Unchained: Practical Operating Advice

Chain and independent food and beverage operations exist in the same space, providing like offerings to an overlapping group of consumers.  Anyone who has worked in these two types of operations knows that the method by which they deliver their products can have very little to do with the other.  The reasons lie in the differences between the corporate structure and that of an independent.  Corporate support allows independent unit managers to narrow their focus to a few key functions not handled somewhere up the corporate chain.  This support system doesn’t exist in independent operations and so the independent unit manager has no choice but to focus on a much broader group of tasks.

The necessity for you in an independent to “handle everything” often leads to some of your responsibilities not being handled as well as you might like.  Chain managers are taking inventory every week/day/shift…because they can.  You understand that frequent inventory is critical to keeping tight control over your product and sales but you don’t…because you can’t.  Product needs to be ordered, menus need to be written, staff needs to be hired and trained, you need to be on the floor when the bar gets three deep.

Large chains are large because they are really good at what they do and how they do it.  There is merit to the policies and procedures they employ.  Many of them would greatly benefit your operation if you had the time and resources to implement them.  You just might.  Here are some of the operational tasks that chains do better than independents and some pretty simple and reasonably priced technologies that can help you narrow or eliminate the gap. 


You likely have someone working for you right now who is simply not that good.  You probably keep them on because the prospect of going through the hiring process to replace them is worse than their performance.  Plus, chances are good that you could hire a replacement that’s just as bad.

To give themselves a fighting chance to find quality staff, chains use a variety of tools designed to identify positive traits in potential employees.  One in wide use is the pre-screening questionnaire.  If you’ve taken one, you know that the questions seem mostly irrelevant.  But they aren’t.  They work.  They help narrow the applicant pool to only those individuals likely to succeed in the positions you have available.

Questionnaires designed to measure the personality attributes of servers and bartenders are available from companies like Criteriacorp.  They are inexpensive and accurate and can save you the time wasted interviewing and hiring candidates who just won’t fit.


Training new employees can be expensive and is often ineffective, with new hires having to put things together on the fly anyway.  To ensure consistency in service, the chains use video training to introduce the fundamentals of good service as well as to communicate the priorities of the organization.  These have traditionally been proprietary productions that are expensive and require frequent updating, eliminating them as an option for independents.

Companies like Waitrainer provide training videos for food and beverage operations that include pre-packaged content as well as specific information at a price point making this kind of an option accessible to independents.

Controlling Inventory and Costs

Taking inventory sucks.  Taking inventory frequently sucks more.  But it is the best way to control cost of goods and to make sure that you are realizing all of the revenue you should be from your sales.  But it takes a long time…and it sucks.

Partender claims its application can cut the time it takes for inventory to 15 minutes.  Even if that is an optimistic claim, it’s still a huge time improvement over the traditional methods, allowing for more frequent counts and better information for decision making.

Customer Feedback

Chains want to know what their customers think and so frequently ask for their feedback in a variety of ways.  While focus groups and market research may be beyond your reach, customer comment cards are a method that they use that you can too. 

LRS Checkpoint uses mobile data collection to gather customer feedback on site.  To save you time and effort, the results are compiled and tabulated for you, leading to summary data that you can use in real time.

The Industry

The chains pay big data from big companies to predict what will be happening in the industry.  You can’t afford to spend thousands of dollars for these reports, but you can keep up with the industry and get a glimpse into the future by regularly reviewing the complimentary resources from Technomic TAB.  This is useful information about the beverage industry that can help you make decisions that keep you ahead of the curve.

Social Media

The effective use of social media seems to be a mystery to many operators.  The chains have social media experts whose jobs entail posting interesting content and responding to customers instantaneously.  You are a food and beverage professional.

Your staff are likely much more comfortable on social media.  What if you could enlist them as partners, encouraged to post interesting content you may not have the time or acumen to create yourself?

I Like my Waitress is an application that allows your customers to follow their favorite servers and bartenders.  These guys are really new but this is a really creative solution, aligning your interests with the interests of your staff to solve the mystery of social media.


This article is a companion piece to Professor Warrener’s presentation at the 2015 Nightclub & Bar Convention and Tradeshow. For more information on the 2016 Show visit www.NCBShow.com.


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