Building Company Culture: Restaurant Style
Great companies who get profiles in “best places to work” lists, usually share one principal element in their makeup: a great company culture. This principle, though sometimes difficult to pin down, refers to the way a company’s management and employees interact outside of standard “business” interactions. Essentially, it’s what you “feel” when you work somewhere, the total expression of a company’s values, goals, and attitudes.
Building restaurant company culture is easier said than done; it’s not one of those linear directives you can issue on a dime like say, a dress code. It’s an active process; one that will continually shift and evolve as new factors pop up in your operations. Still, small hinges swing big doors here, and the principles involved in creating an exceptional company culture are standard, from a fortune 500 multinational to a mom & pop shop. Follow our list to help build company culture in your restaurant and to see where you can improve.
Know your Core Values Up Front
Values drive a company culture, not skillsets. You must be able to articulate these values up front to determine your own company culture. Think about these values, and write them out. 3-5 is a good number, but there’s no limit to how many you can have in your restaurant. Once you’ve determined these specific values, work to enact processes and protocols that inform these values.This process might take some work. For example, if you value honesty, how do you work to enforce that in the culture? Create rules or put up a sign? These actions seem antithetical.
Think about the different areas of your restaurant, particularly the front and back-of-house. How might a value like “excellence” (for example) manifest itself? Your hosts at the front of house set the tone for the dining experience, while your kitchen staff prepares the food. Actions like thorough food preparation, careful cleaning, and unmatched politeness all contribute to the overall value of “excellence” even if different in their technicalities. Consider how you train employees to speak with guests or handle complaints. Think about your verbiage and branding. Consider how all of this represents those values you’ve determined. If something in your restaurant feels off, or inconsistent with your values, trust your gut and adjust.
Learn from Past Examples
Anyone working in this business long enough is bound to make some mistakes. Learn from your own! Look at things in the past that have worked, which have helped foster employee unity and company culture. See how well you’re utilizing those principles now. Examine those principles which weren’t so useful and make sure you’ve dropped, or tweaked them, to be in the right place now.
For example: maybe you worked in an establishment where frequent smoke breaks were the norm. How did this help, or hurt, your restaurant culture? Did it create divisions within the employees between smokers and non-smokers? How can you work to ensure this element of work culture doesn’t become something toxic, which hurts your restaurant culture? One example may be limiting smoke breaks per shift, or that a FOH employee can’t smoke if they have tables. Remember that in these efforts, structure your rules around the values you want to keep intact. Let employees know how these standards contribute to the company values.
If you’re new to this, that’s great too! Draw upon experiences you’ve had in other jobs, or departments, as well as resources from those who’ve been in it for longer. Remember, you can always emulate the companies who “get it right” when it comes to company culture (JetBlue and Zappos come to mind) and see what tactics from them you can employ. As a side note, remember to note who’s publishing the praise to try and work out any bias there.
Finally, ask your customers what they think! Traditionally, restaurant criticism is usually limited to when a guest is upset and inclined to post a negative review. Reverse this trend by just asking outright! They’ll often provide an alternate, unbiased lens to give you a unique perspective on their experience. Reward those staff members who consistently deliver these experiences.
Be the Example
Essentially, walk the walk. Company cultures don’t just “happen” when you mandate them, so don’t tell your employees what you want them to do. Show them in your actions. Let them know these aren’t half-baked esoteric concepts you’ve cooked up behind closed doors; show them how actionable they are. Show them how it works when things are, and aren’t going according to plan. Restaurant work is very rarely predictable.
Great managers practice a philosophy of never asking an employee to do something that they wouldn’t do themselves. To that end, actions speak infinitely louder than words (and cliches!). Don’t ask them to “buy into” your vision. Show them that it’s doable, and they’ll want to be involved themselves. It’s easier to build a restaurant company culture when everyone’s on board, management included. Be the example of what you want to create.
In any organization, especially a restaurant, great ideas honestly come from anywhere. In other words, employees from any department or status can (should!) contribute to building company culture, not just those who hold executive authority.
Create a channel, or a resource, through which employees can submit ideas in building company culture. Be open to these ideas, and willing to engage them. Naturally, you aren’t bound to any offered notion, but what may begin as an unreasonable request can evolve. Through compromise and consideration, you can shape it into something mutually beneficial for all. Remember that a free flow of ideas and contributions will always keep you, as a manager, in touch with your employees, and frankly lends you a perspective you don’t have.
If your employees feel like they can contribute to the restaurant’s company culture and have an actual effect on their working environment, they’re far more likely to adopt this culture themselves. If they know they have a process to contribute to it, they’re more likely to use it.
Hire Based on Values, not Just Skill Sets
In the restaurant world, specific skills are vital. You want to hire employees who can work with people, maintain composure under sustained bursts of activity and stress, and who can stay on top of a workload that shifts every 30 minutes. Though past job experience and skills will determine a potential hire’s effectiveness in your restaurant, remember to get an assessment of their values as well. Remember that values help drive actions too.
If you’re working to create a company culture, you want the most significant variable in your company (humans!) to work in line with those values. Someone with decades of background in restaurant work may be a competent addition to your staff, but if their values conflict with yours, they may be more trouble than they’re worth. In the interview process, work to determine their values, ask questions to assess these and don’t be afraid to let them know how important healthy company culture is to your big picture. This may involve asking them questions about more than just their work experience. Ask all kinds of questions.The more judicious you are up front, the less likely you’ll have an issue down the road.
Remember, there’s part of restaurant work which is straightforward, like creating exceptional guest experiences, an efficient restaurant, and a sustainable profit. Stress is also bound to enter the picture but can be subsided with technology that makes your employees’ lives easier, like a waitlist & reservation app for the front-of-house or a kitchen display system for the BOH.
Then there are the parts which are harder to define. By working to hone in on your own values, showcasing those values in every process you create, and by staffing your restaurant with others who share these values, you will build a winning company culture in your restaurant.
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About the Author
Dylan Chadwick is a Content Marketing Specialist at QSR Automations. He graduated from Brigham Young University with an English degree and loves to write about technology. When left to his own devices, he enjoys loud music, adorable dogs and documentaries about them.