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How to Conduct Effective Pre-Shift Meetings

How to Conduct Effective Pre-Shift Meetings

by Susan Dickson

In law enforcement parlance, a "lineup" is a procedure to identify criminal offenders. You "line up" the suspects, bring in witnesses, and hopefully find the perpetrator.

Likewise, at one time, restaurant managers would line up the staff before a shift and inspect them from head to toe. Untrimmed nails? Dirty uniform? Book 'em! You were sent home for these sins, but not before you were berated in front of your peers. No wonder, restaurant workers adopted "lineup" to describe a pre-shift meeting.

Today, the lineup is more akin to a preflight inspection. As the manager, you are the "pilot" of the next shift. Before you take off, you need to ensure that the airplane is airworthy and the crew is ready. You discuss the flight plan and check the weather. You need to read down the checklist. Whether you are preparing for a flight or a restaurant shift, it's easier to correct problems and communicate objectives before you take off.

While modern management practices have changed the spirit of the "lineup," the term remains in use. Call it a lineup or pre-shift meeting, it's a valuable management tool.

What is a Lineup?

Simply stated, a lineup is a staff meeting held prior to the start of a new shift. It's critical to some establishments, such as "white tablecloth" operations that have a large service staff, or even a busy delicatessen, that requires many steps to prepare for its patrons. The simplicity or complexity of the lineup will hinge on the type of restaurant. Not every restaurant holds lineups, however, almost every restaurant can benefit from them.

start quoteYour staff has its collective finger on the pulse of your business. At lineup, the staff should be encouraged to provide ideas and suggestions on anything that will improve the quality of food, service, or operations. Your staff will feel valued. More importantly, you will obtain a wealth of vital information from the front lines, and develop a rapport with your employees. .end quote
-- Susan Dickson

The Objectives of a Successful Lineup

Create a Consistent Product -- Consistency in product and service is important to your guests. Lineups are especially critical in the first three to six months of operation, when you are establishing the restaurant's culture and atmosphere, and setting performance standards and expectations for the staff. Without constant, daily reminders of what you expect and are trying to achieve, the staff can drift off course from the vision of the establishment. Likewise, the lineup provides an opportunity to ask questions and solicit clarification regarding your expectations.

Build Camaraderie and Teamwork -- Another useful metaphor for the pre-shift meeting is a locker room "pep talk." Every shift is "game day" in the restaurant business. Take the time and effort to instill in your employees a sense of common purpose and pride in their mission. Communicate with Staff -- What are the daily specials? Are there any equipment problems of which the staff should be aware? Has the menu changed since the last shift? Is there a staffing shortage? Are there any new employees to introduce? The lineup is an opportunity to inform the staff about anything relevant to their work. A good briefing sends them about their business feeling that they are well-informed and "in the loop."

Typically, both the manager and chef address employees during lineup. Management will use the lineup to discuss operation issues, while the chef will review the menu, and help servers better describe and sell various items.

Ensure Proper Appearance and Preparedness -- Are uniforms clean and pressed to your specifications? Do servers have pens, wine openers, and all other required tools of their jobs? Does anyone look unkempt, tired or ill? Here is your time to inspect the troops and make sure they're presenting the image you're trying to create. Unlike managers of yore, avoid turning the physical inspection into a Gestapo interrogation. If an employee's presentation is not up to standards, take him or her aside to correct the problem or reprimand the employee privately.

Motivate and Recognize -- For job satisfaction, positive recognition and appreciation is as important to employees as financial compensation. Face it, the restaurant business is demanding work. Positive strokes build positive folks. Let employees know you appreciate their efforts, and provide specific information regarding their performance. "You did a good job last night," is hollow praise, and is open to various interpretation. Compare that with, "I like the way that you handled the guest who thought the rice was way too spicy. You brought them a baked potato immediately, and checked back to see if they were OK. And, best of all, you gauged their mood, and knew you could add a little humor with a giant glass of milk. Well-done!" In that case, not only have you praised the employee, you have educated the entire staff on the business's values -- in this case, solving problems quickly and with creativity.

Recognition may take the form of an award or reward. Awards may be given to a group or to an individual. Give positive feedback at the beginning or end of lineup for maximum effect. The "primacy and recentness" rule states that people generally remember the first and last things they hear, but not always the information in the middle. As noted, you should criticize, correct, or reprimand employees privately. Public humiliation demoralizes not only the recipient but his peers. Nobody knows when he or she might be the next target of your criticism. Also, picking on their peers can create resentment among the staff toward management, as the group rallies behind their friend.

Educate -- A good restaurateur is always learning, as is a good restaurant employee. The lineup is an opportunity to teach your staff about fine points of etiquette, a particular food or ingredient, or a new wine. This education allows your staff to become experts at their jobs. Competency breeds pride.

Encourage Staff "Feedback" and Involvement -- Communication is a two-way process. Your staff has its collective finger on the pulse of your business. At lineup, the staff should be encouraged to provide ideas and suggestions on anything that will improve the quality of food, service, or operations. Your staff will feel valued. More importantly, you will obtain a wealth of vital information from the front lines, and develop a rapport with your employees.

How to Run a Successful Lineup

Planning and Organization -- A successful lineup requires planning and organization. The goal is to present the information in a clear and concise manner, and to ensure that you cover everything necessary. (For a suggested sequence and topics, see "Sample Lineup Sequence and Notes" on page below.)

Most of the topics covered in a lineup will be oriented around food, beverage and service issues. These include menu changes, "86'ed" items, and daily specials. You may need to cover special events, such as a large party, or the expected visit of a restaurant reviewer or VIPs. Effective management requires that the business's strategy be communicated from the top of the organization to the front line. Weekly executive and management meetings should include on their agenda suggested lineup points.

