8 strategies to create a positive company culture in your restaurant

Company culture in the restaurant industry has gotten a nasty rap lately. Whether it’s a celebrity chef screaming profanities in the kitchen or demanding customers demeaning servers, this negativity shouldn’t have any place in your restaurant.

Creating an inclusive and welcoming company culture isn’t just great for your employees. It’s also important to your customers, and therefore your bottom line. 

Let’s examine restaurant culture and unpack why it’s become so negative. Then, we’ll dive into eight surefire strategies to help you turn that negative culture into a positive workplace culture.

What is company culture?

Company culture is the culmination of all you and your employees say, do, and think while at work. It’s a shared set of workplace beliefs, values, standards, and behaviors. 

Company culture encompasses both the written and unwritten rules within your organization. So, it includes everything in your employee handbook as well as less formal rules that pick up where the employee handbook leaves off. While these may not be documented, they’re easily observed in the workplace. 

Company culture—sometimes referred to as restaurant culture—is something you need to actively think about to ensure your employees embody it every day. A solid and supportive company culture can help your restaurant succeed.  

Positive work culture is extremely important in the restaurant industry 

We’ve all seen Gordon Ramsay screaming at chefs in Hell’s Kitchen. Usually it’s followed by chefs having complete breakdowns trying to serve the perfect beef Wellington to a packed restaurant. While this makes for great television, it doesn’t create a great work environment. 

Unfortunately, this kind of toxic workplace culture has long been seen as the norm in restaurants across the country. The result has negatively impacted the mental health of restaurant workers. 

A two-year study by Mental Health America examined the mental health of 17,000 workers in 19 different industries. Food and beverage was in the top three worst industries to work in. 

The survey found that 50% of food and beverage employees felt their job affected their personal relationships. And 43% said their jobs lead them to engage in behaviors like drinking and crying. 

No one should aspire to have a team of people who hate their jobs and have mental health issues. But it isn’t just your employees who will suffer. Your business will suffer the consequences of poor company culture.

Employee happiness at work

Employees unhappy with their jobs quickly become disengaged with their work and the results they produce. Disengaged employees have 37% higher absenteeism and 18% lower productivity. Lower productivity can sometimes lead to time theft or employees simply burning out. Putting this into dollars, a disengaged employee will cost you 34% of their salary.

Additionally, disengaged employees are more likely to quit. Employee turnover in the restaurant industry is at an all-time high, and retaining high-performing employees is harder and harder. 

Did you know? Limited-service and fast-food restaurants are experiencing turnover rates as high as 144%, while full-service restaurants still suffer from astronomical turnover rates of around 106%. (Restaurant Dive)

A healthy, positive work culture will:

  • Make your restaurant a desirable place to work
  • Increase employee happiness and retention
  • Increase the productivity of your employees
  • Ultimately lead to happier customers 

With a positive work culture, you are more likely to have happy, engaged employees who are excited to come to work and work hard when they are there. You’re also more likely to have employees who stick around for the long haul. And with the cost of replacing an employee sitting at upwards of 2 times their annual salary, building a positive company culture for your employees and your business is worthwhile. 

What does a positive company culture look like in the restaurant industry?

We spoke above about the penultimate example of toxic restaurant culture, but what does a positive work culture look like in action? 

Restaurant owners that value and respect their employees and understand their role in a restaurant’s success are redefining the restaurant industry and culture. They’re saying “no thanks” to the rough and tough reputation built over the decades.

Instead, they are embracing a people-first approach to running their businesses. By focusing on employees as not only people, but the people who make or break your business, restaurant owners can create a positive workplace culture

Restaurants with a positive culture prioritize four characteristics you can replicate in your dining establishment. 

1. Encourage employees to maintain work-life balance

Sometimes seen as a hard-to-reach goal, work-life balance is essential to a positive work culture. Work-life balance is when a person can equally prioritize their job requirements and their personal life’s necessities. 

In the restaurant industry, a healthy work-life balance could look like working a closing shift twice a week and an opening shift three times a week so you have time for friends, family, and hobbies in between. It could also look like banning clopening shifts from your schedules. 

Did you know? 72% of workers believe work-life balance is a significant factor when choosing a job, and 57% of job-seekers say they wouldn’t take a job if it had a poor work-life balance. (Zippia)

Work-life balance looks different for everyone, but it’s important to help your employees maintain balance in any way possible. A dependable time tracking system can help you monitor how much your workers are working so you can set healthy boundaries and keep work-life balance in check.

2. Think about diversity and inclusion in all parts of your business

A diverse and inclusive workplace makes every employee feel equally supported and involved, regardless of who they are or what they do for the business. This means that no matter your background, race, culture, gender, sexual orientation, or political views, you’ll be respected and treated equally at work. 

Your restaurant should have diversity, equity, and inclusion (DEI) practices for hiring, onboarding, and training employees. DEI practices will help build a company culture where every employee feels supported and respected.

