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How to Cultivate a Good Company Culture at Your Restaurant: 5 Tips

According to the National Association of Restaurants (NAR), 70% of restaurant owners are struggling to meet customer demand due to labor shortages following COVID-19 lockdowns. 

Despite some gains in hiring, the U.S. Bureau of Labor Statistics highlighted that attrition rates were at 5.7% for the accommodation and food service industries in June 2022 — only down 0.1% from the month prior.

Employee retention is critical if restaurants hope to survive the current economic climate. However, you might be surprised if you think the most effective retention strategies include offering higher wages and benefits. 

Of course, a livable paycheck is absolutely essential, but so is good company culture. Here are five ways to cultivate a company culture for which anyone would want to work.

1. Define Culture 

Approximately 76% of Americans say company leadership sets the standards for workplace culture, while 36% agree their managers are incapable of leading a team.

Before cultivating a good company culture at your restaurant, you must define it for your staff — and yourself. 

The employee handbook is an excellent resource for restaurant employees to understand your expectations for them — it’s also where they learn what to expect from you. Considering the importance of company culture for a thriving business and employee satisfaction, creating a section in the front of the handbook is an effective method of driving home its meaning.

Having your new hires sign the employee handbook will ensure they understand your definition of company culture and make a promise to adhere to it.

2. Develop a Code of Ethics

If your employees’ only reason for staying is decent pay, you’ll have a more challenging time retaining them when the next employer offers a higher salary. However, with good company culture on your side, there’s a much greater chance of keeping them on long-term.  

A toxic workplace is 10.4 times more likely than wages to send employees packing — that’s why it’s crucial to develop a code of ethics for all staff. 

Developing a code of ethics for your restaurant can help improve interactions and behaviors between managers, cooks, hostesses, waiters and customers. You might adopt the following guiding principles to enhance your restaurant company culture:

  • Respect
  • Accountability
  • Honesty
  • Teamwork
  • Competency
  • Excellence
  • Positivity

Implementing a code of ethics and recognizing employees for promoting good workplace culture can boost morale during even the most stressful times. 

For instance, thanking two cooks for helping each other during peak hours is an example of teamwork and competency. Acknowledging a server for going above and beyond for a demanding customer is another way to showcase excellence and positivity. 

3. Revisit the Vision and Mission Statement

Your restaurant’s vision and mission statements must be current and precise if you hope to cultivate good company culture. 

A 2018 IBM study found that companies report an 80% positive workplace satisfaction when employees can align their values with the mission or vision of their organization.

Although there are some overlapping similarities, vision and mission statements differ. For instance, a vision statement sets objectives that your restaurant hopes to achieve, while a mission statement describes what your restaurant does for its patrons. 

Examples of mission statements might include:

  • To serve only the highest quality food with a smile.
  • Offering excellent customer service and unforgettable dining experiences.
  • Dedicated to uncompromising food quality and guest experiences.
  • Creating a friendly and inviting atmosphere where everyone feels welcome.

According to a recent McKinsey survey, 70% of employees gain a sense of purpose through their work. Revisiting your vision and mission statements and making modifications can transform and foster a positive company culture by giving meaning to your staff, building camaraderie and encouraging them to work harder with a positive attitude. 

4. Revise Hiring Criteria

Having the skills to wait on tables or work in the kitchen is essential for a thriving restaurant. You’ll struggle to stay afloat with a staff of butterfingers and inexperienced line cooks. However, having prior work experience in the restaurant industry shouldn’t be your sole hiring criterion if you hope to cultivate good company culture.

At a minimum, new hires should be able to work well with others and have the chops for handling the stress and pressures of busy shifts and volatile customers. However, you’ll want to assess whether prospective employees align their values with your restaurant’s. 

Experienced servers are only so good if they have conflicting values and ethics. Building a healthy workplace culture is in your hands, meaning you need to engage interviewees in a discussion about the importance of culture in your restaurant and determine whether they fit into it.

Ask them about more than their work history, such as when they helped someone juggle multiple tasks or how they effectively used problem-solving skills to diffuse an ugly situation with another person. 

Also, pay attention to how they dress, when they arrive and their body language. Showing up for an interview five to 10 minutes early indicates you have a prompt and reliable candidate who will show up for shifts — essential to avoid understaffing.

5. Be a Great Leader

As a restaurant manager, you’re responsible for demonstrating excellent leadership skills and making yourself available to your employees.

Studies show that it takes at least a 20% pay raise to entice employees to leave an engaging manager, so supporting and inspiring your staff makes a substantial difference in retaining top talent. 

Company culture doesn’t happen overnight, but setting an example of your restaurant’s code of conduct and business values will set the stage for change. This is best done through your actions, how you communicate and how you respond to difficulties when things go haywire. 

Cultivating Good Company Culture Is Great for Business

A positive work environment will ultimately make a difference in your restaurant business. When staff is happy to be there, your guests will have an even better dining experience. At the end of the day, cultivating a good company culture is excellent for your bottom line.

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