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To become the employer of choice, highlight who you are and why in your recruitment conversations, not just the standard basics of shift hours, pay, time off, etc.

Ask Jill! How restaurant employees can have pride in their workplace

A comprehensive guide to instilling ownership and pride in your team.

I think it’s fair to say that we are all looking for a cohesive work-family environment in our workplace, one where everyone on the team or anyone involved in the restaurant in any way has pride and a mindset of ownership. It’s a work ethic with which I was raised growing up in our restaurant industry (and one that I carried forward, whether developing a knitwear department for a high-end fashion design company, working for restaurants from McDonald’s to Michelin-starred, or food styling). Regardless of the project or task, the work we do individually reflects that person and their values. And yet, they are also a reflection of the brand and its culture as an extension of the company for whom they’re working. 

Continuing this sense of pride and ownership is the struggle put forth by Ryan Vet, President of Third Hospitality, as this month's question

“We own a coffee shop and wine bar," Vet said. “The initial team that was hired to help us open and run the shop was dedicated, hardworking, creative, and had a true sense of ownership and pride. Over the past five years, we experienced attrition, and more recent hires have lost touch with the sense of ownership and pride that came with the original team. Now, the current team is just punching a clock and treating it like a job.” 

Vet asked, “How do you re-instill ownership and pride in a team regardless of how long the establishment has been open?”

This is an outstanding question from which everyone can benefit. We all learn from each other so if you have additional ideas from what I’ll share here below, please write me at [email protected] with your thoughts, and I will share them in next month’s article. 

I’ll break it down into three parts: recruitment and onboarding, day-to-day operations, and investment for the long term.

1. Recruitment and Onboarding

Lead with your values. If you want staff to become a team who has each other’s back, who will jump in to do whatever it takes regardless of job title, you must start with recruiting and hiring people of not just the same mindset, but also the same value set. Simply put, clearly defined values are the foundation of any strong company culture. Look at prospective leaders’ and employees' character, work ethic, and sense of team spirit more than just their resume. You’ll understand why when we get to onboarding and operations. Lead with integrity as your guiding roadmap and look for it in all you bring under your banner. During interviews, to learn of these qualities from prospective hires, ask strategic questions that reveal their attitudes toward things they’ll encounter, how they feel about teamwork versus solo work, responsibilities, and pride in their previous work.

Showcase culture. To become the employer of choice, highlight who you are and why in your recruitment conversations, not just the standard basics of shift hours, pay, time off, etc. Emphasize the central treasure of your people experiencing pride and ownership. Everyone wants to belong and be a part of something bigger than themselves, so presenting this as a key asset in your company culture is priceless and makes you desirable.

Educate not train. Once you’ve hired those aligning with your restaurant’s core values, vision, and mission (to the best of your ability at this stage), you’ll want to lay the groundwork of expectations. This is the first step for what I call “Expectations Management.” You cannot expect to hold your people accountable if you’ve not taught them first what is to be expected of them, and to give them the knowledge of how to perform at the highest level. Just training (boot camp style especially) is insufficient and unemotional. While, of course, each person must have job skills training to execute their task responsibilities, it is not what will instill ownership and pride. These are the hard skills required to accomplish the basics, a given, but it is, in fact, the essential skills (nothing soft about it) of emotional connection that will sustain and drive the transition from workforce to work-family. 

Education over training will also be long-lasting, even for a lifetime, as I’ve learned from men who tell me verbatim conversations they remember having with my father, their first boss, when working at one of the first McDonald’s in the early ’60s. He educated them on the growing company’s values, culture, vision, and mission. In addition to how to work the stations, he clarified expectations of how to work supportively as a team and how to speak with and treat the customers. It is this foundation upon which I was raised that became the first “E”, Educate, in my E3+1 Recipe for creating ownership and pride, whether you’re the first team in a new restaurant or if you join the team many years later. This way, you have the same starting point for buy-in regardless of when a person is employed.

Involved orientation. According to Gallup, happy and highly engaged employees bring in 147% more profits. Create an entry program that is active and engaging so that right from the start, everyone is involved, offering their ideas and learning from one another, creating an immediate sense of belonging and value. Everyone needs to feel seen and validated. It’s in our DNA. We rise to higher levels of accomplishment when we feel ‘full’ emotionally and know we can contribute to our team's success. Naturally, this equates to higher productivity and happiness, and who doesn’t want a happier, more productive workplace? This also amounts to more loyalty and retention of staff.

2. Day-to-Day Operations

Set milestones. When goals are clearly defined, it’s easier to accomplish them and then everyone involved is happier. It will eliminate many frustrations both from leadership as well as staff. This may already be happening, but are you adding in the educational element along the way. (Tip: I suggest you do this throughout every step of your operations, which will discuss deeper below.) Be sure to provide not only detailed job descriptions and performance expectations, but also teach them how each activity and role contributes to the greater company success. This way they don’t feel like just a cog in the wheel that anyone could fill, but that they specifically are important with what they bring to the table.

