Food for thought Featured

8:00pm EDT March 26, 2009

Rick Doody is always striving to be the best at what he does. It’s a motto that he has infused into the restaurants run by Bravo Development Inc.

“I read a blurb one time by Jim Collins that said to be a great company, you have to be the best in the world at what you do,” the co-founder and chairman of BDI says. “But you have to be the best in the world at what you do relative to the size that you want to be, and that’s important to get both those right.”

In 2001, after several years of successfully running the restaurant company with his brother Chris, Doody met with Rick Federico, the CEO of P.F. Chang’s China Bistro. He says he was impressed when he learned about Federico’s company and how focused he was on achieving his goals.

“I came back from that thinking we could grow faster than we were,” Doody says.

His ultimate goal was to open eight new restaurants from the Bravo Cucina Italiana, Brio Tuscan Grille and Bon Vie Bistro concepts in 2003, 10 in 2004, and 12 each in 2005 and 2006.

So with help from the management team, he set out to develop a mission around what the company did best and then build an infrastructure to support it.

The result was that Doody was able to set the company on a path of continuous improvement and growth. The company was able to open nine restaurants in 2003, eight in 2004, 10 in 2005 and nine in 2006. While the company fell a bit short of its original goal, by taking its time to grow properly, Doody says BDI is a stronger company that has been able to provide more opportunities for its customers and employees.

“The company became more secure; it became more valuable,” he says. “It became less influenced by external circumstances. We were able to become stronger and better. I was always a little concerned that growth meant compromising quality, and I was always struggling with that early on. I realized, after time, that growth actually meant improving quality.”

Here’s how he did it.

Create a mission

To get your company moving, you need to have the right mission in place. A good mission must have some sort of ‘call to action’ in it that drives employees to want to follow it. It needs to be specific but general at the same time, and it needs to be able to change the behavior of employees.

“A mission is critical,” Doody says. “You have to get it right; you have to figure out what it is. If the mission is simple and clear and the CEO is passionate about achieving the mission, the team will understand it.”

At first, BDI’s mission was to be the best restaurant in America. But with so many other successful restaurant chains out there, Doody wasn’t sure what that meant, and he also wasn’t sure the company would be able to achieve that. But he did know what being the best Italian restaurant meant in the eyes of the guests and developers, so he started moving the mission toward being the best Italian restaurant company in America — and trying to grow within that concept.

“Bravo and Brio doing eight to 12 restaurants a year is about right to be the best Italian restaurant company in America,” he says. “You’ve got to get that size relative to the mission right; you’ve got to find your sweet spot.”

In developing the company’s mission, Doody did a lot of soul-searching and asked several questions to determine where he wanted the company to head.

“I always was asking ourselves, ‘Do we have the right mission?’” he says. “In our industry, the questions are: How many? How quickly? Of what kind, of what concept? With what kind of culture and values do you want?”

You need to take the time to learn about the market and industry that you’re operating in so you can find the best place for your company in it.

“The most important thing for a CEO is to truly understand the business they’re entering — the culture, the strengths and weaknesses of the people who are there, and the strengths and weaknesses of the business,” Doody says. “I’ve always tried to be a student of the restaurant industry. I’ve tried to learn from other people’s mistakes, I’ve tried to study those companies that created value versus those that didn’t and understand why.”

Doody spent a lot of time going to the company’s various departments and asking what each employee did so he could get a grasp on the entire business.

“Getting a full understanding of the business and its strengths and weaknesses and where it’s headed is so important,” Doody says.

Build a supporting culture

Once you have the mission in place, you need to get your employees to understand it so they can live it. Communication is important, and Doody says you cannot do enough to communicate it to employees.

He started by establishing the BDI card, which is similar to a credit card. Employees are able to receive specific discount benefits within the restaurants depending on their years of service. The card has the company’s mission statement on one side and service standards on the other. The nearly 8,500 employees at BDI carry the cards around with them, and at preshift meetings or restaurant opening sessions, they are asked to stand on a chair and recite the company mission. This was something employees did over and over to keep the mission in their minds each day so they remain focused on it and do not get sidetracked.

“It was a little rah-rah, but it definitely worked,” Doody says.

It’s also important that you live the mission yourself as a means of communicating its importance to employees.

“If the team senses the passion of the leader in achieving the mission, it will become contagious and prevalent within the organization,” he says.

Developing a solid mission also makes your job easier when determining the path your company is going to follow.

“It makes decision-making easier, it clarifies direction, it creates peer pressure, it forces out people who aren’t able to live up to that high standard,” Doody says. “It’s an important part, but it makes the job a lot easier.”

Focus on what you do best

One of the keys to successful growth is the ability to stay focused.

With the continual pressures of business, it’s easy to fall off course. It requires a lot of hard work and momentum to stay focused, and then if you do lose it, it’s even harder to get back on track and stay there.

“It’s a discipline more than anything,” Doody says. “It’s the ability to say no more than you say yes. One of the worst things in business is to try to make something better that you shouldn’t be doing at all. Entrepreneurs tend to be optimists so we have to be careful to know what our limitations are.”

A lot of knowing your limitations will come through trial and error.

“You learn through experience, make good decisions through experience and get experience through making bad decisions or observing other people’s bad decisions,” Doody says.

For example, he could have gone out and opened 25 or more restaurants per year to meet the company’s mission. But he wanted to focus on quality, not quantity, so he only opened a smaller number of restaurants that were able to provide the best service to customers instead of a larger number of restaurants that had marginal service.

“We try to focus on the best sites, get the best management teams, get the best designs and work hard on developing the best food for those restaurants,” he says. “The discipline is in the focus.”

Setting clear objectives can also help in keeping your employees focused on the ultimate goal. Objectives need to be based around the mission so that employees know the steps they should take each day to achieve goals and bring success to the company. It takes continual communication with your employees and a lot of tweaking to get those objectives right for each of them and to make sure they understand them.

“If you have the right people and they agree with the direction of the company, they, too, in turn, will fine-tune the focus of the company,” Doody says. “It’s also having a communication system and series of meetings that allow the leaders to determine if they’re staying focused. With experience and success, you get a little more confident in your ability to set clear objectives.”

Remaining focused steers you away from the negative things that don’t bring value to your company.

“One of the hardest things in business is, and I use this line all the time with my employees, ‘Let’s not make something better that we shouldn’t be doing at all,’ and that happens a lot in business,” Doody says. “You get to continue to put forth an agenda in your business that is productive, profitable, relationship building and strengthening, exciting, allows it to be more fun, and allows your employees to know they work for a successful enterprise.

“Always be looking for new ways to create value, but you have to balance that with the importance of staying focused.”

How to reach: Bravo Development Inc., (614) 326-7944 or www.bestitalianusa.com