How a Code of Conduct Can Save Your Bar or Restaurant

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Rules, rules, and more rules. Do this. Don’t do that. Does it seem like you spend most of your day acting like a babysitter at work, telling the team more of what not to do? Welcome to management by numbers.

You probably have a list of rules with numbers next to them in your bar or restaurant:

  • Rule number one: Be here 15 minutes before your shift.
  • Rule number two: Be dressed and ready for your shift.

And so on and so on, down the list they go, each one just a declaration of the proper etiquette we want from the team. No explanation, just the expectation—a very vague explanation and expectation.

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Rules basically only tell people the minimum standard for what you’ll tolerate; they lack empathy and motivation. Getting people to follow rules is a lot like herding cats and if you’ve been in leadership for any time (or read my previous post), you know that’s one tough job. Motivating others with rules just doesn’t work—only a few will comply, out of fear. Which leads us to talk about a classic scenario most restaurant and bars face…

The Compliance–Commitment Conundrum

When you manage by fear and intimidation you get compliance. In the hierarchy of bar and restaurant needs, compliance is positioned just above rules, and both rules and compliance are near the bottom.

Here’s the problem with compliance: employees will just do the minimum to get by. When this mindset has infested your culture, you’ve allowed mediocrity to move in. Believe me when I say that once mediocrity has made your bar or restaurant home, it’s going to be very hard to get it evicted!

On the other end of the spectrum is commitment. When you’re committed, how far will you go to get everything done and achieve your goals? All the way! You don’t let setbacks or hurdles stop you. They may slow you down, but they won’t stop you from getting the outcome you’ve set your sights on. When you’re committed, you’re connected to your motivation.

The big difference (and game changer) is when you understand what drives compliance and commitment within your team. When people are acting in compliance, they’re doing so for your reasons. When they’re acting out of commitment, they’re doing it for their own reasons. Which one has an impact on the culture in your restaurant? If you said compliance, I’ll give you a second to rethink that.

Read this: How to Herd Cats: 7 Secrets to Getting the Bar or Restaurant You Want

Now, some like to use fear and intimidation to rule our businesses. Owners and managers who run their bars or restaurants that way don’t last long with today’s workforce. Respect needs to be a core value if you want to keep your turnover at a manageable level. What’s a manageable turnover level? You should be aiming for under 25 percent. Anything higher than that and you need to take a hard look at your culture.

People Buy Emotions

The list of rules you have isn’t much more than the same monotonous crap that every other restaurant has in place. Things have changed in the workplace and we must change with them. Adaptation is one of the greatest human superpowers. It has served our species well since we no longer live in caves or grunt at each other around a primitive fire (okay, some people still grunt). The evolution of humans came from our ability to communicate. To move people with communication we must tap into emotions.

Look back on all the great motivational speeches of our time—they all pull hard on emotions. Martin Luther King, Jr. said, “I have a dream.” He didn’t say, “I have a good idea.” John F. Kennedy said, “Ask not what your country can do for you—ask what you can do for your country.” He didn’t say, “Stop whining and be part of the solution.” Properly applied, emotions move people to take action. They inspire people to take a stand. They can motivate your team to actually act like a team!

We the Restaurant

For years I’ve employed a simple yet powerful code of conduct in any restaurant I’ve owned, managed or coached. The concept came from when I was a member of the USAF Pararescue Teams. Upon graduation from this elite special operations school, we accepted out coveted