The ONE Policy Most Restaurants Shut Out — the Open Door Policy

There's nothing more exciting — and possibly frightening — than stepping into the doors of a new restaurant on your first day of your new job or position.

You start with the jitters and think about all of the things you will learn, especially because you’re at a rapidly growing company with a ton of advancement opportunities. (Or so they told you on the ad and during the interview process.)

During orientation, the manager or owner runs through a list of policies and procedures that are necessary to follow as an employee of the company. They are all super reasonable. They even follow the same format as other restaurants, but there's one policy that restaurant owners or operators always lead with...only to push to the side once you've been acclimated.

The Open Door Policy

Sure, most restaurants say that they have an open door policy. They say that you can email them anytime, or if they're in the shop, just ask to speak with them.

You think to yourself, "Wow! This company truly cares about me and my goals. I can't wait to have these conversations while growing with the company," and you are just incredibly excited to start working.

The Business Dictionary defines open door policy as a "management practice whereby all employees have direct access to their senior executives without going through several gatekeepers or layers of bureaucracy."

Unfortunately, most of the time, this policy is there to sound great in theory. In reality? There are still layers and hoops to jump through.

The Missing Piece to Your Restaurant

Every restaurant owner or operator has said it once in their career. I’ve even said it when I was in charge of hiring for restaurants. The biggest complaint I hear is that it’s difficult to find good, quality people.

Now, let’s think about that for a second.

Yes, there are times when it’s difficult to find quality employees who will want to work for you. That is a fact at times, especially when the economy is doing well and there are more jobs than people to fill those positions. But I’m not talking to the 5 to 10 percent of people who have difficulty finding team members because of a surplus of jobs.

I’m talking to the ones who promise to develop their employees as leaders, and either do it poorly, or don’t do it at all. Those employees end up leaving for a restaurant that will invest in their future.

According to the National Restaurant Association, the restaurant industry generates one in 10 jobs or careers for U.S. workers. Let me repeat that. The restaurant industry has the opportunity to impact one in 10 people and help them become leaders in whatever career they end up settling into.

The fact is that we as restaurant owners and operators have a responsibility, not only to our own restaurant, but to the industry as a whole to develop leaders. That starts with you.

So, the next time that you think or say the words “it’s difficult to find people,” it’s important to look within yourself and your restaurant to figure out if you’re actually the problem. Also consider your managers who you have hired to protect and run the restaurant when you cannot be present.

Whatever the situation is, we need to focus on the policies and procedures that we put into place at our restaurant because people do pay attention. Your employees want to grow, they want to advance, and they want to have a larger purpose than just going to work and making the owner rich.

Development is the missing piece of your restaurant. You don’t have to agree with me, but one of the major reasons why people leave their job is because they don’t feel like there is any growth potential, or they get passed up for promotions with zero explanation of why they weren’t considered.

People aren’t stupid. They know when the job is a dead-end and there’s no forward mobility. It’s just something that is sensed, and let’s face it, the real world sets in. Bills stack up because an appliance broke down and you’re scrambling to figure out how you’ll keep the lights on. But then the employee doesn’t feel appreciated or doesn’t feel invested in, so they’ll go to you (or the manager), but you’re too busy to talk.

It happens all of the time. Eventually, they’ll give you their two weeks notice and you’ll be wondering what you could have done to keep this employee happy.

Listen, even if you cannot offer someone a promotion or a pay raise at this moment, what can you do to focus on your team’s development to show them that YOU want them to succeed in life?

1. Ongoing Learning and Conversations

Whether it comes to them in the form of online learning (which is very effective when implemented correctly) or just having a suggested reading list that will have a follow-up discussion once they are done, you must have a path for someone who wants to move forward.

If they are interested in a management position, what books or courses can you provide that doesn’t take up any more of your time but will mean the world to your employee? You don’t even have to have read the book you are suggesting to them. Once they have finished the book or watched the leadership course, you can have them talk to you about the five biggest things that they have learned and how we should integrate that into the restaurant (or into their current position).

It doesn’t matter what type of learning experience you provide — it just has to show that you have put time, effort, and energy into their development, and that they matter to you and your business.

2. Give Additional Responsibilities

There doesn’t have to be a lot of pomp and circumstance when it comes to adding on responsibilities to someone’s plate. It should be a few smaller items that they can add without feeling overwhelmed or undercompensated. Still, put in the extra effort to let them know that you trust them to take on additional responsibilities and that you are interested in seeing how they handle those tasks, and to get a sense of their instincts.

The other thing that you can do is let them know that if they succeed with these responsibilities within a certain time period, you can discuss a pay increase or promotion. But if they are not successful, then the discussion is how can you better develop them so they are ready to handle the additional responsibilities.

3. Send Them to Seminars or Conferences

These events don’t have to be expensive, but this gesture shows your employee that you want to invest in them, even if you don’t currently have the structure in place to develop them through additional training at the restaurant.

However, sending employees off to a seminar or conference without laying down ground rules is never a good idea. Give them a purpose and follow up afterwards. This is incredibly beneficial to their development and your success.

They can learn something at the event and bring that knowledge back into your restaurant, which could maximize your profits. (And eventually, pay for the investment of the seminar or conference.) Make sure your employee knows the purpose behind going to the seminar or conference and your expectations upon returning.

4. Open and Transparent Conversations

The last thing that you can do is have an open and transparent conversation about the state of the restaurant, your plans for them, and where you see the future of the restaurant going.

When an employee gets to have that conversation with ownership or even the manager about the state of the restaurant and the vision that you have for it, they feel a sense of ownership over the restaurant. They’ll want to do everything in their power to see it succeed. They’ll want the restaurant to continue growing and they’ll focus on developing into the leader they have always wanted to become.

The open door policy is a great policy to have in place, but what’s even more important is the ability to uphold the policy when your employees want to utilize it. It’s also important to recognize that your staff wants to grow. If you put the financial investment into them, they’ll give back to you tenfold.