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Mind, Body and Spirit

May 1, 2009 By: Robert Plotkin Night Club and Bar Magazine


Improve Staff Morale or Suffer the Financial Consequences

Accountants make lousy restaurateurs and bar owners, so goes the timeworn adage. True or not, it implies there’s a crucial success quotient not subject to spreadsheet analysis. What number crunchers have difficulty grappling with is the immeasurable impact an intangible such as staff morale has on a venue’s financial performance. Truth is, nothing can make or break a place like the staff, and in this instance, attitude trumps aptitude.

Consider for a moment a bar or restaurant with low morale, where employees dread covering their shifts and are antagonistic with coworkers and constantly at odds with management. Unfortunately not uncommon, negatively charged workplaces are certainly not environments conducive to providing hospitality. They effectively stifle creativity, sap drive and quickly dissipate employee goodwill. While not listed on balance sheets, low morale is a significant liability.

As it turns out, the strategy for improving staff morale is straightforward and uncomplicated. It’s an operational initiative that involves providing employees with a clearly delineated career track and an equitable, supportive environment within which to work.

While some may dismiss this ongoing initiative as too “touchy-feely,” but in a down economy bolstering staff morale makes good business sense. People perform better on the job when they believe their efforts are zeroing in on a long-term goal and leading to a better quality of life. Regardless of whether employees intend to make food and beverage a career, affording people a viable path for advancement can profoundly affect their confidence and sales performance. Conversely, bartenders and servers who perceive their jobs as dead-ends are prime candidates for burnout.

Morale Boosters

Perhaps the best question is “Where to start?” While no one set of tactics applies equally for every operation, several measures are so grounded in human nature as to seem universally applicable.

Program Buy-In. Getting everyone on the same page is vital. A sure-fire approach is involving the staff in a complete overhaul of the beverage program. Begin by reassessing the bar’s drink mixes and glassware, and then proceed to tasks ranging from drink development and menu design to pricing and promotions. Staff buy-in becomes a given when they’re actively involved in the process of recreating the program from the ground up.

Scheduling. Few things more directly impact the wallet than the daily schedule. Unfulfilled scheduling requests and over- or under-scheduling invariably become divisive issues. Equally counter-productive is scheduling people to work doubles, split shifts or closing and opening shifts. A few hours sleep is insufficient to adequately recharge the batteries. Adopting a two-week schedule — rather than the conventional week schedule — lets staff better plan their lives outside of work and reduces scheduling conflicts.

Earnings Statement. Unless a venue attracts an unusually generous crowd, guests rarely tip well for blasé service or lackluster cocktails. On the contrary, a staff that makes great money is likely one that consistently exceeds guests’ expectations. Morale is something of a non-issue when the crew is being well compensated for their efforts by the clientele. Ensuring that the staff makes great tips is in everyone’s best interest, so hedge the bet with the following two items.

Credibility Factor. Staff training and education is a morale necessity. It positively impacts sales, guest satisfaction and employee earnings. Guests want to know that they’re in capable hands. They appreciate having their questions answered knowledgably and without hesitation. That can only come about through education. If a mind is a terrible thing to waste, imagine the terrible cost of squandering the intellectual capacity of an entire staff.

Improved Sales Abilities. Most consumers are receptive to following the recommendations of a bartender or server, especially if the advice offered is spot-on. Suggestive selling is a proven means of enhancing the guests’ overall experience, as well as boosting ticket averages and increasing gratuities. With surging consumer interest in premium spirits, it is easier to upsell guests when staff can quickly articulate why a particular brand is worth its elevated price.

Finally, mandate that the staff enjoy themselves behind the bar or on the floor, even when things turn frenetic. Fun is contagious and an invaluable commodity in this business. It does wonders for morale, as well. NCB


Robert Plotkin is a judge at the San Francisco World Spirits Competition and recently authored his 16th book, Secrets Revealed of America’s Greatest Cocktails. He can be reached at robert@barmedia.com.


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