Ken Burgin

Restaurant Manager Training

20 Challenge Situations for Training Restaurant Managers & Head Chefs in Problem Solving

These are designed for training restaurant managers and head chefs in problem-solving and resource allocation. They don’t have easy answers and will require trade-offs and some difficult compromises.

Some of the ways to use these situations for training and coaching…

  • Let people choose the one they want to answer and give them 5 minutes to make notes and prepare their answers. Share and compare.
  • Cut them into strips and let people choose one randomly to answer themselves or with a partner.
  • Choose two situations, ask different small groups to consider them, and then compare their answers.
  • Put the story up on Kahoot or a similar quiz app, and ask people to choose one of four possible answers. Ask those who chose the most and least popular answer to justify their decision.
  • Have one situation each week for discussion at the manager’s meeting.
  • Create a debate where different people have to argue for opposing decisions.
  • Ask people from one department to suggest a solution for another department eg front of house suggests the solution for a kitchen problem.

1. The Jammed Kitchen: Imagine it’s Saturday afternoon, one of the busiest times at your restaurant. You’ve got a full house, but disaster strikes. One of your three main cooking ranges has broken down. It’s peak time, and a queue of hungry customers is out the door. The kitchen staff must be more relaxed and confident about keeping up with the current demand. Your challenge is to ensure customer satisfaction and maintain cooking quality and pace whilst working with less equipment. Think about how you can reallocate the cooking tasks or modify the menu temporarily to make it less overwhelming for the kitchen staff.

2. The Unexpected Event: You receive a phone call on Thursday morning. A high-profile local charity wants to hold a surprise fundraising dinner at your restaurant this coming Sunday. They’ll bring in fifty extra guests, but there’s a catch – they’re requesting a special menu with vegan and gluten-free options, which are only sometimes part of your offerings. The event could give your restaurant great publicity, but it means adjusting your plans, getting new supplies, and training your team on new recipes quickly.

3. The Ingredient Shortage: It’s the start of a busy week, and your supplier informs you that due to unforeseen circumstances, they won’t be able to deliver salmon and fresh berries, key ingredients in two of your most popular dishes. Your regular customers love these dishes, and you want to satisfy them. How would you handle this ingredient shortage? Would you look for a temporary new supplier, substitute the missing ingredients, or invent a new special to cover the gap?

4. The Staff Crisis: Friday night is the most profitable evening of the week. Just an hour before the dinner rush, two of your key staff members – a head chef and a senior waitress – call in sick. The replacements are less experienced and might need help with the busy service. Your challenge is to maintain excellent service and food quality. You’ll need to consider how to distribute the tasks and responsibilities amongst your remaining staff and consider what you can do to support and guide them through this demanding evening.

5. The Expansion Decision: Your restaurant has been doing well, and you’re considering expanding the dining area to accommodate more customers. However, this means investing in more tables and chairs and possibly hiring more staff. On top of that, the kitchen may need to be expanded as well to keep up with the increase in orders. This decision could lead to more profits in the long run but also requires substantial upfront costs. How would you evaluate this decision, and what factors would you consider?

6. The New Equipment Dilemma: One of your chefs suggests investing in a high-tech combi oven which could improve the quality of some dishes and reduce cooking time. However, it’s quite expensive and would take up a good chunk of your kitchen space. Is it worth sacrificing some of your budget and rearranging your kitchen for this equipment? How would you decide whether this investment would pay off in terms of customer satisfaction and profit?

7. The Special Event Request: A regular customer asks to book the entire restaurant for an evening to celebrate a big family event. Doing so would mean closing the restaurant to other customers for that night, which could upset some of your regulars. However, it could also be a good opportunity to generate substantial income and create a special bond with a loyal customer. How would you handle this request?

8. The Negative Reviews: You’ve noticed a string of negative reviews about the speed of service at your restaurant. Customers love the food but are unhappy with the long waiting time, particularly during the lunchtime rush. How would you address these concerns, considering that hiring more staff could help but also increase your costs?

