Why Being the Restaurant of Choice Means Putting Culture First
Culture is defined as the pervasive values, beliefs and attitudes that characterize a company and guide its practices. But for some leaders, culture is too touchy-feely and seems like something they’d prefer to leave to HR to worry about. They can’t put it in a spreadsheet and easily measure or define it, so they prefer to ignore it altogether. Unfortunately, for their business, their team and their customers, a lack of focus on culture can ultimately lead to poor performance in all the things that they can easily measure.
Culture cannot be ignored. The very act of ignoring it creates a culture—one that suggests that a lack of caring about your work environment is acceptable.
Self-proclaimed culture geek, Tom Frank, is the owner of Round World Management—a company that challenges you to imagine what it would be like if everyone on your team was aligned around the same aspirations, values and beliefs. He helps make restaurants great places to work because when they are, they become places where customers want to return to over and over again.
Tom spent the bulk of his early career working in restaurants in every imaginable role. He began as a busboy and a waiter and attributes much of his success to his deep respect for the hourly restaurant workers who make restaurants successful. Tom was also on the team that founded P.F. Chang’s and went on to serve as Director of Training and New Store Development. Given Tom’s background, it’s probably not surprising to learn that a large portion of his work focuses on how restaurants can use culture in every aspect of their work. For him, the first step in understanding the relationship between great culture and the bottom line is to understand the relationship between employee turnover and guest experience.
Let’s start by looking at the direct relationship between the national unemployment rate and the turnover rate in the restaurant industry. Back in 2007, when the unemployment rate dropped below 5% and more jobs were available, turnover in the restaurant industry was at an all-time high of 147%. When the unemployment rate went above 9% and jobs were scarce, the turnover in restaurants dropped down below 90% – still high, but not nearly as high as it had been. Now, it’s back down under 5% and restaurants are once again feeling a surge in turnover rates.
But what if your restaurant could defy the odds? And what would it mean if it could? During the recession, a lot of companies reacted by taking advantage of their employees by treating them like they should be grateful to have a job in the poor economy. The ones that took care of their teams and kept their focus on maintaining great culture are experiencing the benefits today. But what if your restaurant could defy the odds? And what would it mean if it could?
Tom said, “In order to be the restaurant of choice for customers, you must first be the restaurant of choice for employees.”
Well, First of all, you have to recognize the value of a loyal employee. Loyal employees drive sales and profitability. They know your brand better, know customers better, and understand how to drive bottom line better. Customers also know them. Customers want to be recognized and feel that sense of security that they are in a place where people know them and their preferences. If you never recognize anyone and they don’t recognize you, customers think something is wrong.
Restaurant workers, and managers in particular, want to know that what they do matters, so they search for jobs that give them a sense of meaning. Tom said, “People want to know the job is going to add something to their life. The companies that offer the best personal and professional development opportunities for their managers are going to be most attractive, and companies that understand what that means are going to win.”
He continued, “When you go into a restaurant that doesn’t have a good culture, you might not know what’s wrong, but there’s something missing. Somehow, you can even taste it in the food. But when you go somewhere where the managers and employees want to be there, there’s something about the restaurant and the food together that make the dining experience amazing. We respond physiologically to positive energy and customers can feel the benefit when they are in a place where everyone wants to be.”