Going where few restaurants have gone before can send even those with iron stomachs reeling. Without data, case studies and experience, getting others on board with brand new positions can take some extra legwork. “The challenge to creating an innovative or unconventional role … is that you are trailblazing,” says Eric Martino, COO of FastGood, a branch of Jose Andres’ ThinkFoodGroup that oversees fast casual Beefsteak. “There are no benchmarks or a model to reference.” Check out how operators like Martino get teams to buy into fresh roles.
1. Come prepared
To deliver on Beefsteak’s veggie-centric vision, FastGood decided to hire a chief of produce, Bennett Haynes. Haynes’ focus is to source high quality produce, manage food costs and grow relationships with farmers and distributors. To add a position like this is a very organic process, Martino says. “Ultimately, the position itself will crystalize, and if you’ve hired the right person for your organization, you will see the benefits,” he says. But to do that requires a leap of faith from the rest of the team. Luckily, Martino says Andres felt the position was essential to forming strong partnerships with local and responsible farmers. Still, a nontraditional position like this requires homework. “Look at the position from every angle and consider every barrier or risk,” he says. “White board sessions with your team are great ways to create buy in and reasons to consider the change or addition to the team.”
2. Leave time for questions
When creating a new position, say the things that seem like they should go without saying, says Karen Leibowitz, co-founder of The Perennial in San Francisco. The sustainability-focused restaurant employs co-chefs instead of one executive chef. The model helps spread the work of juggling a greenhouse, activism, connecting with local suppliers and actual cooking. Breaking down the traditional kitchen hierarchy also highlighted the creative possibilities of collaboration, a strategy the team had experimented with by rotating chefs at Mission Street Food. Meeting with the team to discuss the new setup gave The Perennial a chance to flush out misgivings. “We heard some concerns from our team about the co-chef structure lacking stability, but we pointed out that more people taking responsibility would actually help ensure that everything could get done without causing anyone to burn out,” Leibowitz says.
3. Show your work
Leading with an example of what a new role has done in the past can help team members see the value in an unconventional position. Briar Group, a restaurant group with 15 concepts in Boston and Cambridge, Mass., is adding a relationship manager to its six-person marketing team. The new hire will extend the brand into the community, participating in offsite events, communicating with guests and coming up with creative ways to work together on social media. When pitching new positions, Marketing Director Hannah Huke is able to point to the success of the team’s social media content manager. “Show where you have been and how far you have come with other additions,” Huke says. “Not only do you have to have the new role’s responsibilities laid out, but you have to show how the rest of the team is affected and in turn how we are able to capture more business.”
4. Set goals and checkpoints
Patience is key, Martino says. Beginning with the end in mind and remembering the common goal helped the FastGood team think strategically in both the long term and short term. “Keep remembering that this has never been done before so you have to have a mindset that is open and always looking for ways to improve and learn,” he says.
Tracking the evolution of the position also has helped define it along the way, Haynes says. “It makes a big difference to consistently check back on how my role and responsibilities are changing, evaluate my progress and have tangible goals for food cost and local farm partnerships,” he says.