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5 ways to set up restaurant staff for success

Restaurant Business’ GMs of the Year shared how they cultivate a strong team culture during a session at the National Restaurant Association Show.
GMs of the Year
GMs Wendy Lopez, Sammie Flippen and Dwaine Stoneroad chat with RB Editor in Chief Jonathan Maze. / Photo by Kimberly Kaczmarek

National Restaurant Association Show attendees had a chance to hear from the three winners of Restaurant Business’ inaugural General Manager of the Year contest. During a Sunday session, the GMs discussed what drew them to foodservice, their wisdom on cultivating a strong team culture and more.

Here are some of the insights they shared.

Cross-training is critical.

Dwaine Stoneroad, GM of an O’Charley’s unit in Charleston, S.C., says he cross-trains for every position in his restaurant, a strategy that helps combat absenteeism and was instrumental during the pandemic. As a motivational tool, his employees can get a 25-cent raise for learning a new position in the unit. They can work their way to a $1 raise pretty easily, he says, and are also able to get more hours the more positions they know.

Search for that something extra.

When it comes to new team members, Wendy Lopez of Endiro Coffee looks for people who are “hungry for more than just the money.” Endiro, a certified B Corp. based in Uganda, is more of a mom-and-pop concept and having workers who have bought into the mission and are there for the long term is essential, says Lopez, GM of the brand’s shop in Aurora, Ill. “I created a community inside the restaurant, and we connect with the community outside the restaurant,” she says.

Culture starts at the interview.

Transparency and honesty are key, all of the GMs agreed, noting that it’s important to be clear from the outset about your expectations for employees and what they can expect from you in return. That extends to the interview process as well. Stoneroad added that he never hires anyone on the spot after an interview—when you ask someone if they want the job, they’ll “just say what you want to hear,” he says. Instead, he gives prospective employees his business card, asks them to think about whether the job would be a good fit and call him the next day with their answer.

Don’t let a bad shift snowball.

There are times when you want to go into the walk-in and cry, but keeping a positive mindset can go a long way in turning things around, says Sammie Flippen, GM of a Noodles & Co. in Colorado Springs, Colo. She says she maintains the attitude that there will bad days, but that nothing stays bad forever. It’s an outlook she also tries to impart to her staff, adding that she wants her restaurant to be a safe space where employees can leave behind some of their worries from the outside world.

Find tools that develop togetherness.

Stoneroad uses a “circle of life” metaphor to encourage camaraderie among his staff and illustrate how they all succeed if every person on the team does their job. For example, hosts are responsible for greeting guests with a smile; servers must be knowledgeable about the menu; and back-of-house staff are in charge of creating a meal that looks and tastes good. If everyone does their job well, guests will be more likely to return, and that benefits everyone. 

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