How to Have a Happy Staff From the Get-Go

You're never going to be able to please everyone—that's just a fact of human life. However, as an employer, you should strive to do right by as many of your employees as possible, no matter their position. Creating a positive work environment is critical to keeping your service staff happy and engaged in your restaurant.

A positive work environment results in fewer turnovers, which means you have an experienced team on your hands. This should result in a well-oiled machine that keeps your customers coming back for more. Although every workplace has different personalities and needs, there are a few basic expectations you should be meeting. Here are a few tips for keeping your employees happy and healthy.

Anticipate needs during times of change.

Sometimes businesses go through big changes, like a presidential transition within the company. This can be very stressful for everyone involved, because a shift of power can come with a shift in policy. Any time there's change—even positive change—it'll be met with hesitance and concern.

Shaking up norms creates uncertainty. Your staff will want to know if their benefits will change. Will a new dress policy be put into place? Will time-off be structured differently? When you're announcing something like a presidential transition, try to anticipate these types of questions and have them answered for your service staff before even announcing the change. Even if they don't initially recognize the extra work you put in to make them feel more comfortable, they will be much happier both in the short and long term.

Advocate for the people you manage.

In the case of sweeping policy change in a transition, make sure you're advocating for the waiters, waitresses, hosts, hostess, and even the dishwashers. Individually, those people don't have nearly as much power or clout as you potentially do. However, if you think a change won't be met well by those below you, speak up. Be tactful, so you don't lose your own job, but make sure you're alerting your superiors about a potential problem. You don't want to see your restaurant staff walk out one day, because they're not being treated fairly. Be proactive about keeping everyone happy.

If you're the person who's stepping into a position of power, before changing company policy, consider talking to someone in every position to make sure you see how the change would affect their lives. Empathy is important in making informed decisions, and employees who you manage will likely know more about their roles than you. A busboy might bring up something you hadn't considered. Ultimately, the choice is yours, but giving everyone a voice through a survey can help you make the best decision for everyone involved.

Keep tabs on individual employees.

Some of your service staff will want to work more in order to save up for goals like homeownership and school. They're willing to take on more hours. Although it's their responsibility to gauge how much work they can handle, taking even a small interest in their journey can make a big difference when it comes to having a happy staff.

For example, check when you're scheduling these overachievers. If they're working evenings by closing up shop, try not to schedule them for early morning prep on the following day. Or, if you have no choice, have an open conversation with them in which you express awareness of their dedication and how much you appreciate it. Exhausted employees aren't going to perform well, especially when they feel their efforts are going unnoticed.

Try to be flexible with schedules from other jobs. You don't know their whole story. They may need both jobs to live. Don't ask them to pick and choose. Rather, ask yourself why they need two jobs. You might not be scheduling them enough or they may need a pay raise if you want their undivided attention.

Keep track of your FTE workers. You should consider bringing them on as a full-time employee with additional benefits if their work is consistently good. However, don't assume they want to become full time. They may like working hourly because of overtime pay. Open and non-judgmental communication can go a long way.

Revamp your HR team.

In order to keep your team happy, it's important that your staff feels like they can safely address your human resources office. There should be some kind of privacy policy put in place, so people can approach HR anonymously when they don't feel comfortable coming forward.

Unfortunately, real problems can arise in any work place, like racial discrimination and sexual harassment. Such issues need to be dealt with swiftly in order to keep your staff not only happy, but also, in some cases, physically safe. Your human resources office should be diverse and reflect your staff, so everyone feels comfortable speaking out against injustices that they see or experience.

Provide sick leave.

There have been a lot of restaurant employees who have come forward during the COVID-19 pandemic admitting that they've come to work ill, because they had no other choice. No one should be coming to work if they're under the weather, especially when working so closely with patrons and food, even under normal conditions. 

Change in the industry can only happen if the people in power do what they can to make people's lives better. If you want to keep your employees happy and your patrons safe, find the money to give everyone real 

sick leave. At the very least, you shouldn’t penalize employees for staying home sick. Have a backup plan for when people are ill, so no one feels like they need to come into work. You can make people happy by giving them what they deserve.

Understand that "one size" doesn't actually fit all.

If you want to be a good boss and keep everyone happy, you have to remember that what one person needs another may not place as much importance. California consumers don't have the same needs as consumers in New York, just like one of your wait staff won't have the same needs as an assistant chef. Take each person and situation as unique. Trying to solve problems in a cookie cutter way will only cause friction. Be fair, be empathetic, be a good listener, pay attention, and you should be able to keep most everyone happy.


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