Research has shown that diverse and inclusive workplaces:

  • Have higher revenue growth
  • Can hire from a diverse talent pool
  • Retain employees with rates 5.4 times higher than the industry average

3. Adopt a holistic hiring process

As well as weaving DEI practices into your hiring process, you should also take a holistic approach to hiring. What does this mean? It means looking for people who already resonate with your company culture. 

Ask questions that help you identify whether a person would be an organic fit in your restaurant. Here are four great questions to ask when trying to find a culture fit during an interview:

  • Describe the environment you work best in: See if their description matches your restaurant environment and determine if they’d flourish at your location.
  • What motivates you? This question helps you see if the candidate’s motivations align with the position and the overall business. 
  • Which of our company values resonates with you? First, this question lets you know if your candidate has taken the time to learn about your business. It also helps you understand how their values fit with your business values.
  • What’s your ideal work schedule? As a restaurant owner, understanding the hours and availability of new employees is extremely important. It also lets you see how they approach work and feel about work-life balance. 

4. Commit to clear communication in your restaurant

Open, honest communication is the cornerstone of any successful business. And your restaurant is no different.

From employee handbooks to verbal and written communication, it’s important to communicate clearly with your employees. And you also need to give your employees avenues to communicate clearly with you. Communication is a two-way street, and your business will thrive with it.

Communication is key. 97% of employees feel, for better or worse, communication impacts their efficacy daily. And when you invest in improving communication within your team, it can increase productivity by as much as 25%. 

8 strategies to improve your restaurant’s company culture

Whether you’ve noticed your restaurant’s company culture needs some improvement or you’re maintaining the company culture you’ve built, there are plenty of things you can do to improve your company culture. 

“A positive company culture is one where employees feel valued and supported,” says Lissa Bowen, Chief People, and Culture Officer at Full Course

So how can you make your restaurant employees feel valued and supported while they are at work?

Together, these eight strategies create an actionable plan that can help improve your restaurant’s company culture. On their own, they can help you start improving your restaurant’s work culture.

1. Provide your employees with proper training and support

Whether you’re hiring people new to the industry, seasoned restaurant employees, or seasonal workers, providing them with the proper tools and training to do their job effectively is essential. Their onboarding training should cover everything from greeting your customers to how they clock in and out for their shifts. 

It might be easy to think that training is done once you’ve been onboarded. But that shouldn’t be the case. Training should be ongoing for all employees. Whether covering new material or providing a helpful refresher, periodic training helps bring your team together and keeps you all on the same page.   

Part of providing training is also providing support in between training sessions. Communicate to employees that they can always come to you or other members of management if they need a refresher on any of your systems. 

If your employees are trained properly, they’ll be ready for almost anything. This takes a lot of unneeded stress off of them, allowing them the space to focus on their customers and the food. 

2. Encourage employees to take time off

Encouraging employees to take time off can help avoid employee burnout and fosters a company culture that supports its employees. Whether you offer your employees paid time off (PTO) is a choice you need to make as a business owner. 

But even if you don’t offer PTO, you can still make unpaid time off available to your employees. Speaking positively about vacation can help you build a company culture that supports workers taking time off. 

Did you know? 68% of employees say they’re happier at work because they have employers who encourage them to take time off. (Society for Human Resource Management)

Give your employees the option of taking time away from work without losing their job. Trust us—it makes for happier, more productive workers. 

3. Give your employees flexibility—or consistency—with schedules

Understanding the scheduling needs of your employees is a great way to create a positive work culture. Every restaurant and employee will need different things from their schedules.

Some employees may need more flexible schedules, whereas others may want a consistent schedule. It’s all about listening to the needs of your employees and finding a way to balance their needs with the restaurant. 

Scheduling practices are also now governed by law in some states. Predictive scheduling, for example, controls how employees are scheduled in some states and cities. And while it may not be law in your state yet, it’s considered best practice for restaurants.

Let’s look at the rules encompassed in predictive scheduling:

  • Give 1-2 weeks’ notice of schedules
  • Consider employee schedule preferences
  • Give prompt schedule change notifications to all employees

These rules help make it easier for hourly and shift workers to know how much their monthly pay will be. 

Scheduling your employees with the free Homebase online scheduling system helps you stay compliant and makes optimizing your schedules much more manageable. 

4. Keep lines of communication open with your employees

We touched on this above, but it’s essential to keep lines of communication open between management and employees. And beyond that, it’s vital to have good communication between team members.

Without good communication, your restaurant won’t be able to function properly. There are a lot of things that can contribute to poor communication in a team. From making assumptions to a lack of dedicated communication time, it’s easy to fall into negative communication patterns in the workplace. 

To keep your team communicating with each other effectively, try implementing these five tips in your restaurant.

