Labor was among the most prevalent topics on the floor at this year’s National Restaurant Association Show. The labor shortage has impacted every brand, from major chains to single-unit independents. Instead of playing labor strategies close to the vest for a competitive advantage, many operators are sharing what’s working—and what’s not—for hiring and retention.
One common theme has been a shifting restaurant workplace culture. Operators throughout the Show shared how they are implementing strategies and best practices to help create an environment that promotes openness, career growth and a sense of belonging among employees.
1. Allow for a de-stress break
At Flight Club and AceBounce, two eatertainment restaurants in Chicago, employees are encouraged to take a break throughout their day for 10 minutes to go play darts or pingpong. Rick Gresh, the brands’ director of U.S. culinary operations,said that the breaks help make work less stressful for employees and also reminds them of the restaurants’ mission to create a fun experience for guests.
2. Pair the hard convos with something light
When talking about serious topics such as harassment training, Kendall Ware, president and COO of Orange Leaf Frozen Yogurt, makes sure to pair the heavier stuff with something lighter such as a new LTO. “If you put all your emphasis on something that is not as fun or attractive, it's just not going to gain as much attention,” he said.
3. Be open
Having delt with anxiety and depression throughout his career, Brother Luck, chef and owner of Four and Lucky Dumpling in Colorado Springs, Colo., decided to be open with his staff about his struggles. He says that it has changed the culture of his restaurants for the better: “[Employees’] perception of me as a chef is no longer intimidation. They feel like I'm approachable and they know that they're not crazy, that they're not the only one going through something. My story has become very powerful for them,” says Luck. “Dropping that wall and changing my leadership style has actually made our business a much healthier place.”
4. Promote culture consistency
Instilling a positive workplace culture is not a one-time thing, according to Luck, who said that operators need to keep bringing their restaurants’ culture and mission to employees on a frequent basis. “It's just constant repetition,” he said. “You know, if somebody does something wrong, it's that way of saying, ‘Hey, this is not how we do this.’ It is constantly repeating things.”
5. Let staff fail
At Floriole Cafe and Bakery in Chicago, chef and co-owner Sandra Holl is learning how to step away when needed and let her staff learn and grow on their own. “These people want to do their job. They want to do it well, and sometimes they're going to fall down, and they have to learn how to become self-sufficient,” she said. “Allowing people to fail, I think, is really, really crucial and important.”
6. Feature actual employees in training videos
Employees are the star of training videos at Brinker International. Nicole DaCosta, senior manager of learning and development, said that featuring employees in the videos is a fun way to engage staff, and it’s easier on the budget as well.
7. Implement quarterly performance reviews
Chipotle has moved away from traditional yearly performance reviews and instead has switched to holding reviews with staff every quarter. During the meetings, team members gather and talk about what they accomplished in the past quarter, what they’re looking to get done for the next quarter and what development skills they want to learn.
“As we've started moving forward and having these conversations, [employees] really liked it,” said Michele Lange, director of field training. “People want feedback, and they want it more frequently than having to wait an entire year.”
8. Push positivity
As the industry has started to shift its idea of workplace culture, Luck said that operators now need to encourage staff to get engaged and connect with one another. “We've done away with the aggressive, ‘I'm going to throw a pan and I'm going to throw a tantrum,’ attitude,” he says. “We need to start to embrace the positive side.”
Every six months, staff at Luck’s restaurants take part in an activity together such as beach volleyball or going on a hike. Luck is also hosting a sober week, when, instead of going to the bar while not on shift, employees are encouraged to focus on healthy eating and participate in wellness activities such as yoga.
Learning how to properly communicate with a wide range of personality types is something that Mari Katsumura, executive chef at Yugen and Kaisho in Chicago, said has helped her work better with her staff.
“I just realized that, you know, one person may not respond well to a specific tone that I have. So I need to speak to that person differently,” she said. “Or there's another person that may not understand my sense of humor, so I need to be more blunt. There are specific personality traits that I need to communicate with differently.”
11. Set up group chats
To encourage dialogue among staff, Luck has set up private group text chats for back-of-house and front-of-house employees that let them give encouragement and feedback to each other.
“[The group chats] are where the communication happens. This is where they switch schedules, where we give high fives and where we do corrections,” said luck. “[The employees] hold each other accountable. They'll post a picture [in the group chat] and say, ‘This is not how we set up this coffee station’ … and all of a sudden, they're talking back and forth.”