Training & Positive Culture

Draft Beer Specialist

Training & Positive Culture

When talking to full-service restaurant owners nation-wide, the biggest repeat issue recently has been, recruiting and maintaining strong talent. I’m continually asked, “what’s the best way to advertise and find good staff?” Which I reply, to attract them organically through your operations and culture.

It used to be as simple as a craigslist ad and by the end of the day, we’d have a hundred resumes in our inbox. But those days are over, and just like anything else, survival is dictated by adaptation. No point looking back or reminiscing. The question is now, how do we do better than our competitors at this?   

Look at the restaurants in your city, chances are there are at least one that is always killing it. Who is always full, who always has buzz and where everyone wants to work at. They suffer the same weather, roadwork, and challenges as every other restaurant in town. Yet, right now, they are not worried about recruitment. Why? What are they doing differently?

If I had to guess, I’d say money plays a big role. The staff there probably makes more because it’s busy and popular; but it is more than that. What made them popular in the first place? Most likely it was a consistent product in a great environment. OK, now, we are getting to the meat. So, how do we ever get a bunch of individuals to come together to provide a consistent experience and still find ways to exceed expectations? This almost only happens if they are well trained and want to be there.   

It’s no surprise that most successful chains restaurants all have rigorous training and onboarding processes. They spent the money, did the research and it’s really not debatable. A well-trained staff performs better and delivers higher profitability.   

Yet, in a recent poll of restaurant owners, even though near half of restaurant owners said it’s critical to have mandatory and consistent training that’s fully immersive. The other half said, even though they see the value, the day to day often gets in the way and training gets sacrificed.  A handful saw no value in training and skips the process entirely.

Jason Schofield, a restaurant consultant from Tampa Florida told me a big part of this issue is, “Training is often left to chance and thrown to the wayside. New employees are trained on whatever the person assigned to train that day feels is most important. But to properly onboard employees, you need to know what to train, why it’s important, and how to train it.”

This is reminiscent of memories of my first few restaurant jobs. I recall too many owners patting me on the back, saying something about best intentions, followed by how the sink or swim method should prove beneficial.

So while a little over half of restaurant owners train with the use of manuals or guides. The rest seem to chance it as Jason suggested. Granted, the use of a guide or manual doesn’t guarantee success, however, what is the tone you have now created? What example have you set during these first impressions of your brand and culture? If we don’t take our brand, concept, policies seriously, then why would they?   

If you want to build a strong training program, I can’t say the word consistency enough. The biggest theme with almost all successful restaurants from QSR to fine-dining is their consistency. The consistency of product, of expectations, and of service. This is all accomplished through consistent training. This is step one. However, having a strong and consistent onboarding program isn’t enough. You can’t just cram in all is information and walk away thinking your job is done and you can check off that box.  

I label this as consistent application of daily pressure. This means both you and your staff. you must be consistent in how you treat them and with rule enforcement. Every hour of every day you manage and enforce identically. It also means not just rule enforcement but coaching and development, that every day your staff feels you gently pushing them to be better, and not just better at “following the rules”, just better. a better person, and better employee and not just for you, but their next job too. 

Joe Horn of DISH Café in Reno, Nevada says “Teach them what they need to know, hold them accountable and then give them the freedom to make it happen. If they have ownership of their output they will be happier and work harder. Tell them when they do things right when they don’t expect it. Give them a reward when they earn it. Bonus them if they deserve it.”

Respect is a two-way street and a critical ingredient. This is something you earn, not demand. If your staff respects you, there is no end to what they will do for you and your business; let alone follow your policies.

James Madras of Xealous Coffee Network in Palm Springs, California expands on that idea. “The real training comes through time and experience. There is a training moment every day in your store. It doesn’t matter the significance or how subtle the training is, it shows your people that you are always watching and that you truly care/value your people. The moment you stop training, your people become complacent, including yourself. This is when momentum dies, sales drop, performance lags, and people start pushing off accountability. An active culture holds all members accountable!” 

This is why the next critical ingredient for me is leading by example. Don’t be a “Boss!” be a leader. Get in there, get your hands dirty, dedicate yourself. Teach, train, mentor. Don’t just bark demands, but show them the way. Training is something you do, but culture is who you are, it’s a way of life. Lionel Crespo of Kopper Keg North in Las Vegas explains “When it comes to culture… that’s every day. You have to have staff buy-in to the concept.” What better way to enact buy-in, then through every day, being the same caring leader.

Next ingredient is the Golden Rule. Just treat your staff how you would want to be treated in that same position. Be fair. Be empathetic.  You want this to be a balanced relationship, it can’t just be one-sided. You can’t scare positive culture into your staff. They have to want to buy-in, and they won’t if this feels like a dictatorship, instead they will resist. In everything from their schedules, pay, and to how you treat them; just give them what you would want if you or your child or spouse were working that position. They will respect that and these consistent actions will build a culture where policies are followed, not through fear, but a genuine desire to perform and do the right thing. 

Elisha Nolan of Alter House in Pennsylvania says “Constant reinforcement in a positive but authoritative manner. Clear policies and procedures that are again constantly enforced. Set and make examples. If your respected, they will want to work hard for you instead of against you
Lastly always remember It’s all about the team. You’re building a chain and your chain is only as strong as the weakest link. Hospitality is a team sport. All hands need to buy-in and be on deck. Develop leads and leaders. Establish accountability to each other. It’s about making the employee want to assimilate and follow your policies. It’s not just the boss that will notice, it’s every person who works there will notice. Then it’s more about social norms and fitting in and less about rules. Once you get everyone involved it creates a sense of shared ownership among your staff. 

With proper training, consistency and positive culture. You can go from having continual ad’s running on indeed, to getting referrals and recommendations from your top employees and regular guests. Build a place where people want to work at, and they will. Focus on the people and the people will focus on you.