Attendance -- Most managers include both front- and back-of-the-house staff, including servers, bussers, the hostess, bartenders, cooks, cashiers, and supervisors as the usual attendees at a lineup. While many managers consider the lineup geared to those employees who deal directly with guests, back-of-the-house representatives provide an important perspective to issues, as well as stave off the traditional "back vs. front" mentality. Cooks can take back to the kitchen information about how many covers are expected and server response to the special. More than once I have seen a chef spice up a lackluster special at the servers' urging. (And, believe us, they won't sell it if they don't like it!)

When there is only one person present from a department, it should be their responsibility to take the information back to their co-workers. Follow up with those employees to make sure they are doing so.

Venue -- Try to hold your lineup in the same area of the restaurant each time, so that the staff knows where to report before the beginning of each shift. The venue should have few, if any, distractions, and be conducive to learning. Avoid areas such as kitchens or storage rooms, which are likely to be interrupted by bustling or traffic, and outside venues, such as patios.

Have your staff stand up rather than sit at a table. That way you can see if their uniforms and grooming are up to standards.

Timing -- Many operators conduct lineups 15 minutes prior to the beginning of the shift. Depending on your restaurant's level of service, you may want more or less time. New restaurants often require longer lineups, since there is more information to cover. Lineups should be completed before the guests arrive.

Cost Considerations -- Granted, a lineup can increase your labor costs, since it can require bringing in your crew before the rush. In restaurants, where shifts are staggered, it may be necessary to hold several lineups during business hours or communicated via "lineup notes," i.e. posting the lineup information on a bulletin board for the incoming shifts to read upon arrival. Many point of sales systems have built-in messaging capabilities, so as an employee "clocks in" he can be reminded of specific information. If you opt for the latter approach, you should quiz the employees regarding the content of the notes, to ensure they are reading the material and to emphasize its importance.

You're Cleared for Takeoff!

A safe flight begins before you leave the ground, as does a smooth restaurant shift. A good lineup ensures that everyone is prepared and ready to serve your customers and provides an opportunity to build morale and boost staff confidence in the management.

-- Restaurant Startup & Growth



CHECKLIST: Sample Lineup Sequences and Notes

Preliminary Matters

  • Start on time.
  • Check your watch so you do not run overtime.
  • Ensure that all employees required to attend are present. If you want to avoid the formality of a "roll call," try to learn everyone's name and silently check off the attendees when you arrive.


  • Be upbeat and welcoming. This is the time to set the pace for the shift. Use humor when appropriate.
  • Begin with an overview of the specials and provide an opportunity to sample them.
  • Provide information on price, portion, main ingredients, and how to ring it up.
  • Review "86'ed" items.

Overview of the Lineup

  • Provide a summary of the key points of the lineup, i.e. "tell them what you're going to tell them." Keep it short and to the point.

    EXAMPLE: "Today we are going to cover our expanded holiday hours and how to turn tables faster."

Training & Education

  • Demonstrations

    E.g., how to refill water glasses, serve cracked pepper, open and pour wine for a tasting, etc.
  • "Tastings" - Let the chef and sommelier run this portion of the lineup.

    EXAMPLE: When the staff samples a "special," a number of goals can be accomplished:

    1. The kitchen staff will have practice making the item.
    2. The servers and others who taste it can describe it honestly to the guests.
    3. The quality of the item can be tested.
    4. You can develop a proper description of the item for patrons, or, better still, your servers can help develop a description of the item that will make guests want to buy it.
    5. You can review ingredients and fend off a guest's allergic reaction.
    6. Employees of legal drinking age can have an opportunity to sample wine. In moderation, it can kick off the evening in a festive mood.
  • Role playing - When team members role play, the team learns from each other. They may learn a new description, a joke, or new way of handling a situation. "Jim, sell me the special!" or "Pat, how would you deal with a guest's overcooked fish?" Once again, the people who do the job usually have the best ideas and peer-to-peer teaching is highly effective.
  • Use a guided discussion to help staff come to proper conclusions on their own.

    EXAMPLE: "If we anticipate our guests' needs, we save them time. They will not have to look for us to tell us what they want. We will know already! Robin, what are some ways you save time at a table?"

Preview of Previous Shift and Q&A

  • Discuss the high and low points of the previous shift. Talk about what happened, how much business you did, which servers had high guest check averages, and various other matters, both positive and negative.
  • Provide staff members the opportunity to pose questions and provide feedback on what's going on in the restaurant.

    EXAMPLE: "Chad, last holiday we were so busy that some guests waited a long time for drinks. What could we do better this year?"


  • Recap the key points of the lineup, i.e. "tell them what you've told them." Test their understanding with open-end questions to help them consider what they heard, and retain the information.

    EXAMPLE: "So now we all know the new holiday hours, which are posted, and how to turn tables more efficiently. Beth, I have gone over ways to save time, what can you add to this?" and "So Joseph, what are our holiday hours, and what time do you arrive for work on those days?"
  • Share an inspirational story or quote. One restaurant manager uses a book of quotes. Prior to lineup, he asks an employee to pick out a quote, read it, and, then, explain what it means to him or her. Avoid religious content.
  • Recognize an employee for exemplary performance.

    EXAMPLE: "Jackie, we received a telephone call about you this morning! A couple to whom you sold two specials commented that they loved both the food and you. Thanks for your dedication and salesmanship. They said they never would have tried it if you had not described it so well!"
  • Restaurateurs often have contests to increase sales, or "move" certain items. This is a good point in the lineup to introduce sales contests or "spiffs" on certain items.

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