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How to Redefine Hospitality Work Culture from the Top-Down

Opinions expressed are solely those of the author and do not reflect the views of Rolling Stone editors or publishers.

Through a perfect storm of intensity and the excessive number of hours hospitality staff usually work, culture “drip feed” – when culture comes from the top-down – generates a work environment similar to a pressure cooker. This causes a ripple effect that you don’t generally see in a company outside of the hospitality sector.

Within the hospitality industry, employees work at an incredibly fast pace whilst also ensuring accuracy and consistency. Being the head sommelier and wine buyer for a restaurant, I probably get to see more of this in my career than people working in other sectors.

These days, work culture is incredibly important and, yet, all too often, we hear about toxic cultures in workplaces across the country. On the other side of this are companies that promote really positive cultures and we need to examine these companies to see how attitudes toward staff and customers positively impact the business.

In the age of social media, a bad experience or attitude in a hospitality environment can quickly become news that reverberates around a company or the industry itself. Think about how often you hear people commenting on the latest story of how bad a company treated its staff. It makes such a difference when you ask someone about an old place of work and they say positive things about a company they do or did work for. The latter is usually more telling as people are typically more honest once they leave a company.

It’s the responsibility of all members of staff to create a positive work culture. At my current workplace, for instance, our motto when dealing with difficult or challenging customers is “kill them with kindness.” This comes down from the owner themselves and has been ingrained into the top management team so that it flows down to the rest of the team. Because this mindset has come from the top-down, staff go above and beyond by spending more time with the customer to ensure they have a positive experience.

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Culture is influenced by every single person on your team. For example, if you have a bad-tempered, shouty chef, the staff under him might follow his lead di lui and show the same attitude toward their colleagues. Similarly, staff who are constantly late or are not fully engaged with their role can have a negative impact on morale and the company as a whole. When one person is seen getting away with certain behaviors, others will almost certainly follow. For this reason, I always try to lead by example and discourage elitism. All employees of a company – from a chef to the person who does the laundry – form part of a team, and the backbone of that team is mutual respect.

We often hear the phrase “we’re all in this together” but, what does that actually mean? It means working as a team and asking for help when needed. We all sometimes feel that we’re not achieving enough or that other people aren’t pulling their weight. In those instances, communication and teamwork are really important. Lead from the front by being around your staff and showing your willingness to work as hard if not harder than you ask them to.

Within a team, it’s vital to understand the roles of your colleagues and what is involved in order to fully appreciate the work they do. This also helps you see where your own role fits in and allows you to figure out how you can work harder and smarter in order to help yourself and others. This doesn’t necessarily mean telling somebody what to do, or vice versa. It’s about giving employees ownership of their role so they feel invested in the business. This means showing appreciation so that employees understand that, when the business does well, so do they. Without this, employees will quickly become demotivated and, in turn, less productive as they are not seeing any benefits from their hard work.

It is my belief that offering incentives to employees is key to a successful business. Such incentives are not limited to monetary bonuses – you can offer praise, keep staff informed of what’s going on with the company and recognize hard work. You can even motivate employees through how you speak and refer to them. For instance, at my work, we don’t have staff food, we have a family meal, and we try our best to organize social events with the team so there is time out of work to connect.

I’ve found that these things can make a huge difference and can have a positive impact on staff turnover. The hospitality industry has always had high levels of staff turnover, and this is usually because employees don’t feel valued or that their skills are used and, therefore, choose not to stay with a company. Keeping an eye on employee well-being and acknowledging hard work is every bit as important as handing out pay raises or cash bonuses.

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