ditching the flower thing entirely.

A: Let’s just say you don’t know what you’re missing until it’s gone. Greenery can soften spaces and flowers add a splash of color that makes the space more inviting. If nothing else, flower boxes with herbs can do double duty in the patio and the kitchen. Ask if anyone on staff has a green thumb and assign them the task of overseeing the patio landscape, from choosing the greenery to caring for it. You might be surprised how rewarding it may be for that person—and you.

Q: We’ve been getting complaints about the cleanliness of our bathrooms. They’re cleaned regularly. Not sure what else to do.

A: I hope “regularly” means before and after each shift. It doesn’t take much for a bathroom to get trashed. Set up a schedule and make sure that the person in charge of keeping the restroom neat notes the time and initials it after each cleaning. Check the bathrooms a few times during each shift. Diners will judge you on the bathroom so it’s worth the effort. Small measures such as a higher quality tissue or hand lotion can leave a lasting impression.

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Email us your challenges, comments and suggestions. Paul Sturkey is a Food Fanatic in-training for US Foods. He has a passion for food, wine, travel, and his family.

Food Fanatics undergo rigorous culinary, communications and consulting training to help chefs and other foodservice professionals meet business goals.