With today’s thin workforce and abundance of open positions to fill in restaurants, keeping up morale, reducing turnover, and fostering teamwork in the workplace are more important than ever before. When your restaurant staff feels valued and heard, they reciprocate that value in their work.
1. Encourage Camaraderie Through Informal Social Events
Although formal team building events are encouraged in certain HR manuals, a simple Google search for “bad team-building experiences” will provide you with a litany of horrors.
Forcing people to participate in compulsory team building activities is, ironically, detrimental to good teamwork. What’s fun for an owner or manager might be less so for an employee, and the last thing you should want is for resentment to grow among your staff.
Instead of imposing team building from the top down, it’s more effective to allow teams to build organically. Plenty of people would have a problem with being forced to participate in weird team-building exercises, but most people are okay with a glass of wine and a nice meal.
In low-pressure, informal surroundings — even your own restaurant on a closed afternoon or evening — team members can get to know each other and form bonds that will carry over into their daily work. Instead of budgeting for elaborate team building events, you can budget for low key social time, maybe even offsite, where everyone can observe how another restaurant functions.
Restaurant Staff can get to know each other through informal events such as:
- Cleaning up a park
- Yoga class
- Visiting the zoo
- Visiting a nearby restaurant
2. Specify Long-Term Company Goals
All employees, whether front- or back-of-house, should be clear on the long-term goals of your business. This should be covered when new employees are hired, and regular updates should be made via staff meetings.
If a restaurant doesn’t have clearly defined, measurable goals for service and sales – then it’s hard to keep everyone on the same page. If everyone knows that the organization’s goal is to turn tables at least three times per shift, this will help all team communications and keep everyone moving in the same direction.
3. Clarify Employee Individual Roles
If there is any ambiguity regarding roles and responsibilities, it’s impossible for people to work together effectively. Even worse, you may end up with situations where workers are unfairly delegating their work to others – which creates resentment.
To combat conflict in your restaurant, it’s important for the roles and responsibilities to be clearly documented. This documentation should be available for all to see in an employee handbook or posted in the back-of-house, so people can refer back to it if there is a clash of opinions regarding obligations.
To avoid confusion, each new employee should be referred to this document as part of their onboarding process. In relatively small environments like restaurants, it is essential for workers to know the exact responsibilities of every person in the organization, in addition to the responsibilities of their immediate teammates.
4. Hire Cohesive Teams with Wise Hiring Practices
A lot of restaurants suffer from terrible, ineffective hiring processes. Ultimately, your hiring process should be used to predict how well a new recruit will work long-term with your customers, other staff, and you.
Instead, interviews usually accomplish very little other than making the interviewer feel superior by asking ridiculous questions such as: “If you were to get rid of one state in the U.S., which would it be and why?”
While it would be great if most organizations could completely overhaul their hiring process, one incremental improvement would be to involve more team members that the new hire is set to work with.
A manager may be looking for very different criteria than the new recruit’s team members. If a person ticks all the boxes in terms of skills and culture, but there are potential personality clashes with team members, this will do more harm than good when the new employee arrives.
Every person that a new hire works with on a daily basis should be able to voice their opinion regarding the hiring process – not just the recruit’s direct manager.
5. Reward Excellent Teamwork with Formal Recognition
One of the best ways to build camaraderie in the restaurant workplace is to give formal recognition for employee achievements. One of the best things to praise your employees for is excellent teamwork.
If an individual goes above and beyond their role to help the business as a whole, ensure that they feel appreciated for their efforts. Also, remember to appreciate employees who go out of their way to help other employees in need, even if this doesn’t correlate with their daily responsibilities.
Showing gratitude for altruistic behavior is an excellent way to create an awesome, friendly culture. When you have a workplace where people are rewarded for helping one another, teamwork will naturally improve.
Recognition can come in the form of kind words from a direct manager, or perhaps a reward like a gift card or a weekend off with a description of the achievement.
6. Employee Field Trips
It could be invigorating for your team to learn off-site. Plan a trip to another restaurant or destination to spark ideas. Whether it’s to find inspiration for a new menu or reinforce the values of good customer service, take a trip to give your staff a new perspective.
Go and see how other restaurants feel, take in the atmosphere, and take notes. After your trip with your team, have an open discussion about what they liked and didn’t like about their experience, and how those insights can create a better working environment for your team.
Have your staff take notes on what they like and dislike to compare at your next staff meeting regarding:
- Server Interaction
- Artwork and ambiance
- Serving sizes
- Time to be seated
- Quality of food
- Overall Service quality
7. Treat Team Members Like Adults: Avoid Micromanaging
If you treat your employees like children who can’t be expected to work like unsupervised adults, don’t expect them to work together as an effective team! In order for teamwork to flourish, respect is required.
It’s important to specify goals and give employees all the tools they need to perform to the best of their abilities, but when you micromanage, employees will be less inclined to work effectively and more inclined just to do what’s required to please their direct manager.
Even if an employee is fully committed to customer service or efficiency in the kitchen, they will never perform to the best of their abilities if they have someone breathing down their neck.
As an alternative to micromanaging, build a culture of trust, respect, and honesty. If you create a wonderful culture, teamwork will naturally flourish.
8. Ask for Employee Feedback from all Team Members
Oftentimes, great ideas can come from unexpected places. In order to achieve the long-term goals of the business, it’s wise to solicit ideas and feedback from all roles within the restaurant – from the dishwasher to the owner.
Brainstorming sessions can be great for generating ideas, but there are some disadvantages. Sometimes, the people who provide the most contribution are the ones who’re naturally outgoing and talkative – rather than the ones with the best ideas!
