When talking to full-service restaurant owners nationwide, their biggest issue has centered around recruiting and maintaining strong talent. I’m repeatedly asked, “What’s the best way to advertise and find good staff?” To which I reply: Attract them organically through your operations and culture.
It used to be as simple as posting a Craigslist ad. By the end of the day, we’d have 100 resumes in our inbox. But those days are over, and just like anything else, survival is dictated by adaptation. There’s no point looking back or reminiscing. The question is now, how do we do better than our competitors?
Look at the restaurants in your city. Chances are there are at least one that is always killing it, who is always full, who always has buzz, and who never has a problem finding staff excited to join the team. They suffer the same challenges as every other restaurant in town, yet, right now, they are not worried about recruitment. Why? What are they doing differently?
Money plays a big role. The staff there probably makes more because it’s busy and popular, but it is more than that. What made them popular in the first place? Most likely it was a consistent product in a great environment. Now we are getting to the meat. So, how do we get individuals to come together to provide a consistent experience and still find ways to exceed expectations? This almost only happens if they are well trained and want to be there.
It’s no surprise that most successful chain restaurants all have rigorous training and onboarding processes. They spent the money, did the research, and found that there’s no debate. A well-trained staff performs better and delivers higher profitability.
Yet, in a recent poll of 50 restaurant owners in the Restaurant & Bar Owners, Operators & Managers Facebook group, even though nearly half said it’s critical to have mandatory and consistent training that’s fully immersive, just as many noted that training often gets sacrificed in the day-to-day operations.
“Training is often left to chance and thrown to the wayside,” says Jason Schofield, a restaurant consultant from Tampa, Florida. “New employees are trained on whatever the person assigned to train that day feels is most important. But to properly onboard employees, you need to know what to train, why it’s important, and how to train it.”
This is reminiscent of memories of my first few restaurant jobs. I recall too many owners patting me on the back, saying something about best intentions, followed by how the sink-or-swim method should prove beneficial.
While just over half of restaurant owners train with the use of manuals or guides, the rest seem to chance it, as Schofield suggests. The use of a guide or manual doesn’t guarantee success, but it works to establish a respected practice. What is the tone you have now created? What example have you set during these first impressions of your brand and culture? If management doesn’t take brand, concept and policy seriously, why would a staff?
If you want to build a strong training program, it’s all about consistency. The biggest theme with almost all successful restaurants from quick-service to fine-dining is their consistency–consistency of product, of expectations, and of service. This is all accomplished through consistent training. However, having a strong and consistent onboarding program isn’t enough. You can’t just cram in all information and walk away thinking your job is done.
Instead, consider a consistent application of daily pressure for both you and your staff. You must be consistent with rule enforcement. And more than that, you must focus on coaching and development so that your staff understands you’re pushing them to be better, not just better at following the rules.
“Teach them what they need to know, hold them accountable and then give them the freedom to make it happen,” says Joe Horn of DISH Café in Reno, Nevada. “If they have ownership of their output, they will be happier and work harder. Tell them when they do things right when they don’t expect it. Give them a reward when they earn it. Bonus them if they deserve it.
Respect is a two-way street; it is something you earn, not demand. If your staff respects you, there is no end to what they will do for you and your business.
James Madras of Xealous Coffee Network in Palm Springs, California, expands on that idea: “The real training comes through time and experience. There is a training moment every day in your store. It doesn’t matter the significance or how subtle the training is, it shows your people that you are always watching and that you truly care/value your people. The moment you stop training, your people become complacent, including yourself. This is when momentum dies, sales drop, performance lags, and people start pushing off accountability. An active culture holds all members accountable.”
This is why the next critical ingredient is leading by example. Don’t be a boss; be a leader. Get in there, get your hands dirty, dedicate yourself. Teach, train, mentor. Don’t just bark demands, but show them the way. Training is something you do, but culture is who you are. As Lionel Crespo of Kopper Keg North in Las Vegas explains, “When it comes to culture…that’s every day. You have to have staff buy-in to the concept.” What better way to enact buy-in, than through being the same, caring leader every day.
The next ingredient is the golden rule. Treat your staff how you would want to be treated in that same position. Be fair. Be empathetic. You want this to be a balanced relationship. You can’t scare positive culture into your staff. They have to want to buy in, and they will resist if it feels too one-sided. When managing everything from their schedules to pay to how you treat them overall, think about what you would want for your child or spouse if they were working that position. Consistent actions will build a culture where policies are followed, not through fear, but a genuine desire to perform.
“Constant reinforcement in a positive but authoritative manner” is key, says Elisha Nolan of Pennsylvania’s Alter House.
Set and make examples. If you are respected, they will want to work hard for you instead of against you.
Lastly, always remember that it’s all about the team. You’re building a chain that is only as strong as the weakest link. Hospitality is a team sport. All hands need to buy in. Develop leads and leaders. Establish accountability to each other. It’s about making the employee want to assimilate and follow your policies. Getting everyone involved creates a sense of shared ownership among your staff.
With proper training, consistency and positive culture, you can go from having a constant presence in the “help wanted” section, to getting referrals and recommendations from your top employees and regular guests. Build a place where people want to work, and they will. Focus on the people and the people will focus on you.