The dwindling summer means it’s time for the last push of one of the busiest times of year for many restaurants. When you and your team are slammed shift after shift, it can be hard to inspire staff to consistently create memorable dining experiences and execute service at a high level — but it’s crucial and has a big impact on your guests.
It’s a common dilemma: How can you keep employees engaged and happy when the pace is frenetic? Increased sales are, obviously, good, but it’s important to remember that with the more sales come months of long days and nights for everyone, and it can be easy to forget some of the little touches that boost staff morale. However, taking the effort to do so is key to maintaining the customer service for which your restaurant is known.
Gia SanAngelo is the general manager of two restaurants, Untitled and Studio Cafe at The Whitney Museum in New York City, and the summer months mean an uptick in customers and events. “Untitled and Studio Cafe offer two unique dining experiences,” SanAngelo explains. “Studio Cafe is best enjoyed as a casual lunch or snack while visiting the museum. It also has a great terrace that is perfect for enjoying a drink with a view,” she says. “Untitled, open for brunch, lunch, and dinner, is everything that you want in a fine dining experience — but without all the fuss.” Managing both of these outlets while keeping staff top of mind means thinking about the experiences that they offer and how to maintain the same level of service and hospitality as in the slower months. Below, San Angelo shares tips for boosting employee morale and keeping staff motivated.
Always Communicate Any Changes to Staff So They Can Be Prepared.
“As a management team, we spend a lot of time planning to make each summer season, or ‘patio season’ as we refer to it, better than the year before,” she says. “We ask ‘Whoever wrote the rule…?’ for just about everything — uniforms, menu offerings, table layout, and etc.” Each summer, the team introduces a new aspect to service and that works to gets everyone excited for the coming months. “Once we put together our plan for the season, we do our best to communicate everything to the team with as much notice as possible.” Keeping everyone in the loop matters because it makes everyone feel at ease with the changes and gives them time to embrace them and have confidence when speaking to guests. “The year, for example, we made a change to the table layout and spent ample time making sure the whole team felt comfortable with the new table numbers before patio service started.” Changes like these make it feel fresh and different for your staff, which will keep them engaged.
Use Pre-Shift to Maintain a Key Part of Service.
The main concern when it’s busy is making sure that both restaurants are still executing the highest level of service. “Our main focus during the busy season is to maintain all of our service standards despite the busier pace,” SanAngelo says. The management team uses pre-shift gatherings to really emphasize what the team should be focusing on. “We spend time at meetings talking with the team about the most important aspects of what we do.” Use your time with staff to discuss and refocus your team’s hospitality efforts.
Add Additional Staff or Adjust Schedules If You Need to.
To ensure that the existing team is supported properly in the summer months, Untitled and Studio Cafe hire more servers and support staff. This makes things a little easier for the workers, and it also makes sure that schedules can stay mostly unchanged. “We have a bigger team in the summer to flex with the restaurant getting bigger,” SanAngelo says. Untitled and Studio Cafe also has an employee referral program in the summer months to help add additional staff. “We always employ that and we find that our team members love to use their referral bonus during the summer months when we hire a lot of new people to join the team,” SanAngelo says.
If you can’t afford to add additional staff members in your busy season, you may want to consider limiting doubles and making sure that staff has enough time off during the week to balance out the busier nights.
Remember That You’re All in This Together.
One person can’t run an entire restaurant; it takes everyone working together to make sure that things go smoothly. “Taking care of each other is the most important thing,” SanAngelo says. “To me, the best way to do this is to be aware of how your own actions as a manager impact the team around you.” You have to “walk the talk” and be there for your team, she stresses. When staffers are really busy, you should be doing everything you can to support them and working just as hard. “Sometimes this can mean careful planning to make sure things run smoothly, sometimes it means not being afraid to jump in and help with whatever needs to be done, and sometimes it means acknowledging mistakes and aiming to make it better next time.”
Photo credits: Melissa Horn (SanAngelo); Liz Clayman (interiors); Christine Hahn (last photo).