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R365's Leon Graves Discusses Key Strategies for Mastering Restaurant Operations

R365's Leon Graves Discusses Key Strategies for Mastering Restaurant Operations

Shane Houston
Shane Houston

Leon Graves, R365’s Associate Director of Customer Enablement, is our first feature in this refreshed interview blog focused on making every moment matter. Read on to hear about this extensive industry experience as well as his insights and sentiments.


Leon Graves, Restaurant365’s Associate Director of Customer Enablement, is a seasoned industry expert well-known for his profound insights into the restaurant business. With extensive experience spanning various facets of hospitality management over the course of 20 years, Leon knows how to best address the critical challenges restaurant operators face. From staffing shortages to maximizing operational efficiency, his strategic acumen has and continues to guide many industry professionals through obstacles over the years. 

Leon’s wealth of knowledge extends far beyond theory; it is grounded in practical experience and a deep understanding of the nuances that shape success in the restaurant world. Throughout this conversation, we’ll explore his firsthand encounters with staffing dilemmas, customer engagement strategies, and the intricate balance of tools, training, and accountability restaurant operations demand. With an eye for identifying emerging trends and innovative solutions, Leon’s actionable advice empowers restaurateurs to thrive in an ever-evolving landscape. Read on to uncover Leon’s invaluable insights, experience, and sentiments. 

Big Appetite, Good Food, & Great Customers

What is your go-to order when you eat out?  

I regularly visit Honest Coffee Roasters, my go-to coffee shop in Nashville, about three times a week. My usual order is the Honest Classic Breakfast Sandwich on an everything bagel, topped with avocado mash. I pair this with a whole milk cortado and indulge in their Peanut Buddies – a delightful and nutritious snack made with raw oats, peanut butter, chocolate chips, a hint of salt, and vanilla. It’s the perfect combination to start my morning or for a midday treat! 


Which Restaurant365 customer do you most frequently patronize?   

Emmy Squared Pizza! Hands down the best pizza in the city. If you visit Nashville, check them out! 

Aiming to Succeed

In your opinion, what is the biggest challenge for restaurants currently?   

Staffing remains the restaurant industry’s biggest challenge. Finding and hiring talented individuals grows tougher each year and retaining them is becoming equally difficult. 

At Restaurant365’s recent RTT Event, I had a delightful chat with a client who shared an intriguing tale about their equipment repairman, a loyal employee of over two decades. Recently, they upgraded their equipment, introducing fryers with sleek, iPad-like control panels.   

These modern fryers functioned flawlessly, until about a month post-purchase, when one suddenly malfunctioned. The repairman, always reliable, faced a new challenge: this fryer demanded a skill set he hadn’t yet mastered.   

The integration of advanced technology, whether hardware or software, is swiftly becoming the norm in our industry. In the years ahead, restaurant operators must increasingly focus on learning management. This means offering robust training at the start of an employee’s journey and continuous education to keep pace with technological advancements. Our goal is to not only find exceptional talent but also nurture our valued employees, like the repairman in my client’s story. We must equip them with the skills to adapt to evolving job requirements, ensuring they continue to thrive in their roles. 


For restaurants and operators facing difficulties due to various industry challenges, what advice would you give them?   

The best advice for restaurants facing challenges is simple: avoid making assumptions.   

Drawing from my extensive experience coaching restaurants to refine their hiring practices, I’ve observed that the root of a problem is often not what it seems. Many struggling with staffing issues assume the main hurdle is a lack of applicants. However, a closer examination of Applicant Tracking System (ATS) data usually reveals that the quantity of applicants isn’t the core issue. 

In today’s labor market, staffing problems often stem from insufficient attention to key practices: 

– Swiftly contacting applicants, ideally within 24 hours. 

– Prioritizing effective means of communication: texting first, calling second, and emailing as a last resort. 

– Demonstrating appreciation for every applicant by communicating with them, regardless of their suitability for the position. 

When my clients shift their focus to these practices — discarding preconceived notions and relying on data-driven strategies instead — they typically see a marked improvement in their staffing situations. 


What is the foundation of an efficient restaurant?   

The foundation of an efficient restaurant lies in three elements: tools, training, and accountability. 

Tools range from kitchen appliances to computer software and everything in between. For instance, an underperforming oven can limit the number of dishes a kitchen can produce. Similarly, relying on manual methods like Excel sheets for scheduling hampers efficiency.   

Training staff to proficiently use these tools is just as crucial. Even with top-tier cooking equipment, its potential remains untapped if staff lack the know-how to use it effectively. The same applies to managerial software: without proper training, efficiency dwindles.   

Finally, accountability is key. A restaurant might be equipped with state-of-the-art technology and well-trained staff, but without accountability, these investments are at risk. Tools and training set the stage, but it is accountability that drives tangible progress and results. 

Making Moments Matter

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How can we help operators enhance customer experience in their restaurants? 

During my time managing restaurants, I often likened myself to a firefighter, constantly tackling problems and preventing escalation. My approach was predominantly reactive, driven by a lack of time and the right tools to gather information for proactive strategizing. The more overwhelmed I became, the less attention I devoted to my guests and team, negatively impacting customer experience and satisfaction. 

Restaurant365 transforms this dynamic by offering superior tools and insights that enable managers to develop proactive strategies. With these strategies in place, managers can devote more time to what truly matters: their team and their customers. This shift from reactive to proactive management not only streamlines operations but also significantly enhances the overall customer experience. 


If you had to pick one thing, what is the key to employee satisfaction while working in hospitality?   

“Being seen” is crucial for employee satisfaction in any restaurant. What does this entail? In the hustle of restaurant operations, it’s easy for operators to see staff members merely as tools to achieve business goals. However, treating individuals as mere cogs in a machine leads to job dissatisfaction. In contrast, taking the time to know your staff personally, showing genuine interest in their lives and passions, and investing in them as individuals can make a world of difference. When staff feel valued and recognized as people, not just employees, they are more likely to love their jobs and contribute positively to the workplace. 

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