Encourage initiative. What is it about the excitement and positive energy, that sense of ownership and pride a developing team embodies? This is what we want to capture and not just repeat but maintain for the life of the business. Having been a part of leadership and as a team member in new businesses, I think a lot of what is so special is the creative spirit married with the challenge of developing a successful outcome (whether a project or a restaurant at scale). The kind of people you hire who match your brand values, will naturally contribute to this energy when leaders show they believe in them, give them the guidance to grow and the freedom to perform. Encourage employees to be proactive in supporting one another, never to use the thought or words “it’s not my job,” and to contribute their unique skills to achieve the mutual shared end goals of the company. This will benefit them personally as well as the whole. It’s a win-win!

Create opportunities. Create ways for your staff to show leadership and shine. Reward these motivated actions. This driven behavior is a key ingredient in a first-team constitution. It is not something that is proprietary only to that starting team since regardless of whether they are the first or they’re hired five or 10 years later, for them, it is all new and an opportunity to make an impact on whatever group they join. 

3. Long Term Investment

Lead intentionally. To achieve this enthusiastic, driven behavior from your people, whether newbies or a veteran, to your restaurant/bar/hotel, the responsibility lies squarely on leadership. The decision-makers must make a conscious choice (it is a choice!) to not short-cut the steps and activities used when first developing your establishment. It’s so easy to do the same once things are moving along your now established systems from all learned in the process. But within this lies the secret ingredient.

Maintain creative challenges. When we solve problems together, we grow together. When we grow together, we respect one another and connect personally and professionally. When we develop authentic connections, we bond for the long term. Don’t stop providing challenges for your team to conquer together. Leadership must be intentional about consistently creating these opportunities over your business's life.

Professional development and empowerment. Being fulfilled by the work we do has goalposts, short term to long term. We need to hit our more immediate goals while always having our north star lighting the way for longer-term objectives. Leadership must develop and lay out a plan, so each employee can literally see their own path of contribution and opportunity for growth within the company. If they cannot see this vision, there will be no buy-in, no ownership, and no pride. This opportunity and benefit need to be witnessed by all new hires. Lived experiences of your now-developed culture will create the same excitement and driven energy as the first employees. 

Letting go. How often have you thought, “I need 3 more of me”? Come on, admit it. I concede that it’s been one of my biggest challenges over the years, and letting go is a work in progress. Only when we have laid the groundwork of hiring for cultural-fit based on values, educate them consistently on what those values look like in the day-to-day activities, create engagement for employees as a work-family based on respect, can we then truly trust enough to let go. It is a conscious decision, a proactive choice by leadership. Allowing for this entrusting of your team shows them you believe in them and their value. This is where you create ownership and pride. This is when each employee, regardless of position or tenure at the company, feels they matter and make a difference between success or failure. 

In summary, Vet asks a fantastic, legitimate question about a genuine problem I believe most in the industry face. With labor being (one of) the biggest challenges of the restaurant industry, starting with educating employees is a pivotal strategy to reduce turnover and instead develop ownership and pride. Most everything in life is a process and a journey. It’s super exciting to be on a new journey, figuring things out, and working with others to achieve a big goal. This does not have to change whether it’s a new, first team or joining one established before you. The goals and challenges may be slightly different, but in the end of it, the objective is to create great employee experiences so that they will feel excited to share their ownership and pride with their customers. It will also prove to transform your employees into advocates and customer magnets.

Flowing from recruitment and onboarding to day-to-day operations and investing in your people for the long term, these tools and strategies will help you create and maintain a sense of ownership and pride in every employee.

Every restaurant, large or small, faces cultural challenges. Let me help you! Ask your questions about your restaurant’s company culture and get them answered. Email me at [email protected].

Jill-Main_Headshot_color_241.jpegAUTHOR BIO

Jill Raff is the globally recognized EX2CX Advisor, working with executive leaders who recognize the paradigm shift: the non-negotiable creation of a more humanized culture prioritizing their people. She helps organizations that recognize their people are their greatest asset but need help creating new systems and procedures to develop the culture resulting in higher retention and greater productivity. Companies experience employee and customer lifetime value using her methodology connecting the employee experience (EX) to the customer experience (CX) — EX2CX. 

Jill grew up working with her parents, owner/operators of McDonald's franchises, starting with store No. 150. Her customer service philosophy of Transforming Transactions Into Interactions starting with the employee originated from observing her parent's work and their interactions with legendary founder Ray Kroc. EX and CX is in Jill’s DNA. Based on her diverse background working in multiple industries — and living in 7 countries — Jill developed her Inside-Out Framework based on her “3+1 Recipe” to build a culture creating attraction and retention, often described as “where McDonald’s & Michelin meet.” Contact her at [email protected]


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