You might own the business, but you’re not the only one running it. Recognising and empowering the people on the front line will not only make them (and you!) feel all warm and fuzzy, it’ll help ensure the long term success of your foodservice operation. Malcolm Richardson reports.

Looking at all the elements in your business today, can you pinpoint the one thing that can make or break your dream?  Is it the bank, the location? Is it the menu you serve or the processes you undertake?

Simply put….. no.

Take a look around your building. Those people walking around doing the job are your biggest liability. But more than that, they are also your biggest asset. 

Most of us have had to make a choice at some point whether to keep someone or let them go, but when was the last time you really considered what it takes to retain your staff?  Sure, a pay cheque goes a long way to helping achieve this, but it is not always enough. Many of today’s most successful, loyal staff members are looking for more than just money.

People power
Let me run you over a scenario I was involved in recently. A restaurant owner is invited to attend an awards night where they win Most Improved Venue of the Year in their area. The owner goes up and accepts the award and thanks everyone who voted and all the other competitors. Back at their venue, the staff watch briefly on the TV as they clean up from the night’s service. No mention in the speech of the staff who work 13+ hours a day, no mention of the sacrifices made by the ones who take the pay cheque home each week.  How long do you think they are going to stay there?

I know what you are saying, I can hear you shouting at me from a mile away. But please stop and just hear me out. I have been on both sides of the pass and know how this plays out.

Most of my clients tell me “Staff don’t have the stresses of a business once they go home. They don’t have the pressure of making better margins, they don’t have to consider the cost of goods and wastage in a service. When they go home to their families they can relax and watch a movie or go out for dinner and chill.”

Can they?  Do they?

Recently I have been dealing with employees who can’t enjoy these simple things. Employees who go home and continue to worry about work. Staff that have headaches worrying about all the things we do as managers or owners of businesses. Why? Would you believe me if I told you they are worried about all of this because they are the ones who hold the ultimate responsibility for the success of your business? Let’s be honest. If a staff member isn’t producing a product to their best ability, it has an impact on our bottom line. To them, it is more than that. If they are not meeting the grade, they don’t have a bad month on the books. They lose their job, their income and unfortunately in our industry it can cost marriages and families.

Overkill, you say. I’m being dramatic!

Take a note of your thoughts of the past week. How many times did you tear your chef up because of one or two failed dishes on the pass? When that busy Friday night service finished last week, did you stay until 1am doing dishes and pans or did you head home because your in-laws were coming for dinner? While I do not for a second pretend that you haven’t done your hard yards to make it to where you are, but you didn’t do it on your own.   


Make meetings work for you
Looking after our prized staff and giving them reason to stay on is a ballet of emotion and ego. Yes we could buy them a Ferrari and they would love us for life, but life only lasts a week or two when they are back on the pans. Think longer term.  Think bigger ego, more emotion.

A simple shake up in the kitchen can do the trick. Before service one night, stop your staff and stand in a circle. Start a trend. Say what you are going to do tonight. “Tonight I am going to sell 100 cocktails and not spill a shot, and if I do I will lick it off the bar!” Watch the room explode with laughter. Encourage your chef or manager to do the next one…..  Watch it get around. This creates a bit of banter and helps put smiles on faces. It also shows them you’re human.

If this doesn’t sound like you, at the end of the night order a pizza or two and have them delivered to the kitchen with some drinks. Say thanks! Let them have a slice or two during shut down and clean up. Try doing it while resisting the urge to have them sign out on a break. Five minutes is all it takes and once they are happy and fresh, you will get those minutes back in efficiency in no time.

Another tool I use is the weekly staff meeting. These are important for obvious reasons, but they also help to create the strength and happiness you need for your venue to succeed.  A few simple thing can make these staff meetings invaluable to your business’ success:

Bring food. Staff will be amazed and grateful if you turn up to the weekly staff meeting with a box of donuts, or a few pizzas. It shows them you are thinking of them, and that you are focusing on making them happy.

Have a weekly meeting at another venue, maybe even a competitor. Have all the staff meet you there for coffee and cake (on you, of course). This not only makes them feel good, it helps to show them what the competition is doing, and you can talk about it right there.

Don’t single out negative issues during the meeting. Talk it through one-on-one with relevant staff members before the meeting and spin it positively. “Last Monday’s service was a nightmare but we have some great ideas that have come out of it.” A positive spin alerts them that there was something wrong, but it’s in the past and you are focusing on how to move forward.


And I leave the most important to last.

Never, never, never lose your cool. If there is a staff problem, bring it up in private. Going into a kitchen and screaming at someone about a problem is not the way to get it fixed. Even in private, write down your issues and speak to them like a person, not an enemy. So many times I see chefs, owners or managers screaming and yelling at staff for the smallest of things. What this ultimately does is:

  1. Break the spirit and focus of whoever you yell at
  2. Show the other staff you can’t act professionally, and
  3. Have your guests asking wait staff what the hell is going on back there.

Acting like an adult and remaining professional will show your staff that you respect them and their work. When you look at them, you should always look back at yourself in days gone, when you had to scrub pots or serve 200 covers. We were all there once.

Pay by the book
I also briefly want to mention, without causing a riot, the subject of pay. Regardless of what is going on with the government, what the other venues are doing or even what your personal beliefs are, make sure you pay your people properly. Being a business owner, I more than recognise the impact wage rates and penalties have on a successful venue. I too have looked at the balance sheet after a public holiday and asked why?! But here is the thing: besides it being the law, your staff have a right to be paid correctly.  Ensuring their wages and penalties are appropriate will keep you on the right side of the law, but more than that, it will show your staff that you appreciate them. Employers who miss this find themselves dealing with staff that don’t care about the job. For every five staff members who don’t get paid properly, four of them are looking for a new job already. The staff on the other side of town who get the right payslip are looking for a new menu idea, or the next big drawcard.

If you have great staff, make sure they know you love them. Otherwise you’d better buy some non-slip shoes; the scullery floor can get very slippery at 1am.

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