EXPO 2022 | Aug 14-17 | Bally's Las Vegas

EXPO 2014 Keynote Address

by Renegade Hospitality’s Tim Kirkland

 2014 EXPO 04462A best-selling author and national restaurant, bar and club consultant, Tim Kirkland delivered an insightful address that encapsulated the EXPO’s theme of “how to build a winning team.”

Tim Kirkland is an author, speaker and consultant focusing on sales-building, service-energizing and team-building in the foodservice industry. His best-selling book, The Renegade Server is used in over 20,000 restaurants, hotels, retail locations and universities worldwide. At EXPO 2014, he addressed the convention’s theme and gave club operators plenty to think about, especially in regard to the newest generation of club employees and customers.


Here, we’ve printed a selection of Kirkland’s Keynote Address:

I’ve been in the bar, restaurant and nightclub hospitality industry for over 25 years, and I hate going to keynotes where they tell me how to run my bar. I’m here instead to bring insight on today’s newest generation of employees and customers.

I got into the hospitality business because I had to; my mom was a single mom, and I had to work to get things I wanted. I got into an expensive university, no scholarship, so I had to work to pay for what I needed. The bar and restaurant industry had to work for me, and I had to become good at it. I couldn’t just work one or two nights for “beer money.”

My goal was to be the highest paid person on the floor, even higher than the managers. I would approach the people who were making the most money and ask them what their secrets were. I’m a good observer of human nature, so I observed them and took those nuggets everywhere I went. Each one of these people was unique, but they all had something in common: this business is about connecting with guests. They knew they could be a shitty bartender and still make good money. It’s about connecting and developing relationships—that’s the big secret. I made a ton of money with that secret.

The main lesson I learned in college was how to be good at the hospitality business. I made so much money in tips, I bought my first nightclub when I was 25. I bought more clubs, sold that company in 2000, started training nationally, then wrote the book “Renegade Server,” which has been a number-one selling hospitality title in North America for several years.

When we in this room go out, we don’t go out to eat or drink, do we? We go out to critique, to pick apart. My wife said, “Can’t we just eat?! Why don’t you jot all of that down so I don’t have to hear it?” I did, that’s my book. Now we consult for the top 200 hospitality, hotel, restaurant and bar brands in the world. I’m still a good observer, a good “watcher,” and I still pick things up regularly. Do you think Walt Disney knows a thing or two about hospitality? I’m here to share these nuggets I’ve picked up from these big corporations.

Team building is different now than it was five or 10 years ago. Are customers the same? Are employees the same? No. How many cargo shorts and flip flops have you seen in job interviews lately? Think about when you started in this business: are interviews the same, questions the same? It’s changing, and so is our business.

The way our customers engage us is different also. For example, there are those who seek out the cheapest way to do something; that is the commodity economy. For example, someone that goes out and buys coffee beans, makes the coffee themselves, etc. It might cost 10 cents a cup that way. These aren’t your customers. When all you have to offer is a discount, you aren’t giving them a unique experience. These are low-value customers, because they’ll leave you when they can find a better discount. Who buys $2 drafts? Cheapskates that don’t tip. They aren’t your target customer.

Then there’s the service economy; those who go out of their way for convenience, and pay a little extra for that convenience. They’ll go to the diner down the street and pay $2 for a cup of coffee. That’s a huge jump from 10 cents, but you’re paying not to have to do it yourself. This is a huge plus for large brands like McDonald’s and Applebees, because they’re everywhere, on my way to everywhere, etc.

If you have only one location, you can’t compete with someone who has a store on every corner. But the most valuable customers don’t worry about convenience or price first. This is the experience economy. What are you delivering that no one else can deliver? What are you delivering that will make people go out of their way to get it? It’s a feeling, something that makes you feel special. Drink prices don’t make you feel special. You know what makes me feel special? People. Not prices, not location, not even clean bathrooms. It’s people that make it a unique experience.

Is this a priority for your club? How much time are you spending with your team to create this experience? It’s the “team” that differentiates us in a competitive market.

What coffee brand does coffee at the experience level?  Starbucks. Is it the cheapest cup you can get? No, it’s the most expensive. Do you go out of your way for it? Yes. You go out of your way and you pay more.

Starbucks doesn’t sell coffee, they sell an experience. I asked their Chief Marketing Officer, how do you do that? What’s the secret?