9. The Mystery Illness: Three of your staff members have reported feeling ill after their shifts. They’re concerned that it might be due to a lack of proper ventilation in the kitchen area. Improving the ventilation system could be costly and require closing the restaurant for a few days for installation. How would you decide on the best course of action while ensuring the health and safety of your employees?

10. The Rival Restaurant: A new restaurant has opened just a few doors down. They’re offering similar cuisine and have very attractive modern decor. You’ve noticed a small drop in your customer numbers since they opened. Would you consider investing in a restaurant makeover to compete with this new rival, or might you take a different approach to keep your loyal customers and attract new ones?

11. The Efficiency Challenge: Your restaurant needs help with long wait times during peak hours. You’ve identified that an old and slow dishwasher is one of the main causes. A new, faster dishwasher could drastically reduce wait times, but it’s expensive. On top of that, you have a staff member who has been handling the dishwashing duties for years. Investing in the new dishwasher might mean letting him go. How would you make this tough decision?

12. The Changing Times: Over the last few years, you’ve noticed a gradual decline in the popularity of some traditional dishes that have been part of your menu since you opened. Introducing more modern and trendy dishes might boost your business, but doing so would require hiring a new chef with different skills. This could mean letting go of your current head chef, who is dedicated and has been with you since the beginning. How would you navigate this sensitive issue?

13. The Major Refurbishment: Your restaurant building needs major repairs and refurbishment. It would improve the dining atmosphere and potentially attract more customers, but it would also mean shutting down the restaurant for a few weeks. This could disrupt your regular business and also inconvenience your customers. How would you decide if and when to undertake this refurbishment?

14. The Late Delivery: You’ve used the same food supplier for years because of their high-quality products. However, their deliveries have been consistently late lately, disrupting your preparation times and leading to longer customer wait times. Finding a new supplier might help solve the problem, but it might also mean adjusting to new ingredients and compromising some of your known qualities. How would you handle this issue?

15. The Menu Price Increase: Costs for ingredients and utilities have been slowly rising over the past year. You’re considering increasing your menu prices to keep up with these expenses and maintain your profits. However, you’re concerned about how your loyal customers might react to this change. You don’t want to lose them but must also keep your business financially healthy. What factors would you consider when deciding on this price increase?

16. The Unruly Staff: You have a talented chef who’s excellent at what he does and is well-liked by the customers. However, he often shows up late and can be disruptive in the kitchen, affecting the work of others. Despite several warnings, his behaviour has yet to improve. You need to decide how to deal with this issue without negatively impacting the quality of food and the harmony in your team.

17. The Mobile Phone Distraction: You’ve noticed that your waitstaff have frequently used their mobile phones during their shifts, even when the restaurant is busy. This has led to slower service and a few instances of wrong orders. You’re considering a strict policy of no mobile phone usage during work hours. However, you know this might be seen as harsh, especially as your staff also use their phones for legitimate work purposes, like checking reservations. How would you handle this issue?

18. The Surprising Inspection: A surprise health and safety inspection has revealed a few areas in the kitchen and dining area that need immediate attention. The repairs are not costly but will require closing the restaurant for a few days. You’ll also need to address these issues with your staff, some of whom are responsible for the areas highlighted. How would you manage this situation, keeping customer safety and business reputation in mind?

19. The Speciality Dish: One of your most popular dishes is time-consuming to prepare and requires many ingredients, leading to lower profits than others. However, it’s a customer favourite and often brings in new diners who’ve heard about this special dish. Deciding whether to keep it on the menu, modify it, or replace it with something else is a challenge that requires careful consideration.

20. The Overworked Staff: Over the past few months, your restaurant has been busier than ever. While this is great for business, your staff have been working long hours, and their performance is starting to suffer. You’re considering hiring additional help, but this would significantly increase costs. Alternatively, reducing opening hours might help, but could disappoint customers. How would you address this difficult issue to ensure your staff’s well-being and the restaurant’s success?

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