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How to Build a Restaurant Community – With Your Employees

Posted by Jackie Sabol on 9/21/15 8:00 AM in Restaurant Management

5 minute read Print

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You may or may not know that Toast HQ is located in the heart of Boston, a city with an eclectic and expansive choice of dining options, which are growing every year. Across the river lies Cambridge, also experiencing its own culinary revolution. There are literally thousands of restaurants in the Boston metro area, ranging from fine dining to deli counters, and they are all competing for staff.

In a city like Boston, where the college students and post-grad job seekers choose to work in hospitality to pay the rent, there is certainly no shortage of people to hire. But you don’t want just anyone to be the face of your business. You want to hire the best staff, and you want them to stick around as long as possible.

How do you get the best employees through your doors for an interview? And how to you keep them around?

Bella Luna & The Milky Way, a neighborhood restaurant and nightclub that is well known to anyone who has spent time in the Jamaica Plain area of metro Boston, has earned a cult following of guests and employees. There is something special about the way management treats their staff, keeping their finest on the payroll for in many cases longer than a decade.

This results in a tightly-knit team of trained, experienced hospitality professionals, who are not just working there to make money, but are emotionally invested in the success of the business. In a city like Boston, temporary home to a large and transient body of students who fill the positions of many restaurants in the area, this is an impressive accomplishment.

Here are some examples of how the management team makes this happen: 

  • New Call-to-actionThey employ friends and family referred by their current staff. 
  • They maintain connections with team members who have left, and invite them back again if they find themselves short-staffed for any period of time.
  • They close up shop one day a year, rent a school bus, and take the entire team (along with lots of food and drinks) to a local beach to relax and bond outside of work.
  • They hold a holiday party every December, inviting staff members and their families, along with their most loyal regular customers. The event is catered by another neighborhood restaurant, and drinks are on the house. There is also an award ceremony, recognizing staff members for a job well done. They give each team member a gift, and each gift is hand-picked for each person.
  • They have a “hall of fame” for their most dedicated, longer-term employees. Inductee names are inscribed on a plaque that is displayed on the wall of the restaurant. And anyone who works there knows - it’s quite an honor!

The point is, the management team at Bella Luna & the Milky Way makes a huge effort to foster an atmosphere of teamwork, friendship, and appreciation for all the contributions their employees make, and as a result, they're keeping the staff and crew engaged at all times.

If you’re interested in holding on to your best employees long enough to have your own Hall of Fame plaque on the wall of your establishment, here are some things you can do to build a restaurant community starting with your employees. 

1. Create an employee referral program.

Most companies offer an employee referral bonus and source a large amount of high-quality team members this way. Why not do the same at your restaurant?

BONUS: Your current employees will bring in their best candidates, because their own reputation will be on the line.

2. Welcome your employees just as you would your guests.

Restaurant employees are the backbone of your business – and their attitude starts with you. Take a moment to say hello to each person as they walk through the door, shake their hand, and let them know it’s good to have them at the restaurant that evening. If you’re too busy, make time later. Your employees are used to giving the red carpet treatment to others, so it’s lovely to give them the opportunity to enjoy a moment of it themselves. Not to mention, in an industry where people are working nights and weekends dealing with difficult customers, you’d be surprised how quickly management can become “the enemy.” Nip that in the bud by making a personal connection, and make your servers feel appreciated. A great example of a restaurant that does this is Torchy's Tacos in Austin, Texas, which touts its Damn Good® culture in this video featuring their general managers. 

BONUS: This gives your team members valuable perspective on how to treat guests when they know how good it feels!

3. Create an ongoing training program.

I'm not only talking about steps of service. Make sure your team is familiar with all the dishes, specials, wines and cocktails on your menu. Restaurant employees are here for the money, but also for the food. Spending 30 minutes each day to taste a new wine, an exotic ingredient, or the new desert menu makes every day exciting and shows your team that you value them enough to make this investment.

BONUS: Your staff’s average tips will increase significantly as they become better prepared to upsell other menu items, solidifying their loyalty to your restaurant. Watch your revenue soar as servers passionately speak about their favorite wine pairing!

4. Enact an incentive program.

It’s common for restaurant employees to go to work, get through their shift, and head home. This can become a grind, so adding an incentive program to your employees offers variety, fun, and even friendly competition to the culture of your restaurant. Why not have a monthly contest to see who can sell the most bottles of wine? Or get the most positive online reviews? You can reward the winner, handsomely, with some recognition in front of your staff and dinner for two! Keep your employees engaged, and they will keep doing their best work for you (and for longer).

BONUS: You can leverage your incentive competition to bring in more money and more customers!

5. Build a family atmosphere.

Close your doors to the public once a year and focus on treating your staff to an appreciation night or have a team outing where everyone can bond, outside of the stresses of work. They’ll feel appreciated and refreshed for their next shift.  

BONUS: You’ll see an improvement in teamwork as your staff gets to know each other, making restaurant operations much smoother. You’ll also create a lot of buzz in the community, which is great for publicity. 

Going the extra mile for your staff will encourage them to do the same for you – and your business will grow stronger because of it!

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Written by: Jackie Sabol

Jackie has been a part of the hospitality industry for 16 years. From front desk attendant at a truck stop motel in southern NJ, to fine dining server at the Museum of Fine Arts in Boston, she’s seen it all. As a product speicalist at Toast, she is able to feed both her love of hospitality and her inner nerd by connecting F&B business owners with great technology. When she’s not at Toast, she can be found talking with her mouth full at any of Boston’s fantastic eateries.


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