In an employment market in which noncommercial workers might leave to make a couple of cents more per hour at a QSR, helping them feel valued and engaged is more crucial than ever. Luckily, noncommercial operators often work hard to create a thoughtful, fun and energizing culture that makes foodservice employees and managers more likely to stay. Here’s how several best-in-class FSDs prioritize employee engagement in their operations.
Invest in training
Ohio Living, a group of 13 senior living communities with 400 foodservice employees, launched a partnership in August with Rouxbe, an online culinary training program that includes more than 80 video tutorials on fundamentals such as knife skills, brining and bread-making. While the program isn’t currently required of employees, John Andrews, division director of culinary and nutrition services, knows the gesture is appreciated. Residents tell him they’ve heard from employees that are excited about the new training.
Maintain a voice
The University of Missouri, with 29 units in its Campus Dining Services, holds a quarterly employee advisory meeting with a representative from each unit or group of units. Often, members come up with new ways of doing things, such as simplifying a process or changing a policy or procedure, says Nancy Monteer, director of campus dining services. The group has been going strong for about 10 years now. “We found that has really helped people feel like they’re not just a cog in the wheel, but contributing to the success of students,” Monteer says.
Enable conference travel
Managers at the University of Wisconsin-Madison’s Union Dining & Hospitality, with 25 full-time and 1,200 student employees, are sent to conferences such as the National Restaurant Association Show and Wisconsin Restaurant Association Show, as well as the National Association of College and University Food Services (NACUFS) regional and national gatherings. When they return, they present the most interesting things they learned. This opportunity for peer-to-peer learning leaves employees energized. But the entire division team also benefits, says Josh Berg, the Union’s director of support services.
In the senior living sector, conferences are less frequent, but Ohio Living recently sent six people to the first Senior Dining Association Conference, held in Charlotte. Two of the organization’s chefs won in the culinary competition held there. “It’s all about the training, the food, the experience,” Andrews says. “It’s much-needed in our industry.”
Hold dynamic events
The University of Missouri shows appreciation for its staff at an annual Fun Day. In the morning, employees can participate in a culinary event, such as a competition or culinary Olympics, and in the afternoon they can participate in fun activities, including bowling, laser tag, basketball, board games or a photo booth. “It contributes to team-building, because in our day-to-day lives, those 29 units don’t see each other. It brings everybody together as a larger department,” Monteer says. “It’s a huge morale-booster in that it is recognition for staff.”
Similarly, Ohio Living has been holding an annual competition at a local culinary school for seven years. Everyone from line cooks on up participates in the mystery-basket competition, which is judged by industry chefs. “It’s been a way to build bonds between our campuses,” Andrews says. “I think it’s one of the biggest team-building events we do.”
Stay conscious of the small things
At the University of Wisconsin, Berg is conscious of smaller benefits, those that simply make work easier for employees, such as buying nonslip shoes as a department once a year and getting chefs’ jackets laundered. With on-campus parking expensive, he makes sure employees benefit from $45 annual bus passes, too.
Wisconsin student and full-time employees also have a say, through working committees, on their uniforms. For instance, they wear sweat-wicking logo shirts while working outside on the Union’s famous lakeside terrace in warmer weather. “They’re very proud with the history of the Union and having that logo and being part of it,” Berg says. “I believe when an individual has a voice and is an active part of that decision-making, there’s more ownership and more pride.”
Focus on the mission
For the past six years, Missouri Campus Dining student employees have been hired with the promise that they would gain valuable transferable skills. Job postings mention teamwork, customer service and problem-solving that will be applicable in jobs beyond foodservice, no matter what a student’s major or career. Campus Dining also holds an annual workshop to help student employees develop their leadership skills, Monteer says.
Encouraging employees to prioritize customer service for senior residents works well at Ohio Living. “We encourage not just our chefs but our cooks to come out to the dining room and get to know our residents,” Andrews says. “They see you’re not just cooking a meal—you’re making somebody’s day.”