Jim Moran is a pizza and restaurant industry veteran, and an industry consultant and speaker with Restaurant Trainers, Inc.

In last month's article I passed on the advice of Tom Monaghan, the founder of Domino's Pizza.

This month, I would like to pass on the wisdom of another restaurant industry legend, Dave Thomas, founder of Wendy's Old Fashioned Hamburgers, in Dublin, Ohio.

I had only one chance to speak with him before he died in 2002, but he made some excellent points, which I want to share with you.

When asked what he believed was the most important key to his success, he said, "Delivering a

Jim Moran

consistent, quality product." When I told him I believed Wendy's does that, he added this point: Operators must find and hire people who are determined to deliver those quality products consistently. Those are the people he wanted running his stores.

Dave (like Tom Monaghan, wanted to be called by his first name) had seen too many employees who weren't quality focused, especially managers who allowed what he called "stacking."

I had never heard this term before, so I asked him to elaborate. He said that to make the rush easier to handle, a cook will prepare a "stack" of burger patties and set it aside. When the rush hit, those patties could then be "cooked" in seconds.

That shortcut was Dave's pet peeve, and it wasn't allowed in the Wendy's organization. (He was a great guy, but as his legacy and former colleagues will attest to, I sure wouldn't want to have been the manager he caught allowing that.)

Dave had developed a brilliant but simple business model that, when followed by good employees, would make his stores successful.

Shortcuts allowed at your stores?

Ask yourself this question: Are the people running your stores "stacking"? Okay, maybe they aren't "stacking," but are they doing whatever the equivalent is in your restaurant? Over the last few years I have seen so many examples of this, I could not possibly list them all here.

I will, however, list some of the most common and let you consider whether they sound familiar. Chief among them is prepping: making food ahead of time that is supposed to be made to order.

I see this done a lot with pizza dough; the "pizza skin," or whatever term you use, is formed and placed on the screen ahead of time so it's easy to top when orders come in. Unfortunately, though, it makes the border expand and the rest of the dough thin out, which leads to an inferior product.

Some go a step further and put sauce and cheese on the skin ahead of time, too. But the result is both dry out. I have actually walked in to stores in the afternoon, the slowest time of the day, and seen such "preps" sitting out at room temperature.

While such practices may help you handle the rush, they ultimately degrade the quality of your products, and that's too steep of a price to pay.

Another violation I see a lot takes place at closing time. My consulting clients are surprised when I request to make some late night visits—and they are even more surprised when they see what is going on when they arrive. (If you are a manager or owner that does not typically make surprise visits to your store in the final hour of operation, I suggest you start doing so tonight.) I have, on multiple occasions, not even had a chance to prove my point to a client, because when we arrived at the store 30 minutes to an hour before closing, the store was ALREADY CLOSED! On other late-night visits, my clients wished the store was closed when they saw what was going on ... smoking, drinking, etc.

Perhaps most concerning to me are all the creative ways employees come up with to make products quickly and easily as they near closing time. I have closed thousands of times, so I understand employees' desire to get out of there fast. But there needs to be some responsibility and accountability to both the boss and the customer, and that means not compromising the product in order to close sooner.

The number-one strategy I've seen employees use to get a step ahead on closing is to move all of the food preparation into the walk-in cooler. That allows them to clean the rest of the store more easily, but it increases the chances the product won't be the best it can be.

Dave Thomas told me Wendy's employees tried a similar but more devious trick: clean the Frosty machine early and then tell customers who order one near closing time that the machine is broken. (Needless to say, this also is not allowed in the Wendy's organization.)

I see other violations that involve both quality and freshness. For example, I've witnessed employees at some wings restaurants refill sauce buckets when the sauce gets low, instead of emptying it completely and starting with a fresh container of new sauce.

The same happens far too often with food delivered to stores; the new product gets placed on the shelf in front of the old product.

In both cases, first-in, first-out rotation policies are neglected, and the freshest product is not served to customers. Everyone knows this is bad, and yet I see this problem constantly. It is not uncommon for me to find product in restaurants that expired months ago because inventory wasn't rotated properly. I'm not just talking about pizza operations, either. It's found in every kind of restaurant from fine dining to carryout only.

If you have not checked your rotation lately, that might be something to put on your list when you make that late-night visit tonight.

The restaurant business is not rocket science, but if you are going to move your business beyond the launching pad and on to long-term success, you must practice basic, but important steps to get there.

As Dave said, the key to long-term success is hiring good people who deliver good customer service and make great products. And while those may sound like different issues, think of it this way: You can have the nicest employee in the world deliver a carryout/dine-in order quickly and efficiently. But if that worker delivers an inferior product, you've ultimately failed, and your customers will look for a better product elsewhere.

Other articles by Jim Moran ...
* OPERATIONS: Monaghan's maxim was never to put the cart before the horse
* OPERATIONS: Pizza-centered school fundraisers pay dividends for all
* OPERATIONS: Rule #1 in pizza is, 'The customer is always right'
* OPERATIONS: Doorhanging is for drivers, not for kids
* OPERATIONS: Everyone wins on the 'one per run' delivery system
* OPERATIONS: Cross-training lowers labor cost, boosts morale
* OPERATIONS: The secrets of running low labor

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