Continue to Site

    Why Employee Recognition Matters in a Restaurant

  • Brands should try harder to recognize employees’ efforts.

    istockphoto / BlackSalmon
    How much recognition is enough? The answer to this is typically “a lot more than we are currently doing.”

    If you’ve traveled on the subway systems in New York, Boston, Chicago, or San Francisco in the last 20 or so years, you’ve probably seen the signs that say “if you see something, say something,” referring to abandoned bags and wayward packages. The goal is to get everyone involved in the efforts to keep things moving safely.

    It’s always occurred to me that the same rule should apply to the way we approach recognition at work. Instead of the occasional award or celebration for some Herculean effort, what if we instead paid more attention to all of the small yet meaningful things that were happening around us each day? Not only would this have the power to encourage your team to give you more of the great performance you are looking for, but it would also improve the culture in your restaurant—which helps with pretty much every other metric you care about, from service to sales to bottom-line profits.

    Recognition has such a big impact on culture that I wrote an entire chapter about it in my new book, Company Culture for Dummies. It communicates to your team (and customers) what matters most, what gets rewarded, and what’s worth repeating. The behaviors that get attention will get repeated. In that way, those behaviors start to become a “cultural norm” for your team. Whether you are a fun-loving and playful culture or one that is a little more serious, I can’t think of a negative impact of improving the amount of recognition within your organization. Once you’ve developed an intentional approach to values and culture, you can establish recognition programs that reward people for doing the things associated with those areas.

    Leading the way

    If you’re a manager, it is important that you are the driver of a recognition culture. Take some time in your next leadership team meeting to share ways that supervisors can include recognition into their daily habits. Here are some questions to get ideas flowing:

    How much recognition is enough? The answer to this is typically “a lot more than we are currently doing.” Most often I hear from employees that they aren’t hearing enough about what’s working and what their manager wants more of, but they definitely hear when they mess up. If you need an absolute number, then aim for a ratio of five-to-one positive to negative.

    What types of things can you easily recognize? These can be things associated with your values, desired more in your culture, celebrated by your customers, or needed for positive business results. It should be a mix of things that you can easily spot daily.

    How do you know if you’ve done enough? You won’t. Just keep doing it anyway. Aim for more than you think you need without giving away false praise for things that don’t really matter. This isn’t about giving people a phony nicety to make them feel happy at work. This is about recognizing all the little things that go unnoticed every day yet contribute to a positive outcome.

    Make it specific

    You’ve probably been told something like “nice work today” in the past without a real idea about what exactly was nice, right? While a “kudos” might feel good for a second, it takes specificity to really get benefits from your recognition efforts. To do this, use the STAR method, which was originally created for interviewing but works great for recognition, as well. It is an acronym for Situation, Task, Action, and Results. Make sure you share a little bit about the backstory and situation where the person did well, what task/role the person was playing at the time, what specific actions they took, and the results or impact of those actions.

    It might look like this in action: “Andy, when that customer came back into the restaurant and was upset about their order being wrong (situation) while you were cleaning the dining room (task), the way you listened, showed empathy, and then worked to find a way to solve it for her (action) was great. You were able to turn that situation around and turn her back into a happy customer for us (results).” This helps add enough specificity so that the team knows what to do in similar situations, while also giving the specific actions taken to make it right.

    We all need recognition and approval. It helps motivate us to do it all again. It keeps us focused on the good things we’re doing to have a positive impact on those around us. At the cultural level, it starts to codify the behaviors and actions that are “on brand.” This means that they are the behaviors that are in line with the expectation of the brand—the ones you want to celebrate and encourage more often. By focusing on recognizing them, you send a strong message to the company about what matters, what’s valued, and what’s celebrated.