We received a letter from a reader who asked:
“I have owned and managed my restaurant for over ten years. We are located in a suburb that is a college town. Most of the staff members are “kids” and I find it challenging to constantly train of the “kids” – the staff – to be present at all times.
They are distracted, messing around with their cell phones or counting down the minutes until their shift ends.
I know that for most of them, this job is just a way to earn extra cash, but how do I teach them to care about the customers and be present? – Jennifer”
Great question, Jennifer. It is important to care about employee-customer engagement since the largest component of any restaurant’s brand is the experience. And, the staff creates the biggest piece of the experience. This is an issue for many restaurant and business owners in general.
The pessimistic answer would be that you can’t teach people to care. But, we’re not pessimists here so we will give you 7 tips to help you work with your staff on being more present and engaged.
1. Care about your employees – Sounds simple, but few employers understand how important this is. Show your employees that you care about them and that you understand who they are and what motivates them. Start by listening to them. Put yourself in their shoes so that you can empathize with them. Remember back to when you were a “kid” and think about the things that were important to you. Also think about mentors whom you had along the way and what they taught you. Now it’s your turn to be the mentor and bring those lessons and that caring to your staff.
When your employees feel like you “get them” you will make a connection with them and create a foundation for open communication. They’ll be more receptive to learning from you and giving you their best. Caring for your staff also means standing up for them if there is an issue with a customer and your employee has done all that he or she can correctly to solve the situation.
2. Live the brand and the mission – First, make sure that you’re clear on your brand and the mission. Remember that your restaurant’s mission is more than just serving food. What else are you doing for customers? Are you creating a sense of community? Are you there to be the bright spot in their day? Are you there to help families enjoy time together? Consider the emotional benefits that you want your restaurant to deliver.
Then, remind your staff on a daily basis about the brand and the mission in a motivational and inspirational way. Send them a voicemail or a text, write a note on a whiteboard in the kitchen or give them each a handwritten note or “fortune cookie” when they come to work. Keep the notes short and simple and make them a reflection of the mission. For example, “make someone feel appreciated today,” “or make someone smile.”
3. Make their job important – Tell your staff how important they are to your brand, mission and success. Show them that they are the key to the experience and how being present is the only way to deliver a memorable experience. To do this, try a role-playing exercise where your staff is the customers and you are the staff member. Act aloof, distracted and checked out and ask them to review your job performance. Or, ask them to tell you about a time where they had an awesome customer experience and ask them why it was so good. Their answer will probably have a lot to do with attentiveness to their needs. Use their example to encourage them to brainstorm about ways to provide that same kind of amazing experience.
You can also follow the management style of companies that turn the traditional leadership chart on its head. In those companies, it is the leaders job to support the frontline employees.
4. Mistakes are OK – What do mistakes have to do with being present? Plenty. Creating an environment where your employees can learn and grow will keep them engaged and present. It also keeps them from acting in fear of screwing up and allows them to be relaxed and do their job well. Give them time to learn and allow them to try new things. Any learning must be in line with your brand and mission. Of course this does not mean that you will tolerate sloppiness, off-brand behavior or repeat mistakes, but you will not lead by fear.
5. Listen to their ideas – When you have a work environment that allows your employees to try and fail, you should encourage their new ideas. Create a way for your employees to share ideas that support your brand and mission. You can have a time during meetings in which you ask for ideas, or you can have a real or virtual suggestion box. Take time to review the ideas and thank your employees for submitting them.
If you find a killer idea in the bunch, have the idea owner come up with a plan to make it happen. Even if you don’t run with the ideas, your employees will feel like they’ve been heard and that will keep them coming back to you with more ideas. Ultimately, this can leas to open and improved communication with your staff, too.
6. Reward actions that support the mission – Develop a way for employees to share stories about great customer interactions and reward these moments of excellence. Create a bulletin board or private web page that recognizes them and their great efforts. Share the stories yourself in staff meetings or have employees share what they did. Keep track of these moments as they will become part of your brand story and can be shared with new employees. A caveat about sharing, make sure you ask the employee if it’s OK to recognize them publicly. Some of the more introverted folks on your team might prefer less notoriety.
7. Set an example and set goals – the best way to teach your employees to be present is to lead by example. Live your brand and your mission. This means treating not only your customers according to your brand promises, but also your employees. Set goals for yourself along the lines of customer and employee engagement and have your employees do the same. This way you’ll be working together to be the best team to knock the socks off of your restaurant’s customers.
Creating engaged and present employees takes time. You can get started immediately by leading by example.
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