KEY POINTS:
* Retaining staff over the longer term is highly desirable for the continued success of your food business
* Creating a welcoming, family atmosphere at work requires you to lead by example
* An experienced chef can be a great source of assistance especially if you’re new to the foodservice game
* Give staff the chance to develop and hone their skills and always be upfront about employment opportunities when dealing with casual workers

HAPPY AND MOTIVATED STAFF are essential to the ongoing success of your restaurant, café, pub, club or takeaway operation. It’s the staff, after all, who put the ‘service’ in foodservice — and as good as your food may be, if your customer service is below par it can severely impact on your repeat business.
Especially in these days of social media, all it takes is a couple of negative comments posted online (“I waited for over an hour to get served”, “The waiter got our order wrong”, “The staff were rude”) to dissuade potential customers from stepping through your doors or placing a takeaway order.
Retaining staff over the longer term is also highly desirable as they will have developed procedures and ways of working to maximise efficiency, as opposed to the hassle of having to get new staff up to speed.
Offering regular recognition and occasional rewards can help ensure your staff feel appreciated and part of the team and generate ongoing loyalty to assist with longterm retention. Here are some suggestions as to how to put this premise into practice:
* It’s important to lead by example — so be the first to say hello, always be polite and supportive and treat your staff as you would like to be treated
If you want your staff to benefit from a family atmosphere, it’s up to you to create one. So think about how you’d like to be treated and treat them accordingly. Simple things like always greeting staff and saying goodbye at the end of their shift can make a big difference. To generate an equitable environment, insist that everyone is bound by the same rules — for example, if you always greet and farewell your staff, make sure they do the same not only to you but to each other.
* Try to empathise with the concerns facing your staff on a day to day basis.
Everyone has bad days and try as they might, personal problems will occasionally spill over to work. When that happens, a sympathetic ear and a friendly voice can make a big difference in helping motivate staff and making them feel appreciated. If you can act as a mentor to your staff, this can be invaluable in creating a bond of loyalty that will encourage them to go the extra mile when the pressure’s on.
* Your chef can be a great source of assistance and advice
Well-experienced chefs typically know how to get the best out of their staff and if you’re a business owner who doesn’t have a background in foodservice, it’s worth spending time with your chef and picking up what ‘tricks of the trade’ he know beyond that of cooking. By treating your chef as a trusted business partner, you’ll be in a strong position to benefit from his expertise and ‘inside knowledge’ of how to make your business work at its best.
* When dealing with casual staff, be upfront about work opportunities and busy vs quiet periods
If you have to put on extra staff on a casual basis over busy periods like the end of year holidays or tourist season, they will build up friendships with the regulars and their happiness will affect that of the team — so they need to feel they’re treated fairly. So be upfront about how long you’ll likely need them for and help them to plan and find supplementary employment if possible. It’s important everyone knows what to expect — nobody likes unpleasant surprises like having their rostered hours cut back without warning. On the other hand, if everyone knows the score going on, you’re more likely to build a loyal team who help each other shoulder the load during busy periods and are also understanding and supportive when times are quieter.
* Encourage staff to further develop and hone their skills
Giving staff the opportunity to progress through the ranks will help encourage longterm retention. To help keep your chefs and cooks on their toes, you can encourage their participation in professional competitions such as those run by the Australian Culinary Federation. These are great for learning new skills and networking with peers.
It’s important as an employer to be supportive of your staff in their efforts to keep their skills sharp, so whenever possible offer flexibility in your working conditions so as to allow them time to practise and compete in events. You’d be surprised how much difference it can make, not only to their creative edge but also to their job satisfaction. And if they become an award-winner, you can use that as a valuable promotional tool for the business. Invite a journalist from the local newspaper or TV news out to write up a story on the win, put notices up in-store or out front … you might be surprised how much new business this will bring through your doors!
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