The restaurant industry is an insane environment to work in. In a full service restaurant, you have multiple “departments” that are crucially interdependent on one another. Restaurants function as a service assembly line; on that partially occurs in full view of guests. Communication is paramount in this situation. But often, workers are rushed, or don’t share the same first language. This complicated relay is a task restaurants perform hundreds of times on a busy Friday night. There are spaghetti-thin margins-of-error for a restaurant operating during service.
It takes a great staff to perform at a high level night in and night out. Great staff will keep the stress and chaos tucked behind smiles, out of guests’ view. But in an industry that has one of the highest rates of staff turnover, how do you keep a stellar restaurant staff motivated and clocked in?
I mentioned that communication during service is crucial. But it is equally important before service starts. Like any relationship, a working relationship needs to have a coherent and relevant stream of communication. Restaurants are an industry that experiences an extreme amount of variables on a week to week basis. Staff changes. A certain wine is 86’d because the bar manager forgot to order it (I’ve been that bar manager before, sorry guys.) Then there are things that are completely out of your control.
Ways to Improve Communication
I want to use a personal anecdote to illustrate what good communication consists of:
This summer, at my restaurant, we featured a delicious soft-shell crab dish on the menu. Unfortunately, due to cold water currents, the soft-shell crab season was cut extremely short. This sought-after crab population dwindled because they returned to their hard-shell state at a much faster rate than normal. Soft-shell crabs are caught during the brief time they shed their shells during warmer months before growing a new shell for the following winter. There is nothing that a restaurant can do about this. It’s the mother-of-all 86’s, because mother nature has done the 86’ing.
We dealt with the problem by telling them the exact backstory I just told you. Our servers knew exactly why we were out of the crabs. They were informed that the kitchen created a special dish for substitution. We also informed them that the item would remain on the menu for two more weeks. We told the servers this during our pre-shift meeting. And we told them that we wanted servers to inform guests of the situation before the guests’ hungry eyes lit up at the sight of soft-shell crabs. This is one of the important distinctions in communicating with workers. It’s best to not simply inform your staff of what is happening, but also tell them why it is happening. This gives them more confidence and authority when speaking to guests. Service staff needs to feel in control of a situation, even if it is out of their control.
Informing Your Staff Through Event Calendars
One of the most frustrating parts of working in the restaurant service industry is when you’re completely blind sided by a 60-person special event taking place 30-minutes after you start your shift. Oh, and then you’re told that you’ll be serving three speciality cocktails that your bar doesn’t normally serve, with ingredients you don’t normally carry.
This is infuriating for staff. To erase the pain of an unexpected shift spent cocktail-ing a private party, create an events calendar that is an common area of the restaurant. This could be in the locker room, or set by a service station or an area of the kitchen that isn’t prone to heavy traffic. Also, restaurants should take advantage of scheduling and communication apps like HotSchedules. I would like to see restaurants utilize messaging services like Slack for communicating between restaurant staff and departments. You can utilize these types of services to directly message and inform your staff about upcoming events, parties, or changes in service, so they are aware ahead of time and can make appropriate adjustments.
Restaurants can be difficult to staff because so many employees are working service jobs in order to generate income while they’re pursuing other things. Scheduling a staff that repeats the mantra, “this job is a second priority,” can be the ultimate stressor for a manager. What are ways to keep employees motivated at work?
How to Instill a Sense of Ownership
Good employees want to have ownership over their jobs. They want to know that their input that can change ineffective policies and improve service. Generally, people just want to participate in a space that lets them be heard. A way to create ownership is to have staff meetings when employees can suggest ideas. But a crucial part of this process is that managers must implement good ideas. Management should take server and bartenders’ ideas into account, they are the ones in the trenches and are subject to the woes of service.
Implementing an Open Door Policy
For more sensitive matters that shouldn’t be discussed in an open forum like a staff meeting, managers should implement an open door policy where staff can speak with them at anytime. If angry staff barging into your door at any-given second sounds terrifying and annoying, then allow them to set meetings with management to air out grievances and personal issues.
Hold Underperforming Employees Accountable
This sounds obvious, but often times bad employees are able to stick around for far too long. A lot of times in restaurants, if an employee isn’t stealing, drunk, or blowing off shifts, they won’t be fired. This will frustrate your good employees. Take decisive action on employees who aren’t performing to their standard you’ve set for service.
Creating Sales Contests
On the floor, the service industry is sales Create sales contests for staff. You can base these contests off of different factors. You could feature a product that you need to move, like the case of champagne that hasn’t sold. Reward the winner with a gift certificate or a paid day off. Or honestly, just give them a bottle of wine as a prize. Perks like this can really entice good staff.
Make Staff Aware of Their Sales Totals
Tell a server if they generated the highest sales on a given night. It may motivate them to try and repeat that next shift. Conversely, if a server has low sales, tell them. Hopefully this will motivate them to improve the next night. If doesn’t, you don’t want that staff member on the floor. Also, this open conversation will add insight into your servers’ experience on a night-to-night basis. You might find out what variables affected a servers sales total that night and be able to re-create that environment, or adjust, as necessary.
The kitchen and back-of-house, or BOH, is the forgotten star of a restaurant. Servers and bartenders make the tips, Chefs get their recognition in the media. But the line cooks are the ones sweating over hot grills, slicing fingers during prep, and cooking that delicious food that has earned your restaurant 4-stars on yelp. You’ve got to take care of your cooks. Now more than ever, as there is a noted shortage of professional cooks. Cooks work hard, but their pay doesn’t match it. The cooks I know who are least happy, are the ones who receive shift pay. This set amount of pay-per-shift means that cooks can clock a 13-hour day full of prep followed by manning the sauté station, and they will get the same pay if they worked an 8-hour shift. Pay cooks a competitive wage. And pay them by the hour. They’re just as important as your front of house staff.
Restaurants can be very difficult to run. And working in them is definitely stressful during service. There is a lot of pressure that is exacerbated by all the variables you can encounter, and it’s compounded by having to perform services on time, in a fast paced environment. When service is over, allow for a fun environment that is relaxed. Understand the need to unwind after service. Allow for a smoke break. Let an employee have a shift drink after they’ve clocked out. After working for years in restaurants I know how long hours can burn you out. Now that I work in an office, I recognize just how hard restaurant employees work. There is no hour lunch break at a restaurant. There is no time to surf the web on your phone when you’re behind the bar. When service has slowed for the night, allow your employees a breather. They’ll be better for it in the long run.