How to keep your best peeps: Square Pie Guys’ proven recipe for retention

Meet the owner:

Danny Stoller, Square Pie Guys

Square Pie Guys is a modern pizza restaurant that serves up Detroit-style square pan pizzas to the Bay Area. A former head chef, Danny and his co-founder Marc Schechter started the restaurant as a weekly pop-up and have since grown it into a continuing success. 

 

 

Building a strong team is key to growing a business. And as someone who’s seen all sides of the restaurant industry, I’ve learned that consistency is what it takes to not only train employees properly but also to keep them around. 

To me, it’s such an encapsulation of what’s been missing in restaurants: The work itself is chaotic and stressful, yes. But everything else around it should be consistent and predictable. 

Keeping culture alive

The biggest thing for us is that we want everyone to have the same experience. Marc and I are genuinely excited about and grateful for every single person that chooses to work with us. In an industry where it’s really hard to find talent, it’s important that everyone gets that love and excitement from their manager right from the beginning. 

So you have to make sure that the managers who are onboarding them have that as their true north. 

As we continue to grow, it becomes increasingly impossible for me to work directly with everyone — I can’t manage a store myself and successfully expand at the same time. At this point, I am able to support, guide, and develop but not directly work with my general managers. 

In an industry where it’s really hard to find talent, it’s important that everyone gets that love and excitement from their manager right from the beginning.”

So, I’m having to put another person in between me and my GMs, which can cause an internal personality and identity crisis. That’s just the nature of a growth-focused concept. 

Still, my biggest fear is that our culture will end up getting diluted. When we first opened our second location in Oakland, we hired an outside general manager. As I interviewed candidates, I kept this fear in my mind and asked everyone what they would do to keep our culture consistent so I could find someone who cared about it as much as I do. 

Luckily, they’re doing an amazing job at keeping our culture alive — which makes everyone’s life better.

Training for change  

Before starting Square Pie Guys, I worked as a trained chef in various restaurants. I left because I was convinced there was no way to achieve a work/life balance — no way for people to make a fair amount of money, have a good life, and work in the restaurant industry. 

I’ve also experienced the worst management styles at very high-end restaurants. One of my chefs tried to teach me by letting me fail over and over again — and it solved nothing. I was trained on the same station by different people, each of whom did the same thing in their own way. 

That same chef, the one who had me train with the other cooks, would see something I was doing that I had just learned and say, “that’s not how we do it.” The person they told me to trust just spent the last week training me on that process … and they’d teach me their way. Then the Executive Chef would come in and say, “None of this is correct!” 

After walking away from the industry, I inadvertently worked my way back with a hypothesis of how I could change these issues. I knew that when I started a business, I would never want that type of toxic, inconsistent work environment for my team. It’s not professional, ethical, or motivational. 

So, we’ve built a consistent operation instead. We provide our team the tools and never ask them to step outside of what’s realistic —  and accessible — to achieve. It’s been a huge success for us because it allows us to train people and give them the opportunities to learn until they just get it. That consistency I think has been a huge part of our success. 

Everyone learns everything

Team members are required to get certified on a station before they work it alone — even our general managers. As your responsibility increases, you accumulate knowledge with it. So if you’re an hourly team member, your core function is obviously producing food, executing a prep list, cleaning your station, tidying things up. 

As a shift lead, you move out of that, but you have to still be able to work the stations when needed. Now you’re responsible for ordering. You’re responsible for taking prep list inventories and making that daily prep list, as well as communicating with other leads and handling elementary HR tasks. You’re overseeing that hourly work. 

Everyone has to be able to tap into a given role if needed. What we try to do is build a pyramid of knowledge that’s very logical and linear, because our goal is to hire someone as a dishwasher and have them become a GM three years later. That would be the best-in-class scenario. 

Documenting the process

We’re still learning and growing on how to make it as consistent as possible, but we’re really focused on getting the process documented so that when you’re being trained, it’s as if there was only one trainer in the whole company. 

To help streamline the process more, we’re leveraging a platform called Trainual. The tool makes it easy to train consistently because the employee can use the app and follow the system to be trained on all of the different stations. 

Focusing on that consistency, that repeatability, with an app that has all the information the employee needs, really helps us in a lot of different ways. If they have questions, they just look at the app. Like if someone forgets when to add the red sauce and the cheese, for example, they can just refer to the platform. 

Retaining our team the right way 

Like I mentioned before, it’s difficult in the industry (and in many industries) to find good talent. And I think in order to keep the great team members we have from looking for another job, that idea of consistency rings true yet again. 

Consistent processes

We publish our schedules with the proper amount of notice. We hold people to the same standards. We address code violations and performance issues the same way each time, no matter who it is. 

Consistent communication 

We also provide structures so our team can be heard and avoid the classic issue of having an employee leave angry one day because despite expressing their concerns, nothing was ever solved. 

We’ve gone out of our way to create a culture where every issue gets taken to the top and dealt with. Every team member has the contact info of the owners and I consistently encourage everyone to call me and let me know what they need when they need it. We also have an anonymous HR reporting line for employees to use. 

So I think that’s a big part of our strong retention rate, just generally trying to create a structure where the team is supported by managers and their needs are being met, because it’s a two-way street. 

A lot of restaurant owners for a long time saw their staff as numbers on a spreadsheet or as replaceable resources. There have definitely been times when people in my company have had more outdated opinions on things like that. 

I’m so grateful that I get to be the owner who gets to pull my team back in and realign them to focus on the folks that we’re supporting. There are too many companies where the managers are begging ownership to support them and their team and it falls on deaf ears.

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