Managing Behaviors in Restaurants

Posted by at 19 January, at 19 : 04 PM Print

Shaping the restaurant culture

MANAGING people is arguably the most difficult aspect of running a restaurant. While activities such as writing menus, haggling with vendors, and staying a step ahead of the competition all have their challenges, none are quite as complex as getting employees to do what they’re supposed to do, even if what they’re supposed to do is in their best interests! Of course, this is due largely to the fact that we all have different natures with different motivations and different sensitivities. And while generally speaking there’s no one-size-fits-all when it comes to getting the most out of your staff, there are a few universal techniques that have proven to be very effective over time. Of these, there are three that, when applied properly, can yield significant benefit to managers attempting to shape their restaurant’s culture.

  1. Lead By Example. I’ve covered this topic in previous columns, but a brief refresher is in order here because if a manager does not lead by example, the other techniques are doomed to fail. Put simply: Model behaviors that you want your staff to emulate. Don’t be late for work. Don’t sit around on the job. Don’t exercise manager privileges unless it’s absolutely necessary. Your staff will look at every thing you do and put it under the microscope. Expect them to emulate about 10% of your positive behaviors while your negative behaviors will multiply 100-fold. For this reason, I make it a point not to have a drink at the restaurant after my shift; to eat at times of day when business is at its lowest point; not to eat expensive meals; to park my car in the far section of the parking lot; and to be honest and forthright in all of my interactions with customers and staff. It’s critical that you don’t assume you’re doing everything as should be done. Stop, take a look in the mirror and analyze your own behaviors to best understand how your staff sees you.
  2. Positive Reinforcement. In the restaurant environment, positive reinforcement is one of the simplest and most effective ways of shaping behavior. “Pairing of a positive stimulus to a behavior” is a time-tested approach that builds confidence, fosters respect and, most of all, influences behaviors by appealing to the pleasure centers in our brain. Few things feel as good as being praised.Whether you’re talking about managing restaurant staff or studying behavioral theory, the notion of giving praise to someone for a task well done is recognized as one of the most effective ways of shaping behavior. We’re all human. We like it when we are recognized for good work, whether it’s for a grand effort or for a relatively insignificant action. Studies show over and over that most people are not primarily motivated by money when it comes to staying in a job or leaving. More often, people stay in a position because they believe in their leadership; because they are valued; and because they believe they make a difference.Still, it’s not just about retention. As a manager you want your staff to give you 100%. But, as a member of the staff, would you want to give 100% if no one noticed? If you get the same recognition as someone who does the bare minimum, why would you bother going above and beyond?What’s important to note here is that recognizing someone for a job well done doesn’t take much effort. We’re not talking about posting a picture or organizing a meeting to publicly acknowledge an employee. It’s as simple as an “attaboy” or “attagirl” spoken at the right moment. Look for the small things that someone does right. “Phil, good job or restocking the To Go station last night; we had a busy lunch and we never had to run to the back for any refills.” “Mary, I like the way you go the extra mile with our elderly guests; I appreciate the patience and the genuine way you make sure they have everything they need.” It’s these simple acknowledgements that have the greatest impact, particularly when expressed on the spot, when the action you are recognizing is taking place or has just taken place.
  3. Silent Approvals. Just as “attaboys” and “attagirls” send signals that encourage the repetition of positive behaviors, “silent approvals” send signals that encourage negative behaviors. A silent approval, simply put, is tolerating negative behaviors by not calling them out and addressing them. In other words, if Jeffrey is late for work and you don’t say anything, he won’t have a problem being late again as there were no consequences to his tardiness. What you are doing is encouraging this negative behavior by seemingly not having a problem with it. What needs to be recognized here is that having a policy on the books means nothing if a manager doesn’t admonish staff that ignores, violates or evades the restaurant’s rules. And where “attaboys” and “attagirls” don’t have to be official, negative reinforcement should be documented. If not, then you’ll develop a reputation of being a dog with no bite. If you’ve ever had to tell the same employee the same thing over and over again, then you understand the problems that arise when negative behaviors go ignored or improperly addressed.

Finally, when applying these behavior modification techniques, it’s critical that you apply them fairly and without bias. If your son or daughter is a staff member and they are late, you need to address their tardiness with the same manner that you would address a problem employee. (In fact, I would argue that family members be held to a higher standard and be publicly reprimanded to send the signal that no one gets away with breaking rules.)



Constantine N. Kolitsas is a restaurant consultant living in the New York tri-state area. His company, CNK Consulting, has helped numerous businesses improve their operations, develop their concepts, and increase profitability. For more information visit or call 1-888-869-6068.




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