How to Transform Your Restaurant Staff Into Brand Advocates

By: Donald Burns

7 Minute Read

Apr 30, 2018

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Today’s restaurant market is a lot like flying coach on a major airline — not much room.

Standing out to guests and prospective employees is imperative if you want to not just survive, but thrive in the overly saturated restaurant industry. The easiest way to do so is by turning your existing team members into loud, proud, restaurant brand advocates.

Your team is a natural amplifier of your restaurants mission and purpose. They’re the face of your brand to customers inside the walls of your restaurant and undoubtedly talk about work outside them to friends and family (read: potential customers).

By taking the time to transform your restaurant staff into brand advocates, you can shape the narrative they share with others about your restaurant and turn the conversations they have with prospective customers and employees into an effective marketing channel for your restaurant.

What Can Having Brand Advocates on Staff Do For Your Restaurant?

All restaurants have two customers: Internal and external.

We focus so much on doing all that we can to turn the the external customer (or guest) into raving fans that we lose sight of a vibrant, vital customer base right in front of us… our team.

Why divert your focus from external customers and invest your time into turning your team into brand advocates? As with any investment, you’re looking for a return and the stats don’t lie: Gallup's meta-analysis of employee engagement shows that business units with high employee engagement have 28% less internal theft or shrinkage and 21% higher productivity.

Staffing is a BIG concern for restaurant owners across the country: The United States is, at present, in the midst of a chef shortage and the “restaurant and accommodations” sector saw a 73% employee turnover rate in 2017. With the cost of turning one hourly employee hovering near $6000.00, engaging your team to become brand advocates for your restaurant is a smart business decision.

You’ve likely spent a great deal of time and energy developing a solid brand and marketing messaging (if not, read this); by transforming your staff into restaurant brand advocates, you have the opportunity to tap into your staff members’ networks, leverage their connections, and expand your presence to new customer bases.

Companies that have a strong employee advocacy program definitely increase their visibility. Messages shared by employees went 561% further than the same message shared on a brand owned channel; brand messages are reshared an average of 24x when distributed by an employee vs. the brand.

Saying you’re good is one thing; when your team says your brand is good, you make it into the bonus round.

So, how do you go about transforming your staff into restaurant brand advocates? Here are a few suggestions:

1. Onboard Like Your Business Depends on It (Hint: It Does)

During the interview process, your new team member was likely very fired up about joining your restaurant’s staff; starting a new professional opportunity and chapter in your life is a very exciting time.

Sadly, many restaurants fail to capitalize on this “new job” excitement and put the kibosh on their chance to transform new staff into brand advocates day one.

Here’s how it usually goes: Your new staff member shows up for the first day and are told to read the 45-page employee handbook — sit in the corner, read the manual, and fill out paperwork. They then get a tour, maybe some basic OSHA mandated training, and then they’re let loose on the floor. Epic fail.

face palm

Instead, on a new staff member’s first day, you should hold an employee welcoming party. You want to make their first day memorable in the best way possible; Make sure to clear your calendar so you have time to focus on really getting them excited about joining your team.

Once again, remember that your new team members (internal customers) must be treated just as great (and maybe even better) than your external customers (guests). On boarding sets the tone for how the employee is going to connect with your brand. Take it seriously, put some energy into it.

2. Make Them The Hero

Your restaurant’s staff members are assets, not liabilities.

If you think that restaurant staff are lazy and entitled, you will tend to find yourself surrounded by lazy and entitled people. When you focus on the bad, you tend to get more of it.


The funny thing about people is that they tend to rise to your level of expectation. Focus on your team members’ natural strengths; find ways to help them flourish by playing to these strengths.

So your server may not be the best at talking to customers, have you noticed that they’re incredibly adept at anticipating a customer's needs three steps before it happens? Maybe they consistently run other staff members food and drinks, while also managing their own workload. Impressive.

How can you learn about your restaurant staff’s strengths? Talk to your team more and find out what makes them get out of bed in the morning, as well as what makes them tick. Find out what their dreams and goals are in life, both professional and personal.

In today’s competitive job market, employees want to work for companies that give them opportunities to advance their career, whether that be developing new skills, learning from a mentor, or having a clearly outlined path of success.

Find a way to help your staff achieve their and they will go into battle for you and your brand.

3. Never miss an opportunity to appreciate

The two most powerful words you can say to another person are: Thank You.

Think of how great it feels when a guest walks up to you after enjoying a meal at your restaurant and says those two words to you. It feels pretty good, doesn’t it?

Your team wants to experience that as well. Give it to them.

Saying thank you is probably the simplest yet most effective thing you can do to transform your restaurant staff into brand advocates. The best thing about it? It costs you nothing. Sincerity and appreciation are paramount to any experience, especially that of your internal customers.


Thank your team openly. There’s an old saying that you should, “critique in private and praise in public”. Wise words.

Take to social media and showcase your brand advocates. Celebrate their birthdays, life events, and accomplishments. Your restaurant is more than just the food and drink you serve, it’s the people who shape the memorable experiences that delight your guests time and time again. Make time to appreciate and share the stories the people on your team.

For example, Mei Mei, a Boston area restaurant and food truck, shouted out one of their employees for running the Boston Marathon and getting engaged at the finish line!

4. Shift from GX to TX

If you want to improve your GX — guest experience — you’ve got to focus on the TX — team experience.


When you focus on making your restaurant a great place to be for staff members, they’ll want to share the good news with others. Here are a few benefits you can offer to employees guaranteed to boost workplace morale:

  • Giving staff members access to an employee area
  • Providing staff meals and discounts on food
  • Health benefits
  • PTO (paid time off)
  • Offering advanced training, coaching, and/or mentorship
  • Creating a scholarship program for students on staff
  • Offering unique benefits, like child care or covering transportation costs

By transforming your restaurant staff into brand advocates, they become a megaphone broadcasting a positive narrative about your restaurant’s brand and mission.

5. Swag, Baby

People love free stuff.


Giving your staff cool swag like water bottles, sweatshirts (hoodies), baseball caps, bags (backpacks), and stickers makes promoting your restaurant as easy as getting dressed in the morning.

Don’t give them the same T-shirt you expect them to wear at work; make it special, make it unique. Better yet, ask them what they would like.

Shout It From The Rooftops

When your team starts incorporating your restaurants brand into their personal life, then you know you have finally transformed them into brand advocates. If you can get them to tattoo your logo on themselves, then you've reached "brand fanatic" level, but I'll save that for another post. ☺

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