“Two things,” he said. “First, we let people own us, let them customize their experience every time they’re here. that’s how we get that loyalty. The next time you’re in a Starbucks, try ordering the same drink as the person in front of you, see what happens.”

So I did it. The girl looked at me like she was going to kill me. You would think i just stole her purse! Her drink was personalized and I stole it.

Do you think you can create a unique “experience” like this for your guests? As leaders and trainers, we put a high value on consistency; every experience is the same—consistent. But that’s not where the value is. Getting things right is the basis; if you can’t do that, go work at the Gap. Next level stuff is, how are we making it different every time. The mark of a high-minded leader says, what is different every time a guest walks in. You customize the experience.

“Once we do that,” the Starbucks executive said, “we create an ownership situation. How? When your coffee is ready at Starbucks, how do you know? They say your name.”

On your team, make sure you’re remembering and using guest’s names. It will deliver every single time!

When I work with new clients, I ask, what is your goal? What are you willing to do to achieve it? Then I ask, what is stronger: your desire to improve or your resistance to change?

Then I ask them about their interview process. Has it changed? One large client said, “no, we have too much invested in this process, we can’t change it.” But if you want to change and improve your guests’ experience, then why don’t you change the hiring process? If you want to change the experience in your operation, but you don’t change the people in your operation, you won’t change the experience. You have to re-commit to your focus on your team, training, etc. People need to be number one, and you need to make that commitment.

Be a “coach” on your team, coach every single employee and every aspect of the operation. You can’t play a sport by looking at the scoreboard, you have to play the game while it’s happening. You can’t just present the goal, you have to offer the tools and training to make that goal happen. You don’t coach a “team,” you coach each individual on that team.

Too many times we “zoom in” to solve a specific problem, when what we need to do is “zoom out.” What does the coach do? He has headphones that lead to someone sitting in a skybox. He asks them what they’re seeing.

Good coaches are also great team builders. There’s no such thing as a good coach with bad players. Their number one job is selecting the right team. Do you think the Denver Broncos put out an ad that says, “open tryouts, come on out!” Of course not, but that’s how we hire people sometimes, isn’t it?  Good coaches find and recruit talent.

When interviewing, you can’t have the same interview questions for different staff positions. You know where your staff weaknesses are, where your gaps are. Sometimes, the best thing you can do for your team is fire someone. Everyone here has someone on their staff who they could fire right now.

I prefer to focus my extra time and energy on all of my high performers and give them the attention they deserve. Disney’s motto is, “Hire right, train right, treat right.” They know if they do that, everything in their park will go well. The number one job of every manager in your organization should be hiring, because hiring right takes care of so many other issues down the road. Unfortunately, that’s not how they treat it. They treat it as a pain in the butt, an interruption of their “more important work.” But hiring is the important work, it’s job one! We should look forward to hiring, because it is a unique business opportunity, a chance to move your entire organization one giant step forward with one decision. When else do you get that chance?

Often times, we hire quickly because someone quit, and if you don’t hire someone immediately you’ll have to pick up that shift. But when you hire that bad employee, how much time is he costing you? You’ve wasted far more time than you would have if you would have taken the time to hire properly.

When it comes to hiring, “hope” is not a business strategy. Losers walk in and ask for applications; the best potential employees already have jobs. Hiring and recruiting are key to your survival. Do interviews even when you don’t have an opening, because you know you’ll have an opening some time within the next six weeks, and it takes six weeks to recoup your investment from a new hire.

If you’re asking the same questions in your interview process that are typical for bar/club positions, you know who’s really good at answering those questions? People that go to a lot of job interviews. Do you really want to ask the same old questions over and over? You’ll just get the same, boring, predictable responses. Instead, ask questions that reflect the type of person you want to hire.

The new, emerging workforce wants to know “why.” “Because I said so” is not an answer that works anymore. Give them the answer, the purpose for what you do. Your team isn’t interested in making you more money, they want to know how what you’re telling them helps them make more money and how it benefits the customer. Train the purpose over the task, train the “why.”

You have to make this emerging workforce value the work, and you do that by showing that you value them. You recognize them for doing their job if they’re high performers; thank them. Recognition keeps them. They want praise and feedback.

Don’t take attention away from high performers and give it to low performers. Treat them better than everyone else in front of everyone else. The low performers see that, and it might motivate them to want that attention as well. It’s your chance to change them.

To listen to the entire Keynote, visit www.EDpublications.com and www.theEDexpo.com. For more information on Tim Kirkland, visit www.renegadehospitality.com.


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