Anyone who has ever worked in a restaurant — from quick service to fine dining — can tell you that there are few job environments as hectic or stressful. Your customer expects consistent, high quality food and service, and so does the customer standing behind them, and the one standing behind them, and so on. In the midst of a busy shift, it may sometimes seem like the demands never end.
In fact, according to the Permanent Life Situation Survey in the Netherlands, hotel and restaurant workers experience employee burnout at a rate of one in seven, with subsequent research finding similar results in the United States. It’s likely a factor in the restaurant industry’s turnover rate of 66.3%, unusually high for a non-healthcare related American industry.
In reality, restaurants are ALWAYS going to be stressful environments, but “stressful” does not necessarily need to mean “negative.” While it may be impossible to fundamentally shift how hectic your restaurant can get — or even change the types of problems your employees will face — you can still deal with those problems with an eye toward the positive. Here’s a half dozen ideas for how to reduce the negativity in your front and back of house environment, and keep the flames where they belong: on the grill.
1. Treat everyone as a customer — especially staff.
Everyone who works at a restaurant has one primary goal: to take care of the customer. But it’s important to look at the idea of “customer” holistically. Ideally, everyone — from staff to vendors to community members — are at one time or another customers, and everyone deserves to be treated with the same level of respect and care you’d give to the most VIP guest.
In some cases, that might entail putting the needs of your employees over those of the diner. It may seem counterintuitive to those who grew up hearing that “the customer is always right.” But the truth is, when you put the welfare of your employees first, that good will instantly trickles down into fantastic customer service. As a manager (or other co-worker), it’s important to give exceptional service to your staff by providing an opportunity for input, a clear path to success, a growth plan with training, benefits and pay they can feel good about, paid sick time, health insurance, and more.
And do all of that not begrudgingly, but with an understanding that when you create an environment where people feel genuinely heard and valued, employees stick by you longer and do better work time and time again.
2. Focus on solutions, not blame.
Nothing is more damaging to employee morale than the blame game, especially when problems are generated by accident or error, not genuine malice. Teach your staff that everyone is responsible for generating a solution when things go wrong. If a colleague was picking up 1,000 pieces of broken dishes they dropped, you wouldn’t just stand around and watch without offering to help, would you? So, why should problems with inventory, preparation, or delivery be any different?
Ultimately, what’s more important than asking, “Who messed this up?” is “What can we do differently next time?” Not only will it keep employee morale high, but it also reduces the likelihood of repeating the error when everyone gets in on fixing it. Bringing everyone together to fix a problem is a great focus for a manager — and if you do your job well, over time it will become second nature for the staff.
And when a solution is found, recognize the team that worked together or the individual that took initiative and went out of their way to pitch in. You’ll be surprised how much that can mean to keeping positivity strumming in even the most fast-paced environments.
3. Promote caring confrontations.
Sometimes, conflicts arise between employees that need to be handled privately, and it’s your job as manager to make sure they’re handled the right way. Even if a conflict does not directly affect productivity or profit in your restaurant, the negative impact of employees that can’t see eye-to-eye can make an already stressful work environment boil over.
Encouraging employees to engage each other in caring confrontations — facilitated by managers or not — where they can be direct, but respectful, about their issues is going to keep morale high. It will also avoid having problems mount up and spill out into the public eye in a less than flattering way. But ultimately, the goal of directly dealing with peer-to-peer problems isn’t to leave outward negativity at the door when an employee comes to work. The goal is to avoid having work negativity fester into being at all.
4. Help employees avoid monotony.
Nearly every position in your restaurant require long hours of being constantly on your feet, performing the same set of tasks over and over. This can also involve standing in one place for long periods of time, particularly in the kitchen. This kind of physical strain that can have both a negative physical and psychological affect on the health of your employees.
Encouraging your staff to share duties, trade off non-essential tasks, and move around whenever possible can lead to a much less exhausting experience overall. For your part, requiring properly cushioned footwear and providing safety mats that are not as hard on the feet as concrete or ceramic will go a long way toward reducing — although probably not eliminating — unnecessary physical stress.
5. Emphasize efficiency.
Always be prepared. It’s the Boy Scout motto for a reason. Proper preparation saves your staff staff from last minute scrambling and helps keep negativity at bay in even the most stressful kitchens. And time saved adds up. Saving five seconds per cover through proper organization of your plating station may not seem like much in individual doses, but 300 covers with 5 seconds less confusion or delay apiece? That’s 25 minutes your chef has recovered from their shift.
Well-choreographed mise en place (literally “everything in its place”) and other efficiencies aren’t just the foundation for success in the kitchen. They are key to improving the overall experience for workers in your restaurant. Even just having space clean and organized can reduce negativity about a chef’s job, or between employees who might otherwise fight over resources. The better your work area is set-up, the better their day will be.
6. Staff appropriately.
At the end of the day, keeping a full staff and not running lean on resources is going to go a long way toward limiting resentment and negativity in the workplace. This not only means making an accurate assessment of your needs in both front and back of house — and following through on filling those positions — but also filling positions in a timely fashion when vacancies occur. Yes, every workplace runs lean sometimes, but the difference between a stressful environment and a negative one can very well be having a consistent, reliable, and sufficiently numbered staff to keep things moving.
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