Culture is an often-repeated buzzword within the working world. It’s more often heard in corporate structures than restaurants, so it can be easy for us restaurant folk to forget the concept entirely. But, the reality is, culture is especially important in the restaurant and bar industries. Many employees work well over forty hours per week, surrounded by the same handful of people. For many F+B superstars, ‘work-family’ is closer than actual family. So, if your employees don’t particularly like the people (or the place) that they’re spending all of this time around… well, that’s going to be a problem.
Culture doesn’t just affect the mood of your employees, it affects their ability to get work done effectively, which means it, in turn, affects your bottom line. Culture can also help define your brand and shape the future of your restaurant or bar. With that in mind, it’s crucial to deliberately and purposefully build a cohesive and healthy culture in your establishment. Here’s how to do exactly that.
As the leader of the business, it’s your job to define the culture. It’s your duty to set the standards through example and through communication. Each employee needs to recognize that a specific level of effort is expected from their position. This doesn’t mean you have to be breathing down everyone’s necks, but it’s critical to properly define what is expected of your workers. In our industry, it’s easy for servers and bartenders to fall into ruts, and to just show up. It’s important that, as the leader, you define verbally and through your actions what level of service you expect.
Don’t just hire according to resume and work experience. When it comes to culture, personality often is just as important as -- if not more than -- experience. People can easily learn new working skills… if they have the right personality! You can’t teach a new personality (not in a few months, anyway). To hire the best people for the culture of your establishment, we suggest weighing personality just as heavily as work experience. Conduct thorough, one-on-one interviews that don’t feel overly formal or examination-like. Get to know each other! And remember -- they are working for you, but they’re also working with you.
Be a Driver For Change
When things need to change, you should be the one to kick that off. Creating culture starts at the top. And with such a high turnover in the restaurant industry, it can be easy to let bad behavior and poor performance go (“They won’t even work here much longer…”). Instead, try to stop bad culture before it gets a chance to spread. And trust us -- bad culture will spread. Have an open and honest dialogue with your team whenever one is needed. Clearly specify any problems at hand, and make genuine, constructive suggestions on how to rectify those issues.
As the leader of the operation, your employees will look to you (knowingly or even subconsciously) for cues on how to conduct themselves. With that said, it’s critical that you embody the culture that you’re trying to build -- consistently. In addition, you should aim to consistently enforce your standards in day-to-day operations. If one employee is allowed to act in a way that is not fitting of your team culture, then their workers will take a cue from that. For this reason, it’s critical to consistently build culture amongst your team.
What’s In It For Me?
We generally file this one under the ‘necessary evils’ category. It would be great if everyone could just get on board with your vision of culture, but that isn’t going to be the case. It’s critical to explain to your staff how building a positive working culture will impact their day-to-day lives. A better culture means a more cohesive environment, which means smoother shifts, which means happier customers...which then means… more tips! It’s important to explain this to your employees. The more they can help you build a positive culture, the more money they’ll take home.
Building a culture around your staff isn’t a ‘set it and forget it’ project. In fact, it’s basically the farthest thing from ‘set it and forget it’ that you could possibly do. A culture needs to be tended to regularly, and reinforced often. It’s a living, breathing part of the restaurant that should be nurtured, reinstilled, and fed. Considering that employees tend to respond to the performance of their coworkers, it’s especially important to have your working culture regularly reinforced. This can be done through daily pre-shift meetings, companywide e-mails, or any other direct form of outreach.
Field trip anyone? Further education and enrichment is a great way to keep the culture alive and thriving at your establishment. We suggest any kind of relevant industry events, seminars, or even guest speakers. Many of your employees are likely very passionate about what they do, and tapping into that passion is a sure way to keep the positivity and good morale flowing around the workplace. Bartenders may enjoy quarterly trips to local breweries, while cooks or waitstaff could be interested in occasional company-funded nights out. Yes, there may be some amount of requisite investment, but building culture is well worth the money.
Take It Slow
Last but not least, don’t rush things. Be patient. Building culture is like building a house -- it takes time, teamwork, and dedication. A fantastic culture isn’t going to just show up overnight. Instead, it’s going to be a labor of love and hard work that will need constant encouragement. But, when you’re able to build that winning culture, it’ll pay off in everything from day-to-day operations, all the way to year-end profits.