For Rick Malir, it was the brisket and the original barbecue sauce.
When both were developed at City Barbeque, he couldn’t stop eating them. Here’s the thing, though: He isn’t the only one with tantalized taste buds. The barbecue restaurant has become a hit, growing to more than 10 locations and 350 employees.
So while Malir still enjoys the food, his role as president and co-founder has become a lot more executive-like, as he deals with more government rules and regulations, more hiring, and so on.
“As a company gets bigger, there are more mandates and rules and paperwork that’s required ... and that does become quite a challenge to work through all of that,” he says.
But while Malir has to deal with all of that, his busier schedule can’t come at the cost of sending out a bad brisket, so he has to put in systems that allow him to take the temperature of each location.
Smart Business spoke with Malir about how he stays in regular contact with his people and how he works with his senior leaders to ensure customers are left with a good taste in their mouth.
Collaborate with your top people. We have reviews with our teams and what I do with my seven direct reports is I have a monthly one-on-one session with them. I see them all the time, but every month we put into stone to at least sit down so we know that at least once we’ve had a very meaningful conversation about goals and where we want to go.
It’s about an hour, and it’s very simple. First question is, what is my role in achieving our company goals and strategic plan? And you can write what you want. No. 2 is, how will I contribute to our company goals and strategic plan? And then, what do I want to accomplish and what are the expected results — results must be measurable — what are the key measurements that indicate success? So those are the three basic questions we talk about. Then, what are my priorities or projects for the next 90 days?
Keep an eye on hiring and training. We have probably a more detailed interviewing process just on our entry-level jobs than most restaurants, so we do that a little more in depth. We actually do background checks for everybody.
Then we have a director of training, and that’s a full-time position. He was in operations before, and what (he) does is he helps us develop what we need as a company, classes to promote our service standards, what barbecue is, the technical training, standardization of procedures, classes on who we are, what we are, anything to do with education, as well.
We’ve seen improvements, and people are at least being exposed to what we are, and there’s more consistency.
Create ways to regularly stay in contact with everyone. It comes back to the people, and the challenge is they’re not in my backyard. It’s easy when we have one in Powell — well, that’s 10 minutes from my house. It’s easy to keep an eye on, but I have regular scheduled visits no less than every 30 days just so I know what’s going on in those markets and they know I’m not neglecting them.
You have to just over-communicate. A memo does not replace a conversation in communication.
I meet everyone and try to know their names. I have a method for remembering, and I’m not saying I know every one through all 350, but when I walk in, I can tell you I’m at 80 percent, and that’s very important to me. I want to know everybody.
If I don’t talk to everybody when I’m in the restaurant, it must have been because I was really in some hurry and I was only in there for five minutes. My primary objective is to see everybody when I’m in there, that’s why I go around, mainly.
To keep communication going, we have weekly conference calls with directors, we have quarterly general managers meetings, we have a newsletter called ‘Smoke Signals’ that celebrates achievements and, we call them shout outs, great things our teams are doing. We can talk about our standards and our vision in there, as well. We have a very good strategic planning session every year so people know where we’re headed and then we have mission, vision and values that we live by. We also have the best Christmas party in the industry.
Set stretch goals that reward people on merit. I’m very big on letting people run their business, letting them have autonomy and control within our standard. Our bonus plans are set up on only what they can control. We have a pretty good benefits plan, as well, because we want to invest in there, and then we strive to promote and give raises on merit, not seniority.
It’s fairly basic. It’s really broken down by what the general manager and the teams in their restaurants can control; it’s based on sales and expense control. The rent bill and my salary don’t go into that, for example, because they can’t control what we negotiated on rent or taxes or my salary, but they can sure as heck control food costs, labor, utility bills and sales, obviously.
It can serve as a weed-out, as well, because some folks don’t want that environment, and so we have to really find the people that thrive in that and have a little bit of that entrepreneurial spirit themselves to know that, ‘Hey, if I work 80 hours this week maybe I’ll get a little bit of something more than just the standard paycheck.’
And it’s kind of interesting, one of the leadership things I found out is a team will only rise to your standards, it will not exceed them. So if you set standards low, they’re going to hit them; they won’t exceed them. And so that’s just human nature, so I have to have a high standard.
How to reach: City Barbeque, (614) 583-0999 or www.cityqbbq.com