According to a 2019 survey from TDn2K, turnover levels in the restaurant industry are at an all-time high. While there are many reasons for turnover in food service that you might not have any control over, you do have control over your restaurant’s culture.
But what do you do if your workplace culture is unhealthy and directly contributes to employee turnover?
The good news for restaurant managers is that once you identify you have a toxic workplace culture—you can fix it. It will take a lot of work, but in the long run it’s worth it.
What Causes a Toxic Work Environment?
The truth is that it’s not just one person. If it was, it would be much easier to fix. Unfortunately, unhealthy restaurant cultures are a combination of many different factors and everyone from general managers to dishwashers play a role.
Also, the problem typically takes hold over a period of time. Big and little things add up, which leads to unhappy employees who feel uncomfortable, unappreciated, or undervalued.
And employees who are miserable are less productive, make more mistakes, and are more likely to find a new job somewhere else. Plus, they are more likely to cause lasting damage to your overall reputation—which impacts your bottom line.
Here are some of the signs your culture is toxic and strategies for how you can start to fix it.
Lack of Support from Upper Management
By now we’ve all heard the saying that people don’t leave companies, they leave bosses. This is especially true in any customer facing industry. For example, if customers are allowed to yell at employees without any intervention from management, employees feel powerless.
Additionally, if employees go to their supervisors with ideas on how to improve processes and they are continually ignored, they will eventually shut down.
And this lack of support from upper management is a major sign of toxicity.
What You Can Do
The biggest thing you can do is listen to your employees. Encourage them to come to you with anything from problems with customers to their ideas on how to improve processes. In most cases, people just want to feel heard, even if their ideas aren’t implemented.
Dig in and find out why the customer was yelling, and if the employee really didn’t do anything wrong, you need to stand up for them. You don’t need to yell or get nasty, but you do need to make it clear to the customer that this kind of conduct is not acceptable at your establishment. This will go a long way toward making employees feel respected.
All Stick and No Carrot
Are people constantly told what they are doing wrong? Does management then point it out in front of other employees, or even customers? When the restaurant has a bad night, is everyone, from bartenders to kitchen staff, blamed for it?
But then, when things go well, does management take all the credit? Are employees recognized for their contributions?
If you answered yes to these questions, then you have the problem of all stick and no carrot. In other words, you only critique employees when something goes wrong, but you don’t celebrate them when things go right. This leads to demoralized employees who feel nothing they do is good enough.
What You Can Do
No one wants to hear constant critique, but people make mistakes that you will have to point out. But it’s all in how you present it. When an employee makes a mistake, take the time to have a conversation with them. Address the issue and then ask them what they would do next time to fix it, or what they can do differently going forward to ensure it doesn’t happen again.
Let them come up with the strategy for fixing their mistake. It will make them feel empowered and that you are working with them to improve their performance.
At the same time, you also need to show employees appreciation when things go well. Nothing in your restaurant is solely the responsibility of one person. Everything is a team effort—and you need to recognize when the team does well. A simple thank you can go a very long way.
Negative Attitudes and Constant Complaining
So far, we’ve covered how managers and supervisors can contribute to a toxic restaurant workplace, but they aren’t the only ones responsible. Employees contribute too.
When an employee has a negative attitude about everything, such as schedule changes or their assigned tables, they are likely to start complaining to anyone who will listen. And many times, what happens is that other people will join in. And before you know it, employees are spending all of their time complaining about every little thing, which ultimately cultivates an unhealthy environment.
What You Can Do
This is an area where it’s important to have policies in place that address this specific type of behavior. You also will need to proactively have conversations with employees about how they are feeling and why they are feeling this way. Empathize and acknowledge the problems and issues they are facing but at the same time, you need to encourage them to find better ways to deal with their feelings.
It’s also an area where you need to model the behavior you expect from your employees. As much as you might want to enter a complaining session, you can’t. You need to set an example that your employees can follow.
If you recognize the signs of a toxic culture at your restaurant, don’t give up. While it’s not always easy to fix, if you take the right steps and show your commitment, you can create a healthy environment for your employees.