Most restaurants, it turns out, do not close during their first year. Forbes reports on a 2014 study that shows only 17% of restaurants fail in the first year, a failure rate lower than some other service businesses. Bar and Restaurant Success reported that 2016 was the seventh successive year of growth in the industry and that wholesale food prices were going down in that year while menu prices went up. In addition, The Motley Fool reported that for the first time in 2016, the average American spent more on restaurants and take-out than on groceries! Seems it’s a very good time for restaurants.

Let’s not get carried away, though, with the idea that success is easy or likely. By the third year, almost half of restaurants close. So, what is the difference between success and failure?

We all know the mantra that food and service make the restaurant. Imagine, for a moment, that two restaurants in close geographic proximity offer the same quality food and equally good service. Which will prevail in the competitive restaurant industry?

Certainly management practices impact the ultimate success of a restaurant — but what about differences in the customer experience? Wait, weren’t we talking about equally good service? But consider this: in one of those restaurants, employees do their job and serve their customers well, if perfunctorily. In the other, employees do their job joyfully and serve their customers so well that they leave smiling and look forward to returning soon.

And that last experience has everything to do with work culture, creating a place your employees love and don’t want to leave. A great work culture not only makes your business more fun and less stressful for you and your employees, it is critical to your competitive success. It’s just good business to be a happy business.

Your employees are your face to the public, and they are most directly responsible for creating the experience that will bring your customers back again and again. If you want your customers to leave happy and satisfied and eager to return, focus on creating that experience for your employees through the work culture you develop.

What will keep your employees happy and satisfied, looking forward to work? What do your employees want?

What your employees want:

  • Employees want you to be clear about the core values of your business so they can align with them and represent them well. This means you need to be clear about your core values and reflect them in every aspect of your business.
  • Employees want to feel that they are “going somewhere,” that is, that they can advance in your business, whether in status or increased income and benefits or personal growth.
  • Employees, like all people, experience greater satisfaction when they feel part of something bigger than themselves, whether that’s a “team” or a concept they embrace and promote.
  • Employees appreciate fairness and integrity.
  • Employees appreciate recognition and contribute more when they get it.
  • Employees benefit from well-defined responsibilities and a measure of predictability but conversely need variety to maintain maximum enthusiasm and creativity.
  • Fun and laughter not only reduce stress, but they release “feel-good” brain chemicals.

Simple enough, but how can you ensure that you are doing your part to create the work culture that keeps your employees at their best as they serve your customers? Keep in mind both formal mechanisms as well as informal mechanisms.

Formal mechanisms include:

  • Staff meetings. It’s difficult in the restaurant industry to take time for staff meetings, but they are invaluable for building a team environment in which all contributions matter. Make staff meetings short, informative, and encourage staff contributions. Maintain a positive atmosphere, and let employees know what their channel is to deal with complaints.
  • Meet with each employee privately for a written “review”. Discuss employee’s goals at work as well as employer evaluations and areas that need work. Revisit these issues at each meeting to evaluate progress toward resolution.
  • Institute a health and safety program. Healthy employees are happier employees.

Informal mechanisms:

  • Nip problems in the bud. If you spot something going on, don’t let it fester.
  • Do not allow aggression among employees, active or passive.
  • Encourage positive attitudes and cooperation.

Most importantly, remember: people who laugh together stay together — and keep your customers coming back. Find things each day to laugh about. Plan laughter into every day, and seize opportunities to find humor in your environment. It’s an invaluable tool for defusing the stress that accompanies life in the restaurant industry.

Your employees will appreciate you for the interest you show in them and the supportive, happy culture you create, and they will, in turn, engage your customers in that experience.

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