Building a team from the bottom up

I’m working on a business plan for a new venture at the moment which I’m hoping to get going next year once I’m settled back in the UK (disclaimer: all plans are subject to change, especially whilst I’m still travelling!) I will make the plan publicly available for comment soon (the anti-non-disclosure-agreement) but I can tell you now that it includes setting up a large cafe/restaurant.

I’ve got a fair bit of entrepreneurial experience, but the hospitality business is completely new to me. So I figured that the first team member I need to get on board is a restaurant manager. Then I got to thinking, I wonder if you could run a restaurant without a manager at all and instead share the responsibilities with everyone working there. It would be unusual (I think) for a large restaurant and you would need to carefully implement some democratic systems and processes to make sure that the place runs smoothly, but I think it could be do-able.

My next thought was that to build a new team, instead of starting with the traditional approach and recruiting a manger first who then hires the rest of the team, how about hiring some junior employees first then working with them on the business plan (after all, they will be in the front line of actually delivering it and I’m sure will have some brilliant idea of their own too.) Then together with them you could talk about the management responsibilities and see if they could be effectively distributed. And if not, then the employees could hire their own manager. Not as their boss, but as an equal, just with a different set of responsibilities.

I think the benefits of this could be enormous. The employees would see that they really are the most important people in delivering the service to customers. They’re not just working ‘for’ a manager who has the real responsibility. And who knows how it might lead to a better team and customer experience if all front-line staff share the responsibilities and power of a manager.

What do you think? I would particularly like to hear from anyone who has worked in a restaurant but all views are welcome.

13 thoughts on “Building a team from the bottom up

  1. I washed dishes and cleared tables for 6 weeks, does that count? I love the idea you suggest, if was me doing it I would be a bit scared because a) you don’t have experience in running one and b) the junior people wouldn’t either.

    Perhaps the initial people you hire could be junior, but not too junior 🙂 Or perhaps there could be someone to lean on that could support you, but not be a manager. An advisor of some sort?

  2. That’s 6 weeks more experience than I have so it definitely counts!

    Agree that it’s risky if nobody at all has previous experience at management level. Perhaps you could give everyone management training. Traditionally this would be seen as inefficient with the cost of duplicated training, but I wonder if it would be balanced out with the benefits of a much more highly skilled team with greater awareness and control of the entire restaurant operation, and the resilience you’d get by not relying on a single manager who can’t be all-seeing and all-doing. Plus it would be so much better than a standard restaurant job so I think you would attract a higher calibre of employee and retain them for longer, all of which would lead to a very high standard of customer service.

  3. If you need inside knowledge of the restaurant game get hold of good old will murgatroyd. He owned his restaurant in hove for five years but has just sold it. Let me know if that sounds good and I’ll get you his email.

  4. Like one big family, sounds great. As I once wrote: shared input, shared accountability, shared reward 😉 every single Manager in our company started from scratch, of course they had a mentor along the way (in your case they won’t be clueless as I assume you’ll hire people with some waiting on/client facing experience so I’m sure they can draw from management styles they saw around them in previous roles). We don’t hire ‘Managers’, only Junior and you work your way up with complete appreciation and empathy for those starting from day one, ie. everyone rolled their sleeves up at one point.

  5. Hey Tom

    I think this is an interesting concept, I will have a think about who I know to pick their brains. Thinking about the branding, is this an idea you could/would want to stretch to the naming/concept of the experience?


  6. Ben there, dan that as the unrelated game’s called – see my “home” page. Well, part time for a few months. I was planning a Toynbee style exposé of inhumane conditions but in the end I concluded exploitation of staff is more the norm in this industry, where high finance & accountants run the show. Chefs are a funny bunch, often firmly proud of their work, but not always best able to work with things like words & numbers.

    I think you could delegate a lot of responsibility for things like inventory and of course menu development to them and so create a far happier kitchen. Of course they also thrive on stress, but this could be “good” stress! Likewise for other roles of course, and maybe even less rigid division of front/back house.

    I heard about a new co-op kitchen in preston st, but that could be just a coincidence/rumour. There’s been a “people’s” cafe for about 30 years at

      • Wow, just been reading your blog. What an experience! I’d love to hear about all of this face to face when I am back in the UK and see how we could build something that’s incredibly employee friendly. I’ve actually been a fan of Wagamama for some time and found the service there really great. I wonder how this is possible if the working conditions are so bad. Perhaps it’s worse in the kitchen than for waiting staff.

    • Thanks Tom this is really helpful. Will have to pop up to Vauxhaul to check out Bonningtons when I’m back, sounds like a great place. I think the place in Preston St is Brighton Open Kitchen. This also sounds like a very interesting idea – have already sent them my biz plan to see if we can collaborate in any way although.

      • Thanks for the open kitchen reminder. Didn’t realise it was a jonana number – hope someone can carry it over now they’re away or they’ll pick up on their return. Had I known I’d have tried to bring it up at citycamp2012.

        I guess the Vauxhall cafe is worth a visit if you’re in the area, but it may not be the exact model you’re after. At least they have plenty of experience.

        Glad to see my blog is somewhat instructive. It’s probably not so bad at the front, but I doubt the staff would last long if they didn’t smile! Be happy to tell you more about it when you’re back, but luckily some of it is fading as it was a while back.

  7. Pingback: Five Blogs – 27 April 2012 « 5blogs

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