December is here, meaning it’s the busy season for restaurants across the country. In New York City, the holiday season is especially crazed, as tourists and locals alike attend events and enjoy celebratory meals with friends and family.
All of the festivities, celebrations, and general busy-ness can quickly turn into burnout for restaurant employees who are taking care of guests. “The holidays are really special for everyone, including your staff,” says Terry Coughlin, director of operations for Maialino and Marta in Manhattan. “It’s important to remember that.”
As the leader of teams at two very busy restaurants, it’s Terry’s job to make sure that everyone is performing at their peak and giving the best hospitality they can. “You really have to be an empathetic leader to your staff and be empathetic to your guests, too.” says Coughlin. Here, he shares how managers can work with their teams to prevent burnout this holiday season — and what to do if you see it coming on.
Limit doubles. Even though the holidays are busy, Coughlin and his managers are adamant about making sure that employees have down time away from the restaurant. “One of the big things that we do is keep an eye on double shifts,” he says.
Since this is the time when front-of-house staff can make the most money, it can be tough to tell staff that they can only have one double per week, but it’s crucial in order to make sure servers are rested enough for each shift. “We try to keep them to one a week because it can be so busy.”
Agree on holiday schedules early. Every year, the teams at Marta and Maialino let their scheduling manager know which holidays they would prefer to have off and which ones they don’t mind working. “It ends up working out 99% of the time that we can accommodate their requests,” Coughlin says. This gives staff the chance to plan for holiday travel and know that they’ll get some time off to celebrate with loved ones. “It’s extra work for the scheduling manager, but it’s worth it.”
Treat your team like family. Like many families that gather around a meal during the holidays, the teams at Marta and Maialino also have a holiday dinner. “For holiday dinner service we’ll close a little earlier so the staff can sit down and have their own holiday meal together,” Coughlin says. Even staff members who didn’t work the shift but may still be in town can come into the restaurants and eat with everyone. “It adds to the familial feeling among the team.”
Let them know they’re appreciated. Every year, Marta and Maialino’s parent company Union Square Hospitality Group gives each member of the staff at their restaurants a gift to say they appreciate everyone’s hard work. Past gifts include messenger bags and sweaters with the company logo. While it might not feasible for every restaurant group, Coughlin recommends giving your employees something this holiday season to make them feel cared for — even if it’s small, such as a bag of candy or a card. “We really just want to show them that we appreciate them and wish them a happy holiday.”
Offer support. If you notice someone who isn’t performing the way that they normally do, talk to them about it away from other team members as soon as you can and don’t be confrontational. “I don’t believe in that management style of pulling them aside and going ‘What’s wrong with you,’” Coughlin says. It’s way more effective to approach the person with empathy and see if you as a manager can do anything to help. “I would simply ask, ‘Is everything all right? You don’t seem like yourself,’” he continues. Once you’ve addressed the issue you can move on to finding a solution. “Sometimes it might be that the person needs some time off or it might be that they’re having problems elsewhere.” Asking lets them know that you care.
Keep yourself accountable. One of the best things managers can do during the holiday rush is to make sure that they’re being accountable to their staff, Coughlin says. “I do the same thing as my staff does and I pick which holidays I want to have off, but I work the other ones,” he says. “I have two daughters so Christmas Day is important to me, but I can work Christmas Eve and New Year’s Eve.” On those holidays he works at either Marta or Maialino to make sure that everything is going smoothly and that he can help out wherever he can.
“I think it’s important for the staff to see me putting in the work as well during the holidays,” he says. Effective leaders make sure that their employees see them working just as hard as they are.
Take care of yourself, too. The holiday season can be brutal for managers. Last year, after working most of the holidays at both restaurants, Coughlin realized that he wanted to spend more time with his family — but it was New Year’s Eve, one of the busiest days of the year. “I was working, but I invited my wife and my older daughter into Marta and got to ring in the new year with them,” he remembers. Managers have to find ways to take care of their own needs so they can take care of their staff and, in turn, the guests in the dining room.
“We try to empower our staff by reminding them that a lot of our holiday guests are coming in and expecting to have a wonderful time so you have the power to help them do that,” Coughlin says. “Your hospitality can do that.”