You have a line cook who keeps getting into it with a server. You have a bartender who can’t keep his hands to himself. You have a dishwasher who always comes late. Daily occurrences in business, and as the owner you need to do something about this. You’ve got to have these conversations or your business may fall apart.
Are you an expert at communication? Maybe. Or maybe not. You have enough on your plate without having to worry about how to navigate this. I think I’ve heard it a million times, that being a business owner would be great if only you didn’t have to deal with employees.
But employees are what keeps your restaurant running, and you have to trust them to do it well. You want to trust them with your brand. You’ve created something that is a reflection of yourself and can you be adept at passing that onto the people who are the faces of your business? When communication is present, there is huge value in your team, and they can function and get along.
Let’s start with the arguing line cook and server. I have heard this so many times, it always is the same. Essentially this story is usually the same thing, wrapped in different packages. The cook feels disrespected and stressed out. The server who has to deal with the fussy customer takes frustration out on the line cook. By the end of service they are threatening to take it outside.
This is kind of an extreme case. But really the most absurd thing about the restaurant industry is that there are two groups of people who view their jobs very differently and yet they must collaborate to complete the dance.
Whatever is responsible for this great divide could fill a book, and it will take some big cultural shifts within this industry to actually bridge the divide. Even in houses where the FOH and BOH and Management can often appear to get along, there is often an undercurrent of something (wage disparity, race, and gender are some of those things) that runs between them all. However, in the meantime, communication can do some of the heavy lifting.
What do you bring to the conversation that could make a difference? How can you create a better functioning team through communication? Begin to have conversations with your teams that promote relatedness. Everyone wants the same thing, but each of us have different concerns and commitments. If everyone relates to each other from those commitments, the communication shifts. To understand what each of us is committed to we can start with these questions:
- What is the best possible work environment for each person on the team? Some people are there for the money, others for professional training. But everyone wants to enjoy the work they do. So what does that look like for each person? Create this with your team regularly, either with pre-service meetings or any other way you can (family meal, etc.). Keep asking the question; create it as a possibility.
- What is each person putting aside to be present for their team? Have a huddle and ask this of the team before getting on the court. The FOH can do this in lineup; the BOH can do it at the beginning of a shift. (all together?) Five minutes. There is a saying that when you come to work you leave your personal life at the door. What is that? Acknowledge it. And then create from nothing what the evening is going to look like. Customers will be satisfied. The cooks will be prepared for whatever they have to handle. The servers will be knowledgeable. The managers will be able to rely on everyone to do what they do and do it well.
- What are you accountable for?: Like players on a soccer field or baseball diamond, everyone on the floor or in the kitchen knows what they are accountable for. AND everyone knows what they can count on others to do as well. With on-board training, weekly team meetings and once a month all hands meetings, get everyone present to what they are accountable for so no one is unclear about what is expected.
- Can we take a breather to talk?: we’re always trying to beat the clock in the restaurant business. Take the time to have the conversations necessary to work without concerns about anything. An extra five minutes of peace can make for a smoother and peaceful work environment that seems anything but peaceful.
- Have fun! No need to be so significant! Nothing’s wrong, it just didn’t go like it should have. No grudges, no drama, done…The people who walk in your door want to have fun. Imagine as a customer, you walk into a space where everyone is mad at everyone else and can’t wait to get home. No way is that a place I want to be!
These are just a few ideas to get the whole team (front and back) to work as one. We may be skeptical about this industry’s ability to see real change, but it begins with one. And then one of those workers leaves and takes your practices to someplace new, and it becomes a ripple effect. And change happens.