Skip navigation
restaurant-kitchen.png Getty Images/iStockphoto
In the ever-evolving restaurant landscape, the importance of cultivating a strong positive company culture, one that is uniquely identified with your restaurant and hospitality brand, cannot be overstated.

Ask Jill! Steering through challenges in building and maintaining a positive company culture

Leadership can be one of the most significant struggles

In today’s hectic world, with challenges coming at business leaders from all directions, focus becomes pivotal to sharpening their vision on how to build and maintain a company’s positive culture. This month’s question comes from Jerry Raynor, a senior manager at Deloitte who lives and breathes culture initiatives, putting his people, the internal customers, first when creating the best experience for his end customers. He creates and participates in activities that involve his workforce in their respective local communities to have the most impact, benefitting the employees, the company culture, and the communities they serve.

To know how to create solutions, we must first identify the problems. Jerry offered a great question related to this goal: “What are the biggest challenges companies face in building and maintaining a positive culture?” I’ll identify what I see as some of the biggest challenges (regardless of industry), and I invite you to offer any additional thoughts and ideas about other challenges you may face. (Please send your thoughts to [email protected])

In the ever-evolving restaurant landscape, the importance of cultivating a strong positive company culture, one that is uniquely identified with your restaurant and hospitality brand, cannot be overstated. Per last month’s article, Unlocking the culture code for restaurant brands, it’s critical to start with the vision and commitment at the top. We’ll start with leadership as one of the most significant challenges to building and maintaining a positive culture.

Visionary Leadership

One of the primary challenges companies encounter is the absence of strong leadership around a compelling, unified vision. Leaders play a pivotal role in shaping organizational culture, but when their focus is solely on bottom-line results rather than fostering an environment of trust, respect, and collaboration, the culture suffers. This is why it cannot be stressed enough that one of the first major organizational elements to be (re)addressed when wanting to build a sustainable positive company culture, regardless of how many locations or concepts a restaurant group has, or even what industry you’re in, must be aligned core values, vision, and mission by all leadership.

If you have not reassessed what these are since the pandemic, I urge you to take the time to do so, making sure you incorporate prioritizing your employee experience (EX) as you step into the present and future of what it will take to become a leading successful business.

I suggest all hiring of the “right” people for your company be based around these aligned values, not just a feeling of connection, experiences, and resumes. When leaders truly care about their team members and see them as whole people — when they care about each one’s success personally and professionally, ask and hear their employees’ input, and have their back — they will be better positioned to create a vision that inspires and resonates with everyone in the organization.


While it seems like common sense, effective communication is not always common practice. Effective communication is the lifeblood of any successful organization, yet, many companies struggle with communication breakdowns, leading to misunderstandings, low morale, and disengagement from their employees at best. Why at best? This would be awful! Because a restaurant would be lucky if, somehow, their employees felt unheard, had low morale, and were disengaged, and their customers did not feel this disgruntlement. None of these are fruitful in creating a cohesive environment of happy team members wanting to support one another to serve your patrons with a smile, regardless of what’s involved.

Clear and regular communication avoids feelings of confusion, lack of direction, and apathy. Leaders should actively listen ‘to hear’ employee feedback, address concerns promptly, and provide regular updates on company goals and initiatives. Prioritizing clear, transparent, and honest communication streams that are established for a two-way relationship between leadership/management and staff is the most productive. In doing so, companies foster a culture of trust and transparency, ultimately enhancing the employee experience and, in turn, the customer experience.

What every person wants most, regardless of their role in an organization, is to feel seen, heard, and significant. We all want to feel significant, that we matter, and to contribute to the greater good of the shared interests of the company we want to be proud to work for. Help your people do this by providing great systems of multiple communication channels.

Workplace diversity and inclusion

Embracing diversity and fostering an inclusive work environment is not just a moral imperative but also a strategic advantage for companies. One of the beautiful parts of the hospitality industry is its gorgeous tapestry of diversity, bringing richness to everyone’s experiences. Just as we all come from different backgrounds, it is varying life encounters that uniquely shape us. We grow and become who we are by the interactions we have with people different from us. It opens our eyes and minds and brings with it a diversity of ideas from multiple cultures and ways of life. This naturally creates a safe, healthy environment for development and growth in ways that may not otherwise have been thought of because so often organizations stick to what they know, to what “has always been done.” Enlightened Hospitality Investments is a wonderful example of the application of this value distinction.

Mark Leavitt, managing partner, told me they take pride in the fact that “about 65% of Enlightened Hospitality Investments’ portfolio companies have female and other underrepresented group founders and CEOs. Our investment team is similarly diverse.” This diversity contributes to their success. “Diverse teams win,” Leavitt said. I could not agree more! This is how a vibrant and innovative culture is developed.

Employee well-being and burnout

Unfortunately, in today’s fast-paced work environment, employee well-being is increasingly becoming a concern for all companies, especially in a typically high-turnover industry like restaurants. Burnout, stress, and mental health issues are prevalent. I am happy to say that while previously substance abuse had become the norm in coping with long hours, high pressure to perform, intense expectations both front and back of the house, and dealing with customers, there is now an awareness and attention given to circumvent this long-established reaction. This naturally also leads to burnout.

Without acknowledgment of the problem and resources directed to change, it will continue to lead to decreased productivity, higher turnover rates, and ultimately, a negative impact on company culture. My goal is to help organizations “Transform employees into advocates and customer magnets™.” By investing in their employees’ well-being and making them a priority, companies not only demonstrate their commitment to their workforce but also reap the rewards of a more engaged and motivated team. They will be the best (free) source of PR, exclaiming to everyone they know how happy they are at work and what a great company they belong to (because we all talk about our work). When we feel cared-for and content, proud of the culture of which we’re a significant part, we want to share that with others. This is also how to gain new and repeat customers, because who doesn’t want to be around that great energy?

In conclusion, building and maintaining a positive company culture is a complex and ongoing process filled with challenges. However, if we identify what they are, we can reverse engineer the solutions into your process, working from the inside-out, from EX2CX® to achieve them. This philosophy of prioritizing your employee experience will help you navigate these challenges more effectively. By fostering strong leadership, promoting open communication to hear, not just listen, embracing diversity and inclusion, and prioritizing employee well-being, organizations can create a culture that not only attracts top talent but also drives employee engagement, satisfaction, and, ultimately, the restaurant’s success. This is the way to build and maintain a solid, positive company culture. Remember, a positive company culture isn't just a nice-to-have — it’s a strategic imperative that will set your organization a part in today’s competitive landscape.

What questions do you have about developing your restaurant’s company culture? What challenges are you facing? Get your ‘culture questions’ answered! Be the next one to have your culture concerns highlighted in the next Ask Jill! Develop Your Company Culture Article.

Email me your question or just connect directly at [email protected] 

Jill Raff 2.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].  

Hide comments


  • Allowed HTML tags: <em> <strong> <blockquote> <br> <p>

Plain text

  • No HTML tags allowed.
  • Web page addresses and e-mail addresses turn into links automatically.
  • Lines and paragraphs break automatically.