Sticking power

Motivating restaurant staff to work more would be easier if they weren’t so darn busy.

Motivating restaurant staff to work more would be easier if they weren’t so darn busy.

Gala nights, ten pin bowling can motivate staff to bond and create a positive working environment, but picking the right incentives is the key. By Andrew Mckenzie.

When it comes to corporate team building, the latest fad is the corporate cook-off.

“Watch your group sizzle, bond, talk and laugh as they create their own restaurant”, trumpets the Cheeky Food Group. “The group will be placed in teams of  five to 10 people. Each team has its own experienced chef to encourage and participate as they prepare a magnificent buffet. You’ll now become the wait staff as you create an Italian Long Lunch-style table setting.”

But what if cooking and waiting is what your team does every day? Perhaps an “accounting cook-up”? Your wait staff divide into teams and, with the help of a professional accountant, are guided and encouraged through the end-of-year tax process to see who comes up with the best tax return.

In this era of severe staff shortages in the restaurant industry, team bonding is no laughing matter. After all, staff turnover and unmotivated staff can cost a restaurant dearly.

Garfish Restaurant—which first opened at Kirribilli on Sydney’s North Shore in 2002 and has since opened additional outlets in Crows Nest and Manly—operates with a staff of 94, although its full complement should be more like 120.

Garfish’s general manager, Jenni Head, says the struggle to keep the operation going while they build staff numbers has even cost the group its restaurant netball team, simply because it can’t afford to give staff the time out from a seven-day-a-week operation.

Even so, Head says the main struggle for Garfish is finding, rather than keeping, good staff. They have managed to create a positive work atmosphere where the average period of staff employment is 18 months, and many staff have been with the operation much longer.

“People like working with us because we take a professional attitude and that goes particularly for training. Like most hospitality businesses, we’re in a different league to corporates that have team sailing days and the like, but we still have a social side and team motivational processes that get strong feedback,” she says.

One such system is an incentive program for staff where they are given points by management that culminate in weekly and quarterly prizes. These might range from a Coles voucher for the weekly prize, through to a weekend away for two in the Hunter Valley for the quarterly prize.

While incentive systems like this are often considered separate to team building, managing director of human resources consultancy Enterprise Initiatives, Caroline Moore, disagrees, saying standard hospitality incentives such as tips can actually hurt a team.

“Cash incentives, such as tips or a bonus can create jealousy and resentment in a team, whereas prizes offered through an incentive program will draw a team together as everyone will feel happy for the recipient. Research has shown tips will increase productivity by 16 per cent, whereas an incentive prize will increase productivity by 39 per cent.”

In the hospitality industry the largest players are the most sensitive to the current staff squeeze. The largest of them all is McDonalds, with over 762 restaurants and 65,000 staff  in Australia, and long the past master of team building and motivating. And McDonalds Australia will spend $35 million on training each year. This is certainly not the type of activity that would be considered by the average hospitality business. But according to restaurant consultant and former executive chef at Otto at Woolloomooloo in Sydney, Nino Zaccoli, it is the degree of seriousness that restaurants should be considering.

“Staffing is possibly the biggest single issue that the industry faces at the moment,” Zaccoli says. “Restaurateurs should be taking innovative approaches to team building because ineffective teams cost them customers and money.”

However, Zaccoli says the restaurant and catering industry is particularly bad at people management, with a team structure that is often hierarchical, and with low profit margins that discourage investment in team building.

The reality is that most staff go out after their shift and get drunk, which is not particularly positive, he says. “In the past I’ve taken a number of innovative approaches including things like Italian classes for the kitchen staff. Some work better than others, but making the effort in itself has a positive effect.”

Zaccoli says that one of the simplest and most positive team bonding sessions can be getting together and eating lunch at another venue.

“We used to do this a lot when I was at Otto and I know a number of restaurants, such as Hugo’s at Bondi Beach, still do it quite regularly,” he says. “It can work as motivation, as you compare your efforts to someone else’s and at the same time it’s social.”

Garfish’s Jenni Head says one of the biggest challenges of team activity is taking the team away from the business: “When we won NSW Restaurant & Catering Association Champion restaurant last year the owners closed the restaurant and we had a night out. We also do that for Christmas where we’ve had a beach volleyball day and a harbour cruise, but closing the restaurants is a very costly day.

“Having a shared experience that isn’t just about work is great for the team, but it has to be balanced against cost.”

Enterprise Initiative’s Caroline Moore stresses that hospitality is an industry that can particularly benefit from an investment in team.

“Working in a kitchen can be very hierarchical. When you look at generation Y there is a challenge for them to stick around.

“Many Australian businesses shy away from “team bonding’’ because they think it’s too American.  Every business has a culture. It’s up to the top management to create that culture in a positive way it doesn’t have to be American,’’ Moore says.

There are a vast array of options, with specialist operators offering everything from “Team Beat” which offers drumming classes to “drum your way into team building”, to songdivision, at which your team can write and record a team song.

The Cheeky Food Group specialises in providing bonding for corporate teams by having them work together to create a restaurant in an afternoon.

Cheeky Food Group director, Leona Watson says the concept evolved from cooking classes that  attracted corporate groups which sought a positive team activity.

“It’s not a cooking class anymore, but we do our research and try to address  issues a client might have, whether it be mixing the group or morale. The focus is on fun and bonding but we can also incorporate analogies between the team’s functions and restaurant roles into the whole presentation.”

This great content is produced for members of the Restaurant & Catering Association. Find out about becoming a member here.

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