Improving Employee Performance In 3 Simple Steps: A Restaurant Case Study

Improving Employee Performance In 3 Simple Steps: A Restaurant Case Study

The following is a guest post by Greg McGuire, editor of food services blog The Back Burner. In this post Greg discusses how restaurants can maximize employee performance by creating a corporate culture that reduces turnover and encourages excellence in service.

Restaurants face some unique challenges when it comes to achieving high employee performance. The average employee is younger and more likely to be receiving an education for something besides a career in food service than most other industries. The work can also be physically uncomfortable and much more stressful than many other jobs.

These factors mean turnover tends to be much higher in the restaurant business, and high turnover makes the job of keeping employees motivated and performing at a high level much more difficult.

That doesn’t mean it can’t be done. Restaurants that have weathered the recession of the last few years the most successfully, have done so in part because they have taken the time to get the most out of their employees.

A great example of a restaurant that has learned how to turn high school kids into an efficient, motivated team is Nick’s Pizza & Pub of Crystal Lake, IL. Most casual restaurants experience a 200% turnover rate every year, but Nick’s turnover rests at a manageable 20% annually. While many pizzerias have felt the squeeze of the recession, Nick’s has been expanding to other locations in Illinois.

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Image courtesy of Nick’s Pizza & Pub

A large part of this success can be attributed to some unique management practices that not only save the company thousands every year in hiring and training costs, but also ensure that customer service and product quality – the two most important factors for any restaurant’s success – are consistently top notch.

Here are the top three things Nick’s management team does extremely well to maximize employee performance:

Create a Culture of “Why”

The traditional hierarchy in any restaurant (and most businesses) places responsibility on managers, who in turn boss employees, in an effort to make sure all responsibilities are accomplished. This system – usually referred to as “command-and-control” – has the advantage of narrowing the responsible parties when blame needs to go around. The downside is there is no incentive for employees to work efficiently or creatively since they are constantly told exactly what to do by their manager. And it is the manager who also bears the responsibility for performance.

Nick’s has ditched the command-and-control method in favor of a “trust-and-track” approach:

Treat employees like the intelligent, creative people they are and track performance in real time to provide immediate feedback.

This system works because there is a culture of why at Nick’s. Rather than saying, “Do this because I told you to,” the management at Nick’s focuses on explaining the reasons behind every decision. They also encourage employees to ask why things are done the way they are, and offer their own solutions for improving the operation.

In an atmosphere where every team member understands exactly why things are done the way they are – and each member feels they have a role in shaping the system – performance is enhanced.

Reward Employee Development

Nick’s has several levels of additional training that are completely voluntary once an employee is hired. Those who choose to take the extra training courses are rewarded with automatic raises once certain levels are completed, and those that attain the highest level get the honor of training newer employees.

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Image courtesy of Nick’s Pizza & Pub

Employees who work through the additional training levels are also rewarded with prestige: each time a level is completed they are given a different colored hat that is instantly recognizable by others in the restaurant.
As a transparent, open and fair process for employee development, this system rewards those who work hard without playing favorites and allows management to identify and acknowledge the go-getters.

Encourage Feedback – and Actually Listen to It

In any organization every employee has an opinion about how things could be done better and a gripe about how things are done currently. The problem is, most management systems don’t allow a time and place where employees can feel safe giving feedback without suffering consequences.

Nick’s has a designated area for employees to give feedback. Employees can call management, all the way up to Nick himself, into this “safe” area whenever they feel the need. In turn, Nick’s management listens carefully to that feedback and takes a proactive attitude toward resolving any issues that are brought up.

The rules in the food service industry are changing as customers define their dining experience based on intangibles like customer service rather than on price alone. This trend has magnified as the price wars brought on by the recent recession have forced restaurants to become price competitive.

Creating a corporate culture that reduces turnover and encourages excellence in service is the way to make any business stand out from the competition. Making employees feel like they are part of the process instead of just another cog in the wheel is the secret to taking performance to the next level.

Greg McGuire is the editor of The Back Burner, a food service blog covering every aspect of the industry, from marketing to management to food safety. The blog is written by the employees of Tundra Specialties, a leading distributor of restaurant supplies, equipment, and parts.

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