About 600 people live in New Washington, IN. And when local restaurateur Logan Hostettler first opened the doors of 1894 Lodge in 2015, he was on a mission to get every last one of them on his restaurant’s loyalty program. But not for the sake of creating a reliable revenue channel.
As members of this small-town community, Hostettler and his restaurant team sought to create that same warm, welcoming, hometown spirit within the four walls of 1894 Lodge.
The Impact of Cross-Training and Communication, in Owner Logan Hostettler's Own Words
In a town of around 600, staffing can be especially difficult.
This community-driven philosophy plays an integral role in how he approaches training and retaining his restaurant staff. “If you just treat people the way you want to be treated and you set up a great atmosphere and create a great energy, people will want to be in that environment,” he says.
In an industry rife with retention problems and closures, Hostettler has learned to grapple with the beast that is restaurant employee turnover. How? By treating his staff with the same warmth and hospitality he shows his customers. What he’s left with is a close-knit team that feels more like family than co-workers, a sentiment that’s visible to the community they serve.
Hostettler describes how his restaurant’s culture is built on an openness and acceptance that extends beyond the walls of 1894 Lodge. It’s too personal not to.
It's all about training your employees, but you've also got to train your customers.
“A lot of our employees went to the high school around here, and we're in a town of about 700 people in the middle of nowhere. Issues are swept under the rug, but we like to bring it out there, like, ‘Hey, it's okay to be different,’” he explains.
“We've had one employee that's not very religious and the next employee that's super religious and they get along great because it's an open table with everything we do. There's no place for that hostility in this building. A lot of people have gravitated towards that and we've really been able to create some great relationships within the business, with our customers, and with our community.”
By maintaining a keen focus on creating a workplace culture grounded in appreciation, growth, and understanding, Hostettler has found ways to improve his hiring strategy when he finds himself with an open spot on staff.
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“When we first started hiring, it was: ‘Alright, can you work tonight? I'll give you a t-shirt and I just need you to fill a body,’” he says of his approach in the early days at 1894 Lodge. But today, “We have a very different application process. In our application, it asks questions that aren't ‘Will you show up on time?’ and instead it's, ‘What's the last thing you ate? What are the top five restaurants you'd like to go to? What are some of the things that you like about service? What are your goals? Where do you see yourself in five years, 10 years?’”
We've focused our employee hiring process around getting to know the employees, because when you get here, I've got to keep you here.
For Hostettler, keeping his employees for the long haul starts on day one, with workplace training.
Every new restaurant employee at 1894 Lodge participates in two weeks’ worth of training. During this time, staff members learn about the 1894 Lodge brand and their approach to running a restaurant, capped off with some technical training about the point of sale system, including the nuts and bolts of the system’s back end. 1894 Lodge happens to be a Toast customer, and they use Toast’s customer training resources to coach and quiz new staff.
Though Hostettler and his team tend to hire candidates who have restaurant experience, he understands that those skills will only get them so far. Delighting every guest involves understanding how things are done at 1894 — inside out and backwards.
“When you come in here, we already understand that you're a little bit seasoned. You're a veteran server who knows how to handle themselves on the floor. But do you know how to handle our operations?” he says. “All of my servers have two weeks to train and they must complete that Toast testing, including the back end. They're all proficient in the quick service and the sit down service... You want to make sure they know what they're doing in your specific restaurant, not just in any restaurant.”
Besides on-the-job skills training, Hostettler has found that one of his best employee retention assets is to train his staff on having open, honest, judgement-free communication about things that might be happening on or off the clock.
“We always want to make sure people are polite. When you work here, everybody's got an open mind. We're very open to conversations on what's going on around us. And whenever something does happen, in our pre-shift meeting we talk about it. ‘How did this affect you guys? Is this something that's emotional to you? Is this something that you agree with, disagree with?’ We have a very open conversation and an open door policy. If they ever feel that, you know, they're threatened, they can obviously come in and let us know and we'll have a meeting.”
Understanding that sensitive subjects are, well, sensitive, Hostettler has created an anonymous channel for his staff to use if they feel uncomfortable raising an issue through an in-person conversation.
“That's actually happened before, too. Not necessarily something's wrong, but we had an individual provide feedback that they had a terrible shift, and I didn't notice it, but nobody else did, either. They were actually going through some stuff in their life and they were able to give us feedback on the scheduling app and we were able to sit down and talk to them and we got them some help because there were actually some issues going on outside the restaurant.”
Aside from communicating openly and regularly with his staff about issues impacting their personal or professional wellbeing, Hostettler and his team recently created an employee emergency fund available to staff who might be going through a trying time where a few extra dollars could really lighten the load.
“I need you here to do your job,” says Hostettler. “There's so many times in the last four or five years, where my car won't start or I've got a flat tire or whatever. So we kind of used that employee fund to help with our employees’ car issues or rent issues. Nobody should ever get their electricity shut off. I don't care what the situation is. We're in a day and age where somebody should be able to help somebody to keep their electric on. It's not expected to be paid back, but it's crazy how when you don't expect it to be paid back, it gets paid back.”
For Hostettler, what it all boils down to is doing all he can to build a community his team trusts so they can show up undistracted and ready to go for every shift. A vibrant, small community within a small community, 1894 Lodge is truly a home for its staff.
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