By Brian Murphy, Foodable Contributor
The hospitality industry is an industry of people. People can be quite complicated, so managing people when they are serving other people becomes quite difficult when all the variables of a restaurant are presented. There are rock-solid examples of establishments doing this, and plenty of success attached to them. Alternatively, the failure rate of restaurants is so high, it is almost common knowledge. Some reports say 75 percent of restaurants fail in the first three years, while some say 90 percent in the first year! Either way, a leading contributor to high failure rates is leadership. Successful leadership must be fair and consistent.
Going to the Principal’s Office
Think about different restaurant or bar offices in the industry. Some seem very welcoming, while some are a place to be avoided at all costs. The difference in this factor is quite telling, as a safe, approachable office gives employees a place to feel welcomed and valued in a variety of ways. A welcoming office vibe is representative of management style, and employees feel it from the start. No matter the decor, no matter the organization, the feeling the office gives employees and how it is used is a great place to start in examining fairness and consistency in the workplace.
Employees feeling welcome in the boss’ lair are more likely to be open and honest about the good and bad portions of the job, their desires, and the overall establishment. Think about it, an employee that feels safe in the office may look out for the establishment’s bottom line a lot more since they’ll know what was said in confidence won’t come back to haunt them. They will feel valued enough and not afraid to offer suggestions about the menu, logistics, etc. They will feel empowered and enlightened enough to know their worth, ergo comfortable asking for the raise they need to compete with the offer they received from a competing establishment. Alternatively, the office that is the forbidden land where people get called in and leave with their final checks is representative of reactionary, less-effective management. Employees that get the feeling they are being sent to the principal’s office are going to be hesitant about much of the necessary communication to keep the business moving in a positive direction.
Give Expectations and Stick to Them
This one is an issue for many restaurant managers and restaurateurs, especially new ones. Creating an employee manual is the start, and creating policies that not only cover the company legally, but set actual expectations is imperative to overall success. Training and review of the manual is important, so if the norm is to give employees a copy and suggesting they simply “sign here” in order to start training right away, the messages are conflicting from the start. New employees are going to feel the managers out, as well as the policies. When a manager talks a good game, trains well, and sets expectations up front, good employees will know what to prepare for. All should be well when training is complete, and in an environment where the rules are the rules, no matter the case, no matter who is involved, things should run smoothly. The moment a new employee sees one example of blatant exceptions to the rules they agreed to is the moment their mentality and level of respect changes. The moment the rules don’t apply to everyone is the moment the team is a less effective one. Employees do not want any grey area, simply because it isn’t fair to them.
Consider the establishment that mandates employees sign a handbook that clearly outlines the company’s zero tolerance policy on alcohol consumption on the job. Now consider the manager that, despite the company rules, feels it is okay to indulge in a round of shots for the bar staff late in the service on a really big night. The message that sends to bar staff, no matter how the round of shots was intended, is that it is okay to drink on the job, and the staff will forever try to push the envelope as to “when it is okay.” The server who happened to be at the service bar and witnessed the exception to the rule leaves the bar area feeling like they are working in an unfair environment. No good.
Creating a Safe Space
Employees that feel they can talk to a boss about any work issues, positive or negative, have less stress than those who don’t. The industry presents enough stress to the staff, piling on with wishy-washy decision making or playing favorites for any reason is unfair and hurting the establishment in a variety of ways. Employees that trip on the same broken tile on the cook line during every shift should feel comfortable bringing that up to management. Employees having difficulties with harassment, payroll deductions, even shift coverage should be comfortable talking with management about the issues. Sadly, many don’t and the environment becomes hostile and toxic. Production slows down, efficiency takes a negative turn, and the hemorrhaging of money is almost certain.
Make policies and stick to them. Make sure employees are all treated fairly and equally, and lead by example. Create an environment where employees buy in to the overall goal by coming up with new ideas, and actually implement those ideas. Make a workplace that offers a positive sense of peer accountability. These things are easier said than done, but the hard work upfront will allow for an easier ride later on, when the staff in place truly runs the place on their own.