Scott Barnett & Associates Blog
Chain Restaurants: Identifying Talent
for Success

March 30, 2021
There are many avenues to success for a CEO. Some take the "magic bullet" path. It's a tempting route but usually does not lead to success and here's why...
A magic bullet implies something external and special, even mythical. In reality, a successful CEO should be looking at themselves and their own strengths to lead.
I have known CEOs whose participation in the operations and business processes drills down to the most minute of detail. They were on the mico-managing end of the leadership style spectrum and relished particulars.

That style of leadership could never work for me. I did not have the time or brain power to perform like that. While I did not have all the answers as CEO of Bubba Gump, my decision-making process started with people - it had to. My strength as a manager and leader at chain restaurants was identifying talent and retaining it and I leaned into that.
Freedom to Succeed and Fail
Leslie Miller is a great case in point on my People first principle. She was a brilliantly creative member of my team when I was the CEO of Bubba Gump Shrimp Company. Independent and a "free thinker," she was unwilling to take direction from anyone she considered confining in their management style.

Thankfully, I escaped that label in her eyes.

Leslie's title was Director of Beverage Operations but I also gave her responsibility for much of site construction. Her unofficial title became "Vice-President of Booze and Buildings."

Among her many illuminations, she created the company's first intranet when our IT Department was still learning what that was. She began a social media platform for Bubba Gump when Facebook was only beginning to make its inroads. All of this was done without anyone's knowledge - she was an "intrapreneur." Some of her other initiatives did not make it but it didn't matter because overall her ideas were a huge net plus.

As a leader, I saw Leslie's abilities. She was innovative, highly competent and executed at or above expectation on many discrete tasks. She wanted freedom to perform and I gave it to her - freedom to succeed and sometimes to fail.
Chaining Down Drink Menus
In the early days of Bubba Gump, we had identified Bar sales as a weakness- it only accounted for 15% of our sales. Our drink menus were considered point of purchase collateral but they were like everyone else's in the business and so did not distinguish themselves. I saw this as a weakness and pointed it out to Leslie.

I simply challenged Leslie to move that sales mix. That was the extent of the guidance. I knew that's all she needed or wanted.

Here's where she hit it out of the park.

As a bit of background, in the movie Forrest Gump, upon which the Bubba Gump franchise was based, the main character Forrest becomes a champion ping pong player. He eventually goes to China during Nixon's Ping Pong Diplomacy initiative. It is an iconic part of the movie.

A week after our meeting Leslie returned with a ping pong paddle. Attached to it were laminated pages with photos of our signature cocktails. We implemented it immediately.
Overnight the bar mix moved to 20%. You read that right - an increase in bar sales of one-third. Leslie's drink menu became so popular that we had to chain them to the table to keep them from being stolen.
The menus were entertaining and improved the overall customer experience. What's more, the customers were moved to buy, thereby increasing revenue. Not only that, they were purchasing products with a very high margin, thus ensuring higher profits.
Bringing It All Together
Recognizing talented team members and employing the leadership style that allows them to perform at their best is just something I've always been good at doing. That is why People was my number one component in structuring success for a chain restaurant.

As I outlined in that blog article, after People came Place, Revenue and Profit - in that order. These four concepts were my framework for being a successful CEO at Bubba Gump and beyond. As in the case of Leslie, because I got the first step right - People - the Profits and Revenue followed.
Identifying talent was my way to chain restaurant success but every CEOs path is different. If you are having trouble turning around a restaurant, reach out to me today to find out how my knowledge in restaurant operations, finance and concept development can improve business.
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