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Staff energy is a fickle resource, prone to waxing and waningwithout much provocation. After all, what is it that gives us zeal for work? Food? Coffee? Passion? Health?
The answer, of course, is a little bit of everything. That makes generating energy complicated—particularly in an environment as dynamic as a fast casual restaurant. It’s not as simple as guzzling caffeinated beverages or only hiring people who want to work in food prep for 20 years; it requires some nuance, and some understanding of what motivates people.
Efforts to generate energy on the frontline often yield a great deal of frustration, though, because so many sources are outside of an employer’s control. A worker’s personal circumstances, sleep levels, eating habits, etc., all affect daily performance, and are strictly employee prerogatives. Restaurant leaders must focus only on the factors they can influence.
As it turns out, those factors are numerous. According to research by the University of Michigan’s Ross School of Business, the single largest energy catalyst in any given workplace is actually the coworker. In other words, the more enthusiastic an employee’s peers are, the more likely that energy is to infect an entire team, lifting productivity and impacting the bottom line.
Researchers at U of M have deemed this effect“relational energy,” and promote a number of best practices for enhancing it in any organization. The social currents of restaurants often make them particularly susceptible to relational energy techniques.
1. Create Social Capital
Relationships make the world go ‘round, and this is no less true in a work environment. In a space where teamwork is key to ensuring guest satisfaction, if employees are not socially invested in each other, cooperation creates friction. Making employees care about each other may not seem like an easy thing to facilitate, but there are subtle methods of nurturing bonds. One GM I spoke to handpicks employee “teams” that check in with each other on a regular basis and work together toward sales competitions and training goals, competing with other teams in the restaurant. This injects fun into the daily grind and unites workers toward business goals without disrupting operations.
2. Provide Fertile Ground for Connection
Teams are excellent, but still intrinsically a part of work. The best time to forge social capital is actually outside of the operating hours—by planning events specifically geared toward connecting employees to each other and to restaurant leaders. Budgets are always tight in a service environment, but if one thing is plentiful, it’s food and beverages. Team-wide dinners and happy hour seminars are a fantastic and easy way of building family dynamics across GMs, service managers, and employees. The value of relationships forged more than outweighs the investment.
3. Maintain a Two-Way Street
Employees can frequently feel as if they are stuck on the giving end, working tirelessly yet taken for granted. With attrition rates at 100 percent, it’s no surprise that GMs and veteran employees are hesitant to invest in new servers—but turning this wisdom on its head can actually help to stem the turnover tide in the first place. One organization I’ve worked with has integrated a “Props” function into their employee portal, where workers can log in and send recognition to their peers for excellent work observed during the day. Peer-to-peer acknowledgement is critical for community—it makes employees feel valued. Companies that lack a digital system can simply use a whiteboard back of house, and instruct staff to make note of coworkers who do particularly exceptional work.
4. Install High-Energy People in Leadership Positions
When it comes to energy, the trickle-down effect is dogma. A charismatic, motivated manager who is engaged with her team can exert a profound influence on the productivity of her store, adding personal endearment to the fuel that drives performance. GMs who care about the business and the employees—and particularly those who have spent time doing grunt work themselves—are a perfect storm of energy, and will make lightning rods out of their servers. Leaders who lack these features act oppositely, draining away motivation like a house stealing electricity from the grid.
Ashish Gambhir is an entrepreneur and 15-year veteran of the restaurant and hospitality industry. He is the co-founder of MomentSnap, a mobile-first frontline employee engagement platform optimized for QSR and fast casual environments. He previously co-founded NewBrand Analytics, a social media listening tool that was acquired by Sprinklr last summer.