Opening a restaurant is a long and costly process, often restaurant entrepreneurs spend a great deal of time working on the concept, budgets, finances, menu, finding the location, and completing the design as well many other details.
Excitement and high confidence in the success of the restaurant mount when opening day arrives- if you are a restaurant owner, that is the time when you are most excited about your new business. Days pass by; guests start visiting and writing reviews; some are good others highlight serious weaknesses that owners and operators tend to miss in the early days of planning and set-up. The most frustrating of all is usually related to poor service, slow service, guests feeling unwelcomed, unattended, or improperly treated.
Based on our experience, there is one thing that is worse than bad customer reviews -that is, a dead restaurant ambiance created by zombie-like staff walking around- customers will feel bad but find it hard to explain in a review, so the majority just won’t come back.
The un-inviting ambiance, poor staff performance, and poor customer service are mostly a result of 3 serious gaps:
- Wrong hiring: That’s when the staff lack the capacity, do not fit the culture or have a poor attitude.
- Skill Deficiency: That is when you hired the right staff, but they lack some skills and competence.
- Lack of Staff Engagement: That is when your staff are not happy and not committed.
The secret to providing great customer service, therefore, rests in 3 separate core HR Solutions:
- A focused recruitment process and philosophy
- Spot on customer service and competency development training
- Building a strong restaurant culture
Recruitment is the key to the success of any business; like in sports, teams with the best players always have the biggest advantage. If you get weak or wrong players, you are doomed to fail.
Staff recruitment is a large subject, to simplify I recommend focusing on four key things in the hiring process:
I. Energy and self-confidence: restaurant work is highly demanding physically and mentally, so you want to get in staff that has a high level of energy to do all the physical effort of constantly moving around yet speaking to guests with energy and confidence.
II. Presentability: you can skip that for back office and admin jobs, but for customer-facing positions, presentability and grooming are key. Your staff, especially the FOH (front of the house) are a crucial element of your restaurant image.
III. Positive attitude: Instead of training your staff to smile just hire happy people who smile naturally, a real smile is way impactful than a social smile, we all can figure out the difference. Happy people with a positive attitude makes your restaurant management way easier. Your challenge though, is to make sure they stay happy!
IV. Values & beliefs: Hiring should aim towards acquiring not only the best players but also those who believe in what you believe, who join ‘your’ restaurant for a good reason other than just making a cheque. If you ignore that during the selection process, you’ll end up with people that will leave you for more money somewhere else or stay and complain every time they’re given an extra task with no extra pay.
If you noticed I haven’t mentioned experience as a key criterion when hiring restaurant staff, simply because the majority of restaurant positions; waiters, runners, commis, stewards, cashiers, and others do not require a great deal of experience to be successful. On the contrary, sometimes having someone with so many years spent doing the same job is not a good sign. The only criteria I would add for management positions is to hire people with leadership skills; they will play a major role in impacting the remaining two points.
Training aims at achieving two goals, first creating a learning and continuous improvement culture in the restaurant, and second developing the mindset and skills necessary for staff to excel at their jobs; if done properly, it will lead to great things such as low turnover, energy, upselling and great customer service.
Developing the right mindset is more important than developing skills alone. Unfortunately, most staff training at restaurants in the UAE today fail to cover this crucial point. Training that does not focus on creating the right-thinking process, inspire people, and teach them how to approach their development, is a waste of time and money, skills training alone will end up being ineffective as uninspired people will go back to their unconscious behavioral patterns.
The second important point is related to the training quality; most restaurants in UAE rely on in-house training facilitated by managers with little training delivery experience. Training must be professional, highly interactive, practical, and delivered by experienced trainers; more importantly, it must be followed by post-training applications on the job and continuous coaching by people in charge to be effective.
Creating a Strong Culture
When you see a restaurant buzzing with a welcoming, happy, and highly engaged group of staff, that is usually a natural result of an excellent working culture. The question is, how can a restaurant create a strong culture?
I. Leadership: It all starts with the values, mindset, behaviors, and leadership skills of the owners or leaders in charge, like in any business, values and behaviors tend to descend from top to bottom. A pre-request to any successful culture is setting values that rank integrity and people over profit. The restaurant leadership needs to instill behaviors that support people, treat them with respect, and a massive dose of appreciation.
II. Mission: I am not referring here to the marketing statement that tends to be empty of meaning written on the first page of most restaurant websites, I am talking about an ongoing grand, inspiring, human, and practical objective that inspires everyone employed to keep going.
III. Communication: This is a key ingredient in building a strong culture; people will talk all the time; they can either communicate their issues, thoughts, and feelings in corridors or through one open communication where everyone frequently gathers for a 2-way direct and frank communication without any element of fear.
IV. Learning and Growth Opportunities: it is hard to retain your staff and keep them committed if they do not realize they are growing. Progress equals happiness, and the opposite is also true. Now growth and progress do not necessarily mean promotions and salary increases, opportunities for learning and development can alone represent satisfactory growth for most people.
V. A sense of community: That is the most difficult but most impactful piece of building a strong culture. The goal is to build a tribe or family-like group where people totally trust each other guided by the restaurant vision and values. That is when people do not feel they are going to work; instead, they feel they are part of society, a place they belong to. I had the opportunity to create and be part of such a working group earlier in my career and saw its astounding impact on business results. This is a large subject; so, we will leave the process of building such a community to another blog.
To conclude, the best HR practices we spoke about must go hand in hand with other key factors affecting restaurant success, end of the day the UAE market is packed with great concepts, amazing designs, all types of cuisines and delicious recipes, so having the best, well trained and committed group of people, many times can be the only competitive advantage that differentiates those who succeed from those who fail.
Finisya Hospitality solutions support restaurants with a variety of unique HR services, including recruitment, training, and building a strong culture.
Co-founder & Managing Partner
Finisya Hospitality Solutions