  • Create communication processes. Having clear, written guidelines that govern how you communicate as a team can reduce the risk of misunderstandings, frustrations, and confusion. These processes shouldn’t be set in stone and should be reassessed regularly.
  • “Overcommunicate” when needed. While it might seem easy to get on people’s nerves, defaulting to “overcommunicating” versus making assumptions can help ensure everyone is on the same page. 
  • Be respectful. It should go without saying, but being respectful in all your interactions and communication with team members goes a long way. Even when things get tough, treat everyone with compassion and understanding. You’ll be amazed at the difference it makes in your restaurant.
  • Schedule regular meetings. Have a set time when employees know they will hear from you and have an opportunity to share what’s on their minds. These meetings can help to streamline your communications.
  • Centralize communication. Things can get confused quickly when employees can text, WhatsApp, DM, or call you. Keeping all communication in one centralized digital location makes much more sense. When handling team communication on Homebase, it’s simple to:
    • Send, receive, and view updates
    • Message individuals, custom groups of employees, or everyone at once
    • Get shifts covered and approve swap or vacation requests

5. Show your employees you appreciate them

The #1 reason why people enjoy their jobs? Because they feel appreciated. People who feel recognized in their jobs are 2.2 times more likely to drive innovation and bring new ideas forward. They’re also 2 times more likely to say their workplace goes above and beyond. 

With numbers like that, it’s evident employee appreciation is no joke. 

There are hundreds of ways to recognize and show your employees how appreciated they are. You can go big by offering promotions and raises when it’s warranted. But even smaller things like a handwritten thank you note or celebrating their work anniversary can significantly impact your employees’ happiness. 

These gestures, big and small, help to create a positive work culture that won’t go unnoticed by your team.

Looking for more ways to show your employees you love them? Check out even more great ideas to show your team how much they mean to you.

6. Outline your company culture in your employee handbook

While the nature of company culture means that a lot of it will be unwritten, it’s important to outline what you can in your employee handbook.  

An employee handbook effectively sets the standard for your employees’ policies, procedures, and expectations. This goes for your culture as well. Include your restaurant’s mission statement, values, and vision in your handbook, along with other policies and procedures relating to how employees function within your business.

This can include everything from how to submit time off requests to your dress code.

7. Get employee feedback and address it

Part of supporting your employees is listening to their feedback and addressing it. As a manager, it’s essential to keep an open mind and remember that feedback should always be considered constructive. 

When you’ve got a handle on the concerns of your employees, use that information to help reshape the work culture in your restaurant. A company culture that the workers mold in that environment will reflect the needs of the workers, which will result in a positive employee-first culture.

8. Lead by example

Practicing what you preach is critical to creating a positive company culture in your restaurant. You need to prioritize taking a vacation and exemplify the importance of work-life balance for your employees. You need to be communicative, empathetic, and understanding to your workers. 

The most effective leaders don’t just talk about what’s important to their business. They live it and breathe it. When your employees see you making these characteristics primary concerns in your life and business, they will be better able to do the same. 

If you can’t get your employees on board with your company culture, try looking at your actions. Do they embody the culture you are trying to foster? If they don’t, find ways to bring your company culture into everything you do. 

Are you ready to build a positive company culture in your restaurant? With Homebase, you can create flexible schedules, automate your onboarding process, and track PTO and OT to make your restaurant a great place to work.  

Is your restaurant struggling with building a positive company culture? 

Is your restaurant struggling to build  a positive company culture? Get Homebase to boost morale, improve transparency, and increase flexibility with easy messaging, scheduling, time clocks, HR, compliance, and more—all in one app. Get started for free. 

Company culture FAQs 

What is company culture?

Company culture is a shared set of values, beliefs, behaviors, and standards in your workplace. It’s the culmination of all you and your employees say, do, and think while you are at work and encompasses your organization’s written and unwritten rules. 

Why is it important for restaurants to have a positive company culture?

Positive work culture in your restaurant will help you decrease employee turnover, increase employee happiness and productivity, and make your restaurant a desirable workplace. All of these factors will ultimately lead to happier employees and happier customers. And the decrease in turnover, paired with the increase in customer satisfaction, will help your business increase revenue. 

What does a positive restaurant workplace culture look like?

Good restaurant workplace culture makes every employee feel supported and valued as a member of the larger team. By prioritizing work-life balance, clear communication and diversity and inclusion practices, and embracing a holistic hiring process, you can take steps to create a positive work culture in your restaurant.

How can you improve company culture in the restaurant industry?

You can improve company culture in the restaurant industry in many ways. While you can use each of these strategies on their own, together, these 8 strategies can help you create an actionable plan that can help improve your restaurant’s company culture. 

  1. Provide your employees with proper training and support
  2. Encourage your employees to take time off
  3. Give your employees flexibility—or consistency—with schedules
  4. Keep lines of communication open with your employees
  5. Show your employees you appreciate all their hard work
  6. Clearly communicate your company culture in your employee handbook
  7. Get employee feedback and address it 
  8. As a manager, you should lead by example and embody the company culture

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