Labor was among the most talked-about topics at this year’s National Restaurant Association Show. The labor shortage has impacted operations across the country, no matter their size. Instead of playing labor strategies close to the vest for a competitive advantage, many operators are sharing what’s working—and what’s not—when it comes to hiring and retention. Operators presenting throughout the Show shared how they are creating work environments that promote openness, career growth and a sense of belonging among employees. Read on for some of their ideas.
1. Allow for a de-stress break
At Flight Club and AceBounce, two eatertainment restaurants in Chicago, employees are encouraged to take 10-minute breaks throughout their day to play darts or pingpong. Rick Gresh, the brands’ director of U.S. culinary operations, said the breaks help make work less stressful for employees and also remind them of the restaurants’ mission to create a fun experience for guests.
2. Strike the right balance
When talking about serious topics such as harassment training, Kendall Ware, president and COO of Orange Leaf Frozen Yogurt, makes sure to pair the heavier stuff with something lighter, such as a new LTO. “If you put all your emphasis on something that is not as fun or attractive, it's just not going to gain as much attention,” he said.
3. Be open
Having dealt with anxiety and depression throughout his career, Brother Luck, chef and owner of Four and Lucky Dumpling in Colorado Springs, Colo., decided to open up to staff about his struggles. He said that has changed the culture of his restaurants for the better: “[Employees’] perception of me as a chef is no longer intimidation. They feel like I'm approachable, and they know that they're not crazy, that they're not the only one going through something. My story has become very powerful for them,” Luck said. “Dropping that wall and changing my leadership style has actually made our business a much healthier place.”
4. Promote culture consistency
Instilling a positive environment is not a one-time thing, according to Luck, who said that operators need to keep bringing their restaurants’ culture and mission to employees on a frequent basis. “It's just constant repetition,” he said. “You know, if somebody does something wrong, it's that way of saying, ‘Hey, this is not how we do this.’ It is constantly repeating things.”
5. Let staff fail
At Floriole Cafe and Bakery in Chicago, chef and co-owner Sandra Holl is learning how to step away when needed and let her staff learn and grow on their own. “These people want to do their job,” she said. “They want to do it well, and sometimes they're going to fall down, and they have to learn how to become self-sufficient. Allowing people to fail, I think, is really, really crucial and important.”
6. Feature actual employees in training videos
Employees are the star of training videos at Brinker International. Nicole DaCosta, senior manager of learning and development for the company, said that featuring employees in the videos is a fun way to engage staff, and it’s easier on the budget as well.
7. Make performance reviews more frequent
Chipotle has moved away from traditional yearly performance reviews, switching over to quarterly reviews. During the meetings, team members gather and talk about what they accomplished in the past quarter, what they’re looking to get done during the next one and what development skills they want to learn. “As we've started moving forward and having these conversations, [employees] really liked it,” said Michele Lange, director of field training for the chain. “People want feedback, and they want it more frequently than having to wait an entire year.”
8. Push positivity
As the industry has started to shift its idea of workplace culture, Luck said that operators now need to encourage staff to get engaged and connect with one another. “We've done away with the aggressive, ‘I'm going to throw a pan and I'm going to throw a tantrum,’ attitude,” he says. “We need to start to embrace the positive side.” Every six months, staff at Luck’s restaurants take part in an activity together such as beach volleyball or a hike. Luck is also hosting a sober week, when, instead of going to the bar while not on shift, employees are encouraged to focus on healthy eating and participate in wellness activities such as yoga.
10. Match tone to the staffer
Learning how to properly communicate with a wide range of personalities is something that has helped Mari Katsumura, executive chef at Yugen and Kaisho in Chicago, work better with her staff. “I just realized that, you know, one person may not respond well to a specific tone that I have, so I need to speak to that person differently,” she said. “Or there's another person that may not understand my sense of humor, so I need to be more blunt. There are specific personality traits that I need to communicate with differently.”
11. Consider a group chat
To encourage dialogue among staff, Luck has set up private group text chats for back-of-house and front-of-house employees that let them give encouragement and feedback to each other. “[The group chats] are where the communication happens. This is where they switch schedules, where we give high fives and where we do corrections,” said Luck. “[The employees] hold each other accountable. They'll post a picture [in the group chat] and say, ‘This is not how we set up this coffee station’ … and all of a sudden, they're talking back and forth.”