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You know better than anyone: Staff turnover is a big problem in the restaurant industry. But what if you could reduce turnover (and improve productivity) just by investing more time and resources in workplace communication?
Great communication helps teams work together seamlessly during those chaotic shifts. It helps you understand what’s really going in your restaurants, whether it has to do with guests, employees, or anything else. And when you’re communicating well with your team, it’s easier to get them to stick around.
You’re busy, and this is another thing to add to your already long list. But a little communication can go a long way in keeping your team afloat.
Getting to the Bottom of the Communication Issue
With so much access to technology — from our attachment to smartphones to the inescapability of wifi — it makes you wonder: Why’s communication an issue at all?
We have more ways than ever to get in touch with each other, but there are so many devices and communication channels competing for our attention. To counteract this habit, you need to adapt your internal staff processes and take a more hands-on approach to team communication.
Plus, with varied shifts and new staff joining the team and others leaving, restaurant staff are rarely start and end their time at your restaurant together, so it can be hard to form long-term communication habits with coworkers. This leaves us needing clear processes and expectations around communication.
In this article, we’ll walk you through ways to improve staff communication and processes, with ideas you can easily implement, all to help you ramp up your internal communication strategy, curb turnover, and improve your bottom line. Let’s get talking.
Treat people the way you want to be treated, says owner Logan Hostettler of his approach to managing staff.
How to Improve Team Communication in Restaurants
1. Have regular employee check-ins.
Most restaurant managers only have real, sit-down one-on-one chats with employees when they’re hiring or firing them. But quick, regular chats with an employee can work wonders to increase employee motivation, and improve communication across the whole team.
Schedule a weekly or monthly recurring calendar reminder to have check-in meetings with different employees thirty minutes before or after their shift.
Consider holding the meeting in a neutral space, like a nearby coffee shop, so the employee feels like they can chat openly with you without the influence of the workplace or coworkers. You could also consider doing a walking meeting around the neighborhood. Whatever works best for the both of you.
Here are a few things you could do during your staff check-ins:
- See how your team member is doing. Are they happy with the way things are going in the restaurant and their role? Are they feeling stressed or upset about something? Offer an empathetic ear, along with a few ways you might be able to help.
- Answer any questions they might have. Questions could be about the business, what’s going on in the restaurant industry, or about their career path. You can use these check-ins to better understand where they want to take their career and share ideas for upward mobility and professional growth in the restaurant industry.
- Encourage them to share ideas they might have. Your team is on the front lines every day. Chances are they have ideas to help improve processes.
You might be surprised by what you learn and how much you’re able to make your employees feel supported in just a 30-minute conversation every couple of weeks.
2. Get the team together for staff meals.
Staff meals are an awesome way to get your team together in an informal setting and communicate without the stress of daily service.
Staff meals are most common in full-service restaurants, but who says you can’t if you run a bakery or QSR? Play with the idea and make it your own.
Institute a mandatory staff meal at least once a week. Use the opportunity to share information with your team and answer any questions they might have. Remember to have some fun with it, too. You can use the time to play a quick team-building activity to get everyone communicating. Or just relax and get to know each other.
In many cases, kitchens use the staff meal as an opportunity to use up any surplus inventory, but staff meals can also be used to experiment with future menu items or to give your chef or one of your cooks a chance to share a particular dish not on the menu. Watching cooks prepare a dish that's special to them will help your front-of-house staff better understand and build empathy for your kitchen team.
Ciro Fodera loves making staff meals for his team of over 50 cooks and sitting together to eat.
It's a big part of how he shows his team that he cares about their well-being.
3. Use a manager log book.
If you’re not already, use a manager log book to help you keep track of your team notes during shifts. Besides kickstarting the habit of taking notes for yourself or other managers, using a manager log book helps you build an archive of observations on where your team can make improvements.
Here are a few examples. Log what employees can do to improve the guest experience or how the kitchen can be optimized for more efficiency. Write down where the team might be having miscommunications and how they can improve moving forward.
First thing’s first: Start using a manager log book that’s built for mobile, allows you to share notes between managers, and is easily searchable. Once you have it up and running, start looking for any communication trends in the notes or for recurring situations that need to be addressed. You can communicate the issues to your staff and suggest ways to remedy them.
4. Use a work-specific group communication tool.
According to the Pew Research Center, the vast majority of Americans (96%) now own a cellphone of some sort. So it’s a no-brainer to use mobile communication and apps to foster staff communication among your restaurant team.
You can use mobile communication to send out important information to employees like schedules, menu alerts and changes, kitchen status, event notices, and more.
Your team probably won’t want to be part of some big group text with you and their co-workers (who can blame them?), so use a more work-friendly app. You could use an app like Slack, or use a restaurant scheduling software that offers in-app chat functions.
This will give you access to a work-specific space for employee group chats and one-on-one conversations — as well as the ability to send announcements to keep the entire team up to speed. These channels can also be good places to share personal updates, like photos of kids or birthday events, and funny industry memes and gifs with your team.
5. Create digital versions of employee training documents.
Often, communication breakdown in the restaurant can be attributed to employee uncertainty: how to proceed with a given task, what to do in the case of a no call–no show, and so on. These kinds of uncertainties are normally solved through training, but as we all know, it’s next to impossible to bulletproof every situation that’ll come up.
You could create guidelines around almost anything: how hosts should assign sections, who’s responsible for side work and when, how the kitchen fires a dish and what that means for FOH staff.
Create and provide digital versions of your employee training documents that your staff can quickly reference when they have questions or problems. Include digital versions of your employee handbook, training manual, an FAQs document, and whatever other documents or materials you think would be helpful in an online space.
Make sure these documents are easily accessible via mobile so your team can always find them when they’re on the job. You can use free tools like Google Docs for this.
And once you’ve created digital versions of your documents and materials, send an email or message out to the team letting them know. Share the link so they know where to find them and can bookmark it for future use.
6. Send out an internal email newsletter.
Employee email newsletters are another great way to break down silos within your restaurant in a less formal format. You could use a newsletter to share any restaurant activities and news. If your restaurant performed really well last month, share it with the team. If you received a great Yelp review, why not share it? A newsletter is a great place to share updates, keep your staff in the loop, and engage everyone.
A quick way to get started with an employee newsletter is to use an email service like Tinyletter. You can input your list of employee email addresses, and it provides you with a simple way to easily compose a nice-looking newsletter and send it out.
If you’re looking for content to include in your newsletter, here’s a guide on the do’s and don'ts of email newsletters so you can make sure employees get the most value out of it.
7. Collect and encourage anonymous feedback.
As you can imagine, employees won’t always feel comfortable sharing feedback directly with restaurant management. Even if the staff loves your leadership team, sometimes they’ll feel more comfortable broaching a challenging or even uncomfortable subject without an email or face-to-face conversation.
It’s ultimately not your employees’ responsibility to figure out how to effectively communicate with you and management. Granted, there’s some give and take, but you need to create opportunities for them to communicate with you.
Encourage feedback and the positive impact it can have on the restaurant and the entire staff. Then, provide them with an anonymous means of submitting feedback to keep the lines of communication healthy and open between employees and management.
One way to do this is through Google Forms. Using Google Forms, you can set up an anonymous feedback form in minutes. Once you’ve created your feedback form, share the link with the team and let them know you’ll read through their responses regularly and act on them appropriately. Include it in your email signature so your employees will always have access to it when you’re sending out team updates.
That’s it. Get your team communicating well, through process and practice, and you’ll find your restaurant staff happier and running at full steam together through a busy shift.