How Focusing on Your Key Players Brings Up Your Whole Team

By Andrew Carlson, Foodable Industry Expert

Your restaurant is only as strong as your weakest link. When an aspect in your business is failing, you can always look toward your weakest links. That’s no secret, and yet, operators are still scrambling to correct issues once they have already happened. That’s when it becomes toxic to your business.

I’m a huge advocate for having comprehensive training programs that will test a new employee in every aspect of the business. Part of a comprehensive training program is having weekly, monthly, and quarterly coaching sessions with your employees. The only way to create advocates for your business is to continue building on their strengths and working to strengthen their weaknesses.

If you take zero interest in your staff, your staff will take zero interest in creating meaningful experiences in your restaurant, which causes zero customer experience. Why would a customer come back to a restaurant when they could be treated with the same minimal service they could find walking into a fast food joint? Why would they return your establishment when one with the same level quality of food provides them with much more quality attention?

The reason people continue to go to restaurants, whether you have a fast casual concept, casual concept, or even a fine dining concept, is for the experience. People dine out for the experiences they receive.

You cannot achieve exceptional service without a comprehensive training program. You cannot rely solely on the goodwill of employees, or word-of-mouth coming from one person because there’s no accountability. It becomes a “he said, she said” culture and that’s just not effective.

The operator or store management cannot solely be in charge of training. First of all, it’s not feasible to put all of the responsibility on their shoulders. It’s important to realize that people have strengths in various areas of the business. Share the responsibility of training across your team.

In order to continue strengthening the team, you have to make them feel like they make a difference in the company. Instead of relying only on management, the ones who are paid the most, to focus on your weakest links (and perhaps leading to what probably isn’t the most cost-effective method), here are two reasons why I believe that your ongoing staff training should focus on your key players.      

1. It Builds Loyalty

The first thing that you are doing is putting your weakest link and strongest link together. This will either do one of two things:

  • It will strengthen them.
  • It will force them to move on from your company.

Either way, this benefits you. You either weed out the people that are holding you back from progressing forward or you’re strengthening your weakest link and bringing them up to the level of your strongest employee.

Attitude is contagious. We can easily see that with negative attitudes, but you need to realize that positive attitudes are just as contagious. If your strongest employee can instill that excitement that they have for their position into their peers, you’ve created an evangelist for life within that poor performing employee.


You took the time to work with them. Sometimes employees don’t even realize that they weren’t performing up to their standards. So, the fact that you knew they needed the help and gave them an opportunity to correct their performance shows them that you care about their future.

If the employee knows they aren’t performing and simply don’t care – they’re toxic to your business anyway, so what’s the point in keeping them?


2. It Builds Morale

The second thing that you are doing when you pair your strongest employees with your weakest link is that you are building morale across the board. You are showing your other employees that you see the opportunities to improve and the operators are actually doing something about it.

When I was serving in restaurants, I was always looking for more efficient ways of doing something. It wasn’t because I was lazy (Although, it had a lot to do with it), I simply didn’t like working hard. I liked working smart and if there was a more efficient way, I would voice my opinion and create change in the restaurant I worked for at the time.

That’s what needs to continue to happen in restaurants across the board, but it won’t happen when you have low morale. Low morale is dangerous and something you want to avoid at all costs.

A good way to build morale is  to admit when you are too far removed from the situation. If you have a server who is  falling behind in performance and you pair them with your lead server who is constantly hitting and exceeding their goals, the low-performing server will be able to see exactly where they can improve. It gives them a sense of reality that’s achievable.

If it’s coming from management that’s only on the floor once or twice a week, they may not be able to connect with that person because “they don’t’ understand what they go through” on a daily basis. It sounds silly, but people can shut themselves off from growing simply because the goals don’t seem achievable.

At the end of the day, you want to do everything you possibly can to ensure that your business will be successful. Sometimes that means stepping back and letting your strong employees take control. Work with them, have meetings on how the training is going, where people have improved, and what still needs to be worked on.

Work with your key players and give them the responsibility to bring others up to their level. If your low-performers can’t improve, it just doesn’t make sense to keep them around. It’s costing you too much time and money to keep them on your payroll.

My favorite quote is from Jim Sullivan’s book titled “Service That Sells.” It goes: “What if I spend the time, money, and effort to train team members and they leave? Well, what if you don’t and they stay?”

Training is an investment. Make sure your training and employees are worth investing in.