How Restaurant Operators Can Reap Big Benefits by Offering a Great Work Environment

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In the restaurant business, anyone can copy a competitor’s concept, menu and design. But you can’t copy culture, which can be a company’s secret weapon for standing out in a competitive environment.

“The strength behind our culture is that we recognize how important it is — it really is a differentiating factor for us,” says Dean Sockett, VP, People & Culture at Keg Restaurants Ltd., which consistently ranks as one of Canada’s best employers.

The Keg strives to create a people-focused culture where staff take pride in their work and are passionate about what they do. “When people have pride and passion, they want to perform well, so that makes the guest experience even better,” says Sockett. “We understand there aren’t any secrets anymore. Anybody can build the same buildings The Keg has, or serve the same food, or play the same music. But what they can’t do is duplicate the experience that the staff provide for our guests.”

Another key benefit of having a strong culture is that it attracts talent, which is especially important in today’s tight labour market. “Once they get inside the organization and are enjoying the environment they work in, it helps retain those people,” says Sockett. “So, from a business perspective, it makes recruiting a lot easier.”

The same is true for small, independent restaurants. Ted Dimoglou, chef and owner of Tiki Sushi in Windsor, Ont., employs six people and most have been there since the restaurant opened in 2014. “It’s a very personal, family-oriented business where no one is a blood relative,” he says. “Everybody has a lot of freedom as well. We’re all very accommodating to each other and we promote that.”

For example, servers do their own scheduling and if anyone needs time off, it’s never an issue. “You never want to overwork anyone,” says Dimoglou. “I want people to
be happy to come to work and be healthy and rested.”

For Dimoglou, the benefit of having long-time employees is that they know every aspect of the business. “I can rest assured that, if I’m not here, I have competent people to operate [the restaurant] and handle any problems,” he says. “If the place was on fire, that would be the only time they’d call me.”

Cyrus Cooper, a professor at Centennial College School of Hospitality, Tourism and Culinary Arts, says having a positive workplace culture is just good business and it’s good practice. “It’s been proven that when employees are happy in their workplace, when they’re passionate, when they believe in a product or service, when they’re asked and not told to do things and are involved in decision making, it relates directly to the bottom line and has a huge financial benefit to the corporation,” he says.

Cooper, who had a long career in food-and-beverage management before joining Centennial College last year, says his mantra for workplace culture in the restaurant business has always been the golden rule: treat others how you would like to be treated.

“You realize how it’s so important to cultivate teams that believe in that. And that starts with fair work practices, an understanding of employees’ needs, fair interview practices and being inclusive,” he says. “Companies have realized, why play this rat race of chasing after individuals who you train and develop [before moving] on to someone else, when you can cultivate an environment where people thrive and want to come in to work?”

Written by Rebecca Harris

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