It is easy to think of food as the product your restaurant sells, when in fact it is only one element of the service you provide to your customers. The tastiest dishes presented to a table by a disgruntled server affects the way the food is perceived. Motivated front-of-house staff cannot make up for food prepared by unmotivated kitchen workers. Your leadership is key in keeping your human resources on board and ensuring that service shines.
Lead By Example, Part One
Throw on an apron and pitch in now and then. When "the boss" shows there is no onion too menial to chop, that message gets through to those who see you, and through word of mouth to those who don't. Jump on bottlenecks, clear tables and ask your staff how you can help.
Lead By Example, Part Two
Show consistency. Do not treat your customers civilly while lashing at employees in the back of house. How you treat people sets the tone on how they treat each other, and this is the essence of leadership, particularly in your industry. When you want your staff to handle pressure and frustration with grace, you must do so too.
Who you are defines what your restaurant will be. Share your vision. Provide a mission statement for your workers and post it. Write job descriptions for all staff and include performance expectations. Get everyone on the same page and motivation will happen with tweaks rather than overhauls.
Most people feel pretty strongly about their ability to do their jobs well, so listen when employees have frustrations, suggestions and comments. Don't explain, let them vent. Think of it as a pressure valve, restoring equilibrium. Remember times in your own life when you've felt better "just talking about it."
The Real World
Time in the food service industry is, for many, a rite of passage. They are students, actors, housewives and retirees with lots going on outside of work. Post a board prominently featuring notes and news clippings on the accomplishments of staff. Let them know you see them as people beyond their jobs.
Reinforce positive performance on the spot. A quick, heartfelt "way to go" gives anyone an instant boost. Share positive comments from your customers with staff. If a service goes smoothly, say so. Focusing on things that go right motivates people to repeat behavior.
Reap The Rewards
Praise is essential, but all talk will wear thin with time. Gestures of reward show you walk the talk. It may be something as simple as buying staff a drink or as elaborate as having staff-only shirts embroidered. Your employees will recognize your commitment of time, thought and money in acknowledging their hard work.
Soften The Blows
Mistakes happen, and you will have to redirect employee performance. Deal with the error dispassionately, no matter how it makes you feel. Ask the worker if he understands, then finish with a positive comment. Telling a kitchen worker, "hey you did great on the prep station last night," makes it likely the worker will address the mistake to add to the good things you catch him doing.
Take It Outside
Get out of the restaurant, and take your staff with you. Try a bowling night or a pool party. Perhaps you can rent a screen at a multiplex cinema, just for your staff. It's a tangible reward, and it gives a way for staff to relate to each other outside the daily pace of the restaurant.
Show Them The Money
Be competitive whenever possible. You do not have to be the best-paying restaurant in town. You do need to be in the middle, or you may end up as a training ground for your competitors. Competitive pay along with demonstration that you value each staff member, as a worker and as a person, assures your image as a good employer.
A full-time content creation freelancer for over 12 years, Scott Shpak is a writer, photographer and musician, with a past career in business with Kodak.