7 Simple Ways to Build a Positive Culture in Your Restaurant Business

7 Simple Ways to Build a Positive Culture in Your Restaurant Business

by Sarina Flores, PHR-CA, Chief of Human Resources  

Establishing a positive work culture at your restaurant is essential to helping your restaurant prosper in today’s competitive business landscape. In addition to keeping your employees happy, a winning work culture will organically drive traffic to your restaurant and help your employees operate more efficiently.  Below is a look at seven simple ways to build a positive culture in your restaurant business.

Why is a positive work culture so important in the restaurant industry?

“With industry sales projected to climb to $863 billion in 2019, the restaurant industry shows no signs of slowing down. While operators are ‘generally optimistic about business conditions,’ it’s likely there won’t be a descent in competitive pressures this year…” – Beyond

Gaining an edge in the increasingly competitive restaurant industry is a must as we approach 2020. One of the best ways to do this is to develop a work environment that attracts and retains top talent. In her article, “Experts Say Success Starts with Culture,” QSR’s Denise Lee Yohn outlines some specific reasons why a positive restaurant work culture is important

  • You will keep your employees energized and engaged in their work
  • Your restaurant will attract more customers
  • Your employees’ decision-making skills will improve

In addition to these key points, Yohn notes that a strong culture keeps workers motivated “better than free food and other common perks—and in many cases even better than pay rates and benefits,” disputing the common notion that employee retention is strictly linked to pay.

What are seven ways you can transform your restaurant’s culture?

Whether you are planning to open your first restaurant next week or you have been in the restaurant industry for decades, it is never too late to turn your focus to your restaurant’s work culture. Here are some straightforward steps you can take to create a winning culture at your restaurant: 

1) Develop an engaging training program

The path to a positive culture begins with a well-structured, engaging training program. You can immediately set your restaurant culture apart from your competitors by making a habit of using the latest cutting-edge tools to train employees. For example, rather than simply throwing new servers to the wolves or having them shadow an existing employee, strive to develop a structured training program that delivers results. Here are a few tips:

  • Consider investing in iPads as a means of training employees and serving customers
  • Recognize employees who complete or exceed training requirements
  • Note any opportunities for improvement and design a simple plan to help employees to overcome them challenges

Don’t forget, training doesn’t end after the first week.  You must always be training and retraining all employees to insure consistency and confidence with your team.

2) Deliver a consistent brand message

“In my experience, when a culture underperforms, it’s often because the head office inconsistently messaged its purpose, values and brand promise. But when a brand dominates its market, it’s because the head office knows culture should be a matter of design, not default.” – Sean Kashanchi, Modern Restaurant Management

Consistency is key when designing an effective work culture. From the moment they walk through the door of your restaurant for their initial interview, prospective employees should be able to grasp your restaurant’s vision and brand message. This brand message should be communicated regularly and consistently throughout the onboarding and training process and ingrained throughout the employee’s tenure with your restaurant.

3) Feature an open-door policy

Your employees should feel comfortable approaching you with their questions and concerns. You can showcase that you care by resolving to set yourself apart from restaurant owners and managers who spend much of their time behind a closed door. While you may not be able to keep your door open every second of the day, you can illustrate your open-door policy by noting your day’s schedule on the front of your door so your employees will know when you will be available.

4) Launch friendly competitions 

Restaurant HR experts agree that friendly competitions help drive performance and reduce turnover. Here are just a few cost-effective ideas that can help jump-start your employees while infusing some fun into your daily operations:

  • Establish an “Employee of the Month” competition
  • Hold periodic “Face Offs” during which employees compete to see who can sell the most during a shift
  • Place a ballot box in your office where people can nominate their peers for a specific job well done. Then draw a name each month and read the feedback aloud during your staff meeting.

5) Establish a zero-tolerance policy for drugs, discrimination, and disruptive behavior

Protecting your employees is essential to keeping them happy and engaged. The most effective way to help them feel safe at work is to set a zero-tolerance policy for disruptive or dangerous behaviors at your restaurant. In addition to outlining your policy in your employee handbook, you should reinforce this policy during training and periodically during meetings. 

6) Recognize star performers

Top performers deserve accolades and recognition. Verbal praise, social media shout-outs, certificates, and gift cards are all effective ways to keep employees motivated and performing well. However, as you focus on keeping your all-stars happy, do not forget to zero in on your other employees. By receiving regular feedback and guidance, employees who struggle initially can become top performers also. 

7) Combat the “Temporary Job” mindset

“You talk to an employee (of a restaurant) here in the U.S. and it is nothing to be proud of…’It’s a job until I graduate or until I’m back on my feet,’…No one who thinks of a job as temporary is motivated.” – Abraham Pizam, Founding Dean of Rosen College of Hospitality Management at The University of Central Florida

It is no secret that many restaurant employees are part-time or start a position with the intent of moving on to a different job when their employment opportunities expand. From servers, to hosts, to dishwashers, the “temporary job” mindset is so pronounced that the average tenure of a restaurant employee is one month and 26 days, creating an ongoing problem for restaurant owners seeking to sustain a positive, motivating culture. 

The temporary job mindset is not easy to erase. But you can combat it by hiring employees who indicate they are looking for a long-term home and by letting your employees know that you want them to stay with you for the long term. 

What is the single best path to building a positive culture at your restaurant?

As outlined above, there are many simple steps you can take to create an outstanding work culture that will help you attract and keep talented employees. But the single best way to establish a stellar culture at your restaurant is to seek the guidance of an accomplished restaurant HR expert. 

We invite you to contact us at the Flores HR team to discover how we can help you build a positive culture at your restaurant. With the help of our accomplished restaurant employee management specialists, we can give you the tools you need to establish a winning restaurant culture. We look forward to helping your restaurant thrive!  

If you have any questions about how these (or other) legal obligations apply to your own company, feel free to contact Ryan Nell at (858) 755-8500 or email rnell@pettitkohn.com