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National Restaurant Association - Military precision helps start-up restaurant

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Military precision helps start-up restaurant

Navy veteran Tori Duncan is providing jobs and networking opportunities for fellow military veterans in Charlotte, N.C.

Last month, she opened America’s Veterans Café, a small, casual-dining restaurant. The restaurant is part of America’s Veterans Industries, a six-company enterprise. Employees at all six businesses are military veterans.

Duncan, who has a degree in organizational communication, handles the public relations side of the business, while her head chef – who has 27 years of restaurant experience – is responsible for front- and back-of-house. “I lean very heavily on him,” she says.

He and the other four chefs have trained the other 11 employees on restaurant basics, such as safe food handling and preparation. But Duncan says the other employees share many skills that are important for a successful restaurant: teamwork, communications, patience and attention to detail.

“With the military, everything is a team effort,” she says. “There’s no ‘I’. The restaurant really runs the same way. We have to work as a team to get everything done.”

In addition to verbal communication, which includes “military lingo,” the café employees recognize their coworkers’ body language, Duncan says.

“Communication is absolutely essential,” she says. “If you can’t communicate, you can’t get job done, and you can’t function as a team.”

In a new business with many younger employees, one skill is especially valuable: the ability to follow directions. If an employee doesn’t know how something is supposed to work, he or she isn’t afraid to ask, Duncan says. The crew follows the adage, “Measure twice; cut once,” she says. They get detailed information before they start a new task, so they do it right the first time.

“The military teaches you to look at every angle of every situation before you react,” she says. “You have to have all the facts in place to make a good decision.”

But one military attribute has become an ongoing joke among the staff: their constant attention to detail. Staff are constantly trying to wipe fingerprints from the stainless steel equipment, so they joke that it’s going to wear out.

“We don’t accept messes or chaos,” Duncan says. “We put things in working order and prioritize the most important thing that has to be done now and what can wait a couple minutes. That plays a big role in back of the house.”

America’s Veterans Café serves hamburgers, steaks, sandwiches and other American-style staples, but no alcohol. Duncan says the restaurant is a place for veterans to spend time with their families and friends, and she wants it to be inclusive for those who struggle with substance abuse without the pressure of alcohol.

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