It shouldn’t be much of a revelation that your servers, hostesses, chefs and bussers are your most valuable people. Yes, managers, GMs, owners and investors lead the business from the top, but your service staff allow it to operate on a daily basis. The best racecar driver in the world is useless if he neglects to refill the tank and his car runs out of gas. Leading restaurant staff is of course more complicated than maintaining a car, but they both share the themes of consistent assessment and reflection on how to improve.
Valuing your service staff is far from formulaic, and relies more on creating an overall positive culture that naturally fosters motivation and performance. That said, here are a few best practices that can help you empower your service staff to be the best they can be.
Focus on each person individually.
Everyone’s unique. This is far from new news as well, but surprisingly managers and executives across industries continue to put everyone in similar job functions in the same bucket when it comes to communication and incentivizing. In the end it’s actually much easier to develop relationships with your people and assess what motivates them as individuals, rather than wildly guess at one central policy and hope it resonates with everyone that the policy affects.
Take the time to meet with your service staff one-on-one. What do they do outside of work? What drives them in life and how can you apply that motivator to help them be their best under your wing? If you run a huge operation and can’t possibly have these conversations with everyone, then be sure that your management team does, and that you have these conversations with your management team. There should be a personal connection at every level. Sure, it takes time at the beginning, but this approach sure saves time and helps you achieve the results you’re looking for in the end.
Embrace mistakes as learning opportunities.
If your service staff operates under a culture of fear, then there’s minimal desire to take risks and try out approaches that could improve restaurant sales or efficiency, not to mention that your turnover will be quite high. Allowing your executive chef to explore new recipes and kitchen procedures might lead to a new signature item and faster turn times. Giving servers the chance to try out different upsell approaches could improve your average check.
"What’s important is matching their desired means of recognition—this goes back to developing personal relationships"
Not every experiment will go well. New menu items can flop. Different communication tactics can accidentally alienate a group. The way to go about these situations is by direct, positive communication where the genuine goal is to assess what went wrong, how to alleviate the situation and how to improve from here. By focusing on the upside and showing your appreciation for their collaboration, you’re empowering your staff to continue thinking critically for the betterment of your business.
Reward positive performance frequently.
Not everyone likes to be recognized or rewarded in the same way, but everyone likes to be recognized and rewarded. Chefs that consistently turn out killer food and servers that frequently earn rave reviews are not ‘just doing their job,’ they are doing their job very well and deserve to be recognized as such.
To reward a staff member for positive performance, you don’t need to put on a big show every time, or even most of the time. What’s important is matching their desired means of recognition—this goes back to developing personal relationships and knowing whether someone likes being called out in front of a group vs. privately, for example—and doing this often. Convey your appreciation with a simple ‘thank you.’ Perhaps a better shift or a comped meal every once in a while will help, but it’s the direct validation from you that can be done most often and will hit home.
Be sure to keep things in check: you want to make sure you’re communicating with each of your staff frequently, so even if someone isn’t going above and beyond you want to talk to them often to see how things are going and what you can do to help them improve. Convey that you love having them on staff and they’re not doing anything wrong [unless they are], and if the trust is there they will work with you to rise above and beyond.
These cultural practices are much easier said than done, and there are so many more to be discussed. Be on the lookout for future points on this topic.
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Benjamin Brown is a seasoned restaurant writer and hospitality consultant, serving up SoCal's hottest food news and reviews.