To solve this, open as many feedback channels as possible. Some employees will deliver excellent insights during one-to-one meetings with their managers, whereas others may prefer to voice their opinions using an anonymous feedback box.
If everyone within the organization can deliver meaningful feedback using their preferred channel, and it’s obvious that management takes this feedback seriously and makes appropriate changes – this creates an excellent workplace culture where everyone feels valued.
Your workers don’t have to become best friends in order to work effectively with one another, but practicing good communication is important.
From a cultural perspective, the management team should lead by example and demonstrate good communication. A great way to do this is to encourage managers to listen carefully to their staff and solicit honest feedback.
If managers are behaving in ways that make life difficult for their teams, but people are too scared to speak up due to the risk of being fired – this will create a problem. In order for a team to work together, communications need to be open and genuine.
In a survey of workers in the United Kingdom, 42% stated they had left a job in the past because of a bad manager. Encouraging feedback helps to improve communications but also reduces employee turnover.
9. Offer a Study Room for Student Restaurant Staff
It’s well-known that students make up a sizeable chunk of the restaurant workforce. If this is the case at your restaurant or café, show your staff that you recognize their personal life and create a quiet space for them to study during breaks. Having a designated area will remove part of their anxiety when preparing for exams and, in turn, help them to focus more on the job.
If your team isn’t made up of students, the better fit would be creating a nice break room. Add a splash of color (green reduces stress and blue focuses the mind) and bring the outdoors indoors with some bright plants. Giving employees a nice space to decompress ensures that they come back refreshed for the second part of their shift.
10. Develop a Workplace Health Program
Working out becomes a low priority when you’re on your feet all day, and a lack of exercise can lead to health issues. Help your staff avoid problems with their health by sharing these 10 exercises you can do on shift when you work in a restaurant:
- Lengthen your torso
- Knee-to-elbow twists
- Lean ‘n lift side crunch
- The leaning plank.
- Keep the abs flexed
- Arabesque leg lifts
- Squeeze the glutes
- Arm swings
Exercise and fitness are key to improving one’s well-being. It’s not about losing weight; it just feels good to be stronger and fitter.
11. Serve Healthy Snacks and Drinks to Staff
Wake up staff brains and bodies with healthy meal options, a juice bar, free fruit, nuts, or other wholesome snacks. It’s not uncommon for employees to pour a coke and eat free breadbasket. Once a week isn’t an issue, but in the long term, your employees will feel bad about this type of diet and start to resent their job. By offering healthy meals, drinks, and snack choices, you keep your employees feeling confident and alert.
12. Provide Continuous Training
With ongoing training, you can emphasize the values of your brand, share ideas, solve problems, and build a dream team.
A knowledgeable, highly-trained team accomplishes its responsibilities with expertise, confidence, and intelligence. In any industry, a business has a competitive edge when employees are given ongoing training sessions. Consider how the best doctors don’t stop learning once they receive a diploma; many continue their education throughout their entire career. Just like when visiting a doctor, a customer feels peace of mind when they are in good hands at a restaurant.
There is no doubt that restaurants increase their productivity, customer service experiences, and more by simply having a knowledgeable, well-trained staff. With ongoing training, you can emphasize the values of your brand, introduce new cooking techniques or ingredients, share ideas, solve problems, and build a dream team.
When training is continuous, you get a chance to improve your training programs and correct negative behavior.
13. Host Training Discussions
Part of ongoing training can also be hosting lively discussions. One great way to start an authentic and engaged discussion with the staff is to give employees a restaurant allowance to dine at your competitors’ restaurants. In exchange, have them give a full report of their meal at the next pre-shift meeting.
Ask questions, encourage detailed answers, and through this experience, your team gains a deeper understanding of their lessons with you.
If you’re not sure how to start or you don’t know how to put ongoing training in place, the National Restaurant Association, the Council of Hotel and Restaurant Trainers, and local speakers/trainers can be reached for help.
14. Keep Training Sessions Short and Frequent
The most straightforward approach to ongoing training is to give 15-minute lessons during pre-shift meetings. Throughout November and December, this method is ideal as the numerous holiday celebrations will require vigilant performance reviews and teamwork.
Some important topics to highlight, especially as you ready staff for the winter holidays, are:
- The basics of being a great server
- The tenants of good service: Speed, professional communication, and consistency
- The steps to handle a crisis: Evaluate the situation, keep a log, and know who to call if a situation gets serious
- How to upsell with food and wine pairings
- How to avoid tip confusion with foreign tourists
- The different ways to boost table-turnover rates
- The right way to handle an unhappy customer
The pre-shift classes can be taught by any team member and should cover everything from cooking demonstrations to cocktail tastings.
Lavu Pro Tip: Don’t forget your management staff—everyone needs a refresher training course. Review what it takes to be an effective manager with your team leaders.
15. Host Motivating Competitions
It should be said that competition does not work for everyone. Depending on the group and environment, though, competition can be a driver of great improvement. The problem is that many businesses make the mistake of either pushing their employees too hard, pitting people against each other (the result often being a fractious, hostile work environment), or forcing the staff into a lame competition.
The kind of competition you want to strive to create at your restaurant should have these qualities:
- Ultimately, it’s fun and entertaining
- Employees feel good participating, even if they don’t “win.”
- The competition pushes participants far enough outside their comfort zone to be exciting yet isn’t daunting
For example, famed NYC-based restaurateur Danny Meyer (the man behind Shake Shack) introduced the Barista Olympics after investing in Joe Coffee. Through the friendly competition, the coffee services were greatly improved—from menu selections to speed of delivery.
If it’s possible, develop your own competition to boost creativity or highlight a skillset.