Michael Maxwell – Partner, Blue Orbit Restaurant Consulting
If you go to the internet looking for what makes a good employee, every site will tell you basically the same thing. You should hire people who are committed, confident, reliable, positive, hardworking, team oriented and proactive. And it makes sense, who wouldn’t want those people in their business? However, I think we all agree that restaurants are a different “beast”. Often the most hard-working, team-oriented, confident worker goes crying out the back door. There are a few other qualities that need to exist in that “boy scout” package to make a person successful in any restaurant position.
1. Emotion Junkies
Restaurants are full of emotions, I am not really sure why, but it is the most emotional business I have ever been associated with. Owners consider it their lifelong dream, customers treat it like the most vital part of their day, and employees consider it a life or death situation. While it is a scenario for disaster for many people, there are those who actually feed on the emotions of others. Keeping people happy against all odds can become a challenging game. Putting food in the window before a server gets upset or making an angry customer laugh at something you said are just ways to score points in that game. The ability to recognize the emotions of others and control them is a key quality of successful restaurant employees.
2. Nosey People
Yep, I just said people who know everybody else’s business are good employees. The key is to use their knowledge for good and not evil. Nosey people listen intently at tables, even when they are just passing by. They pick up on subtle statements that help them to understand what will make their customers happy. They also consistently listen to the conversations of other employees. They know when someone is having a bad day and they know why. They know when a cook is in the weeds, when a host is having financial
troubles at home and when a server just went through a nasty break up. They take pride in being armed with all this knowledge and they manipulate it to make everyone around them feel better while creating a much smoother day for themselves.
3. Rule Breakers
People who are uncomfortable with rules constantly question why things are done the way they are done. In that consistently annoying dialogue, there is often a legitimate concern and a path to better efficiencies. These people need to be heard, but when you listen and then react to their valid points, they more readily fall in line when they are told to. Rule breakers also understand that in dealing with people there is no black and white, only gray. In interactions with restaurant customers, every situation is different, rules become only guidelines for handling situations and rule breakers thrive in that environment.
4. Thrill Seekers
The doors open in 5 minutes, you are short 2 servers, the fryer is not working, and a party of 20 without a reservation is waiting outside. What do you do? Jump, and do it without a parachute. Thrill seekers leap first, build the parachute while they are falling, and celebrate when they don’t die in the process. Every day there are brand new obstacles in the restaurant business, some of them you see coming and some of them sneak up on you. You need people who get adrenaline rushes in this environment and see the daily
challenges as fun, not the end of the world.
5. Tellers of Tall Tales
Everybody likes to be entertained. For managers and teammates, it cuts the tension and keeps things light. For guests it helps to build relationships and gives them something to
share with others about their experience. Being able to tell a story with the right facial expressions, hand gestures, and voice inflections is an art. People who have that skill know it and they use it to their advantage. They use it to hypnotize the people around them ensuring customers that they are in capable hands and turning peers into a supporting cast.
6. Thick Skins
When it happens in a restaurant it happens fast. We go from zero to sixty in thirty seconds. When it gets hectic, we communicate in nouns and verbs, grunts, random hand gestures and finger snaps. We bark orders, we say mean things and we ask for forgiveness 4 hours later while taking a break by the dumpster. People who are successful in restaurants build strong relationships with their peers and their managers. They know their value and the value of everyone around them and they understand that no one gets through the battle without some wounds. It’s never personal because in the end you know everyone has your back.
When you look at it, what I am really saying is hire people that no one else will. Tap into the things that are often seen as negative qualities and turn them into positives. As the labor market continues to get tighter it becomes more and more important to be creative and look at new ways to build a team. Accepting people for who they are and celebrating their “odd ball” qualities builds true loyalty and a consistent belief in your company culture.
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