Be Specific in Your Praise

Posted by at 11 November, at 04 : 52 AM Print


Managing for Success – By CONSTANTINE N. KOLITSAS, Consultant


ΙN many ways the key to a great restaurant operation is a restaurant’s culture.  When we say the word, however, many different definitions come to mind.  The definition for culture that fits best into our business conversation is the following: Culture is a set of behaviors that staff members exhibit from the behaviors modeled or inferred by management.  Put simply, we managers shape culture by shaping behaviors.

There are a number of ways to shape behaviors, and one of the most effective of those is the use of positive reinforcement.  But there are right and wrong ways to go about using this approach.  To begin with, it’s important to understand how your accolades – as well as your reprimands – affect the mindset of the employee you are addressing, as well as how other employees interpret your actions.

Let’s start by understanding how an employee feels when they receive an “attaboy” or an “attagirl” from the manager or the owner of a restaurant.  For most employees, receiving attention from the manager (and especially the owner) is impactful.  Your words carry great weight.  Your perception of the employee, or at least the employee’s perception of your perception (sorry for the circular language, but it makes sense), determines how much confidence an employee has in his or her abilities, be they positive or negative. 

For this reason, it is never good to deliver your praise (or your condemnation) in general terms, and it is also never good to inject emotions into that praise or condemnation.  You don’t want your employee to walk away from an exchange with you believing that you think he or she is doing a great job or a terrible job.  The truth of the matter is that all employees do some things right and some things poorly.  When you make general statements, they read nothing but “you’re great” or “you’re terrible” from those statements.  The correct approach, then, is to be specific.  If your server Brian is great with guests, you can acknowledge the fact by saying something to the effect that “Brian, I appreciate how your customers have a strong personal attachment to you.”  What have you done with this exchange?  You’ve given positive reinforcement to the way that Brian interacts with his guests, and encouraging him and those that witnessed the exchange to continue to build customer relationships. 

Brian understands this.

If you were to say, “Brian you’re doing a great job,” and leave it at that, then the impression that Brian will get from the exchange is that you approve of every aspect of his work.  In your mind, you may be thinking of how he is with guests, but in Brian’s mind, you’ve just validated every behavior he exhibits in the restaurant.  He may be habitually late for work, and he would now think it’s not an issue.  Hey may have real issues communicating orders properly to the kitchen, and he may be a table shark.  These are problems that now get obscured because you signaled to him in general terms which are interpreted to mean that his deficiencies are either insignificant or, even worse, that what you recognize in your mind as deficiencies are, in fact, some of his best attributes.

And other staff members will have the same impression… They will think that punctuality is not important as long as your customers like you, that it’s the kitchen’s problem if a server can’t communicate his or her orders properly, and that being aggressive with regard to taking as many tables as possible is a good thing.  Unfortunately you’ve given them the justification for this way of thinking. 

When you are specific, on the other hand, you are sending a clear message that has nothing to do with other aspects of the employee’s performance.  And the other employees that are observing all of this don’t get confused.  It’s not confusing to Brian when you tell him that you like the way he interacts with guests and, at the same time, you let him know he needs to get more comfortable with the POS. 

Being specific allows you to compartmentalize Brian’s attributes and his deficiencies by defining his performance accordingly rather than in general terms.  In this way, you can encourage the positive behaviors that you witness and address as a manager, and discourage those behaviors that are detrimental to the business.



Constantine Kolitsas is the president of CNK Consulting, a Restaurant Consultant business located in the NY tri-state area. He can be reached at 203-947-6234 or at ckolitsas@gmail. com.



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