Building Consensus Among a Restaurant’s Stakeholders

Restaurant managers face a competitive and highly charged atmosphere among employees, customers, vendors and owners. Whether internally or externally focused, building consensus for management changes, new programs and restaurant special projects can be an efficient way to minimize opposition, put a personal stamp on the business and choose the best management, marketing and Internet strategies that are available for restaurants in the communications age.

Consensus Building Techniques for Effective Management

Restaurant stakeholders include staff, investors, suppliers, customers and people in the community and neighborhood. Effective managers earn trust and establish rapport by rolling up their sleeves and working hard, communicating and listening to different viewpoints. Classic consensus-building techniques include:

  • Facilitating Better Communications
    Managers seek out spokespeople for different views among a restaurant’s stakeholders to be sure that all interests are adequately represented. Cherry-picking advisers or people to interview based on like-minded attitudes or preconceived notions doesn’t provide representative information. Including all views and attitudes in discussions broadens accountability and provides more accurate assessments.
  • Committing to Action
    Consensus-building presupposes that actions will be taken based on the ideas that emerge during the process. Failure to take any action after building a consensus frustrates every member of the group.
  • Building Rapport Through Honest Discussions & Positivity
    Consensus-building only works when stakeholders have honest differences of opinion on how to reach certain goals but believe the goals are worth the effort. Hidden agendas, political posturing and covering the stakeholders’ backs have no place in genuine efforts to build a consensus. Always highlight the positives so to avoid activating stakeholders’ defense mechanism.
  • Resolving Conflicts Voluntarily
    Most restaurants operate at fast or even frenetic speed at certain times, and staff can easily lose their tempers when busy and frustrated. Consensus-building techniques are ideal ways to resolve conflicts. Savvy managers establish ground rules for resolving conflicts and altercations in ways that solve problems quickly during busy service times. Airing detailed conflicts during busy times doesn’t work in restaurants, so staff members need to understand that service and pleasing the customer come first. Resolutions of conflicts during peak hours must be temporary until the issues can be fully examined later.
  • Preparing Stakeholders for Change
    New managers or owners face challenges when taking over an established restaurant. Changes affect staff, customers, suppliers and neighbors in the business community. Building a consensus for new management initiatives or making changes to cuisine, menus or operations helps to make the process go smoothly with minimal negative consequences.
  • Communicating Openly Without Attacking
    Putting the restaurant’s best interests first is essential when building a consensus among stakeholders with distinct views. For example, customers might hate the idea of price increases, but rising food costs and falling profits might make price increases essential for survival. Loyal customers understand that restaurants need to make money, so most diners accept inevitable price hikes. Sometimes, vendors risk losing all a restaurant’s business by overcharging for supplies or services. If management and suppliers can’t reach consensus through negotiation, then both parties lose. Demonizing previously accepted procedures, prices and operating parameters serves no useful purpose and generates an adversarial situation among stakeholders.

Knowing When to Use a Consensus-building Approach

All restaurant problems and plans are not subject to consensus-building. The approach can build support for new ideas and foster better communications and information sharing among stakeholders who have similar goals but disagree on how to get there. However, some restaurant issues aren’t negotiable or amenable to a consensus-building approach.

  • Food safety, fair employment practices, cleanliness and humanitarian standards of behavior can never be threatened or compromised by consensus.
  • Political and core values of restaurant management or the restaurant’s owner aren’t subject to negotiation.
  • Extremely complex or technical issues need to be resolved with skill and best practices instead of by consensus.
  • Issues where the best way forward is ambiguous or depends on independent variables aren’t appropriate for resolution by consensus.

Communications aren’t just optional aids that restaurant managers use only when they can provide benefits for achieving personal goals. Communications exist across all levels of an organization, and the best managers use them to get information, develop marketing and management strategies and build consensus for new policies.