We want to talk about change, a shift toward a better business. We are not talking about the sort of improvements that are measured using the usual KPI’s, budgets and other tools, We’re talking about better business. Hospitality is built around service, it is the industry that strives to deliver satisfaction, that devotes itself to the customer in a way like few industries do. This is hospitality.


How then do we create an environment where our staff will always strive to deliver satisfaction, not because we told them so or because that’s how they get a paycheck, but because they genuinely want to?


The answer is CULTURE. We as restaurateurs, venue owners and managers are the leaders and beyond this we are the architects of the culture. Our role is to create an environment where our staff are the soul of our business, to create a business that celebrates them for the part they play in who we are. Culture has become one of those terms that is used to describe things like ping pong tables and beer fridges but this is not the case. Culture is, as defined by Josh Levine*, the cause and effect of the choices that we make. Here are four habits that will influence yours.


Create connection through your story.




You will only be invested in a vision to the depth you understand it. As a venue we trade in food and beverages, however what brings people back is how we make them feel. The people responsible for this are our team, service staff, chefs, hosts, all play a crucial role in delivering customer satisfaction. People are looking for a place to belong, and to achieve this we need them to connect. We expect our staff to help the customer establish this feeling of belonging but to achieve this we first must enable them to attach to and influence our vision. A vision is not your purpose, or your mission, rather a vision is what you want to create, a picture of the place you want to be. It answers the question, “what world do you want to create?”.


What world do we want to create? The truth is that with everyone competing to be a part of the latest trend often the message of our venue is lost, we say we want to encourage sustainability, to support local producers but how do we put this in play on a daily basis. We do so through our team. To build a thriving culture we need our team to clearly see the vision. First, get clear on what sort of business we want to have, the easiest way to do this is to get clear on what it is that we’re not. What is it that we simply will not be, for example, we will not compete on price, we will not cut corners with staff education, we will not use produce from outside the region or country? These are all statements that will help a venue to clarify what they stand for and create a clear vision of where they want to be. When the vision is clear we give our team something to target in decision making, this enables team members of all levels to make decisions, the vision is the filter. You have now made it possible for all team members to make autonomous decisions without straying from the path, if a new supplier comes along offering a low quality product at a discount price you know that your chefs don’t need to make that deal because as a venue you are refusing to compete on price.


Finally, we must let our team connect in the way that gives them meaning. Each individual value that we hold as a company will have a different meaning to the team members as they embrace it. Using local produce only may be important to you because you believe it is important to support the couple with a farm down the road, but to the sous chef it may be that the growing conditions in your region are better so the produce is just better. This doesn’t mean that they are not aligned to your vision, rather they are of a different mind than you. These individual minds are exactly what we need for creativity and unity. This is after all a creative pursuit, encourage and embrace individuality.


Encourage individual opinions – especially when they differ from yours.




Celebrating individual opinions is one of the best techniques for inviting team members to help create a positive culture. When a team member is not only allowed, but encouraged to share their opinion it lets them achieve a sense of belonging within the company. Teams that are combined with a diverse range of opinions and experiences often are the most creative and productive environments. Individuals for example are not left feeling as though they are simply there to do what they are told, instead that act of embracing their opinions allows them to genuinely influence the direction of the company. 


You have already connected your team to your vision, giving them a filter for their decisions and they now know that they are having an impact on the company every day by seeing their views be reflected in the overall direction. Each member of your team sees the company through a different set of eyes, often concepts and ideas that you see from one way are being interpreted differently by your team and customers. Encouraging opinions will open your eyes to things you otherwise may have overlooked. This does not happen in a company automatically; it takes a conscious effort to allow team members of all levels to feel comfortable enough to share. To create this sort of environment it is not enough to just say that the company is open to opinions, the behaviours of the managers and leaders must reflect this statement.


When a team member comes from another point of view, take the time to listen to what they have to say, consciously make sure you are listening not to respond but that you are genuinely interested in hearing what is being said. It is important to take in everything as not all ideas will translate into actions, it simply will not be feasible to achieve this for every opinion. However, by ensuring the team member feels heard you allow them to create a deeper connection with the company, this also will be reflected in their actions as they will continue to come forward with suggestions that may better the company and help you follow the vision. There is no substitute to feeling as though your opinion is valued.


Embrace accountability. 




As team members develop a deeper connection to the company, knowing that they understand the vision and they are being heard they will continue to strive to improve the business. To cement this it is essential to embrace accountability, being held responsible for your part within a team has a positive effect on how you feel. It encourages you to embrace your feeling of belonging as it shows that your behaviours and choices have a direct impact on the company. This further creates a culture of value.


It is not a matter of blaming, which is often how accountability is interpreted. It is a matter of showing your team that all members’ behaviours affect the overall performance of the company. This encourages them to understand that they have the power to genuinely influence the company. As a leader you can achieve this with both positive and negative accountability, encouraging team members to celebrate each other. As companies often grow in size it is not always possible for the restaurateur to be involved in accountability on a day to day basis, that is why it is important to encourage this behaviour through all levels. It is not a one way street either, ie. create a feeling where the apprentice is holding the head chef accountable also, it may be a product they never said they would use or a lesson they promised to teach.


Don’t be afraid to hold people to account when their behaviours do not align with the vision of the company or the words they have promised. Accountability is a form of being noticed, if a team member is not delivering what they have promised and nothing is being said it alienates them from the company, it allows them to feel as though they do not matter. Holding them responsible will allow them to feel noticed, “oh wow, when I say I’m going to prepare for service and I decide not to complete all the tasks I am holding back the rest of my team”, leads to “My actions directly affect our performance”, translates to “I Matter”.


Allow genuine influence.




“Actions speak louder than words”, we’ve all heard the phrase before but when it comes to designing a culture where the entire team turns up with a sense of ownership it is crucial. It is clear that implementing every idea from every team member is not possible, however, when it is possible it must happen. If nothing ever translates from an idea into a behaviour then slowly the ideas will stop coming. Look for the small wins, often it is easy to implement a small change that was brought forward by a team member, allowing them to have had a genuine influence on the company. 


When it is not possible to implement an idea, take the time to talk through the explanation with the team. This may also open up a new line of conversation which often leads to a slight variation of the original idea being implemented, and if not, often sharing an idea with the whole team is enough to help a member feel as though they are having an influence. They have after all influenced the discussion. These discussions will also deepen the connection between the team members, which continues to create a culture of support and belonging.


“The cause and effect of the choices that we make”*. Culture is something that is constantly being influenced, there is no way to set and forget it, your team is the soul of your business and the culture you develop is the label it wears, you can not fake culture but you can create it, nurture it and watch it flourish.

     *Josh Levine – Organisational Culture Strategist – Author – “Great Mondays”

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