The Outback Steak-Church
by Keith Drury
After a delicious steak dinner with our best friends the other night, I couldn’t help wondering what church planting would look like if done with the Outback Steak House method. How would you do it?
1. You’d limit your programming.
The Conventional Wisdom in the restaurant business is find a good location, operate as many hours as possible to spread the fixed costs, and keep the food costs as low as possible. The Outback Steak House breaks all three rules. When Chris Sullivan and Robert Basham started the chain they wanted to have some life beyond steakhouse management for their two interests: boating and golf. Figuring their managers should get the same, they determined the Outbacks would only be open in the evenings – one shift a day. They thought offering everything all the time would water down the product. They decided to open less hours and do it better. What they discovered was both their waiters and their pastor avoided burnout (industry average manager turnover = 35%; Outback turnover = 5.4%). The point: doing less and doing it better. The Outback Steak-Church would do a few things really well.
2. You’d limit the seating.
Most Americans in love with vision more than Steak, prefer to dream big and build likewise. Hey, if you’ve got people lined up two hours for a steak dinner what would you do? Tear down your barn and builds a bigger sanctuary, right? Not at the Outback. The typical Outback is 6,000 square feet (with the kitchen taking more than half of that) and seats only 220. Only 220. Why? Because that’s the optimum seating to guarantee a quality steak, according to Sullivan and Basham. Great Steak is
their goal — everything else serves the Great Steak goal. Is this an anti-church growth philosophy? Not necessarily. They just plant more Outback steak-houses in new locations. Which is exactly what they’ve done to the tune of more than 200 steak-house-plants in the last five years. They argue that an optimum facility is better than a gigantic one. An Outback Steak-Church would decide the optimum size then spin off other churches.
3. You’d recruit qualities then train for competence.
A friendly decentralized flat company, the Outback is committed to a friendly informal atmosphere. They worry more about friendliness than previous experience in their hiring. Instead of recruiting experienced cooks and waiters, the Outback hires 75-80 friendly people then trains them to cook and serve. They believe it is easier to add competence to friendliness than the reverse. The application is obvious.
4. You’d treat your workers well.
Outback managers only work from 3 PM to midnight and make about $120,000 a year doing what they love. The Outback’s waiters start later yet and earn about $125 a night. Both work only one shift straight through. Morale is high, the managers stay put, and the Sunday school teachers love it. An Outback Steak-Church would value its workers, making sure they see their intangible eternal rewards which are far greater than a mere paper $120,000.
5. You’d serve first rate Steak-preaching-teaching.
The Outback serves Steak with a capital S. You don’t go there for desserts or vegetables. You go for Steak. Every Outback Steak grew up in a particular area of either Nebraska or Colorado which produces the tastiest Steaks. Sure, the Conventional Wisdom is that people are eating less red meat, and entertainment is what they want from pulpits, but the Outback folk know better. If you serve great Steak, prepared well and seasoned delightfully, people will wait two hours to get a seat. It just might work.
By Keith Drury, You are free to transmit, duplicate or distribute this article for non-profit use without permission.