Restaurant operators often pay the price when workers feel they cannot bring their concerns to management. This summer, a then-supervisor at a Carl’s Jr. in Canada sent tapes of the store’s co-owner breaking multiple food safety laws to authorities. When the whistleblower tried to address the concern internally, he was allegedly met with stagnation and a warning not to talk about the co-owner’s actions, according to CBC News. Now, health officials have mandated that the operator not handle food until training has been completed, and the quick-service chain is conducting an independent safety audit of the location. But it doesn’t have to come to incriminating tapes, bad press and legal intervention. Here’s how operators are working to build healthy cultures, ones in which staff feel comfortable raising their voices.
Clarify channels of communication
On an employee’s first day at Mighty Quinn’s Barbeque—a fast-casual chain with locations in New York City, New Jersey, Taiwan and the Philippines—they meet every team member in the store. The workers share their full name and role with the onboarding recruits. “We make sure they know where they can get help from,” says co-founder Christos Gourmos.
At Boston restaurants Eastern Standard, The Hawthorne and Branch Line, back-of-house staff have a point person they can go to for any concerns. The restaurant group’s back-of-house coordinator, who also speaks Spanish, advocates for these individuals. “It’s been an incredible asset to talk to some of the cooks in their primary language,” says Molly Hopper Sandrof, director of people for the group. “They know he is someone they can go to when they need things.”
Don't blow up
When issues arise at Tasting Counter in Somerville, Mass., chef-owner Peter Ungar trains supervisors to take a step back instead of reacting emotionally. As part of supervisors’ training, they are taught to not discipline employees in the operation’s open kitchen. Instead, they are asked to collect themselves, and later sit down with employees to have a calm discussion. “Oftentimes, it’s a simple misunderstanding,” Ungar says. “You can never assume why someone is doing something the way they’re doing it.” With calmer heads prevailing, Ungar hopes team members feel more comfortable coming to managers with concerns.
Tasting Counter works to give team members ownership of their roles and has a rule against micromanaging. Ungar creates a task list for each of his crew members, and sets them loose to accomplish the tasks however they see fit. When employees check off all the items on their list, they are taught to help their teammates. “It creates this sense of teamwork and camaraderie, and they start to self-police,” he says. “They realize everyone standing around them is there to support them and can move forward without fear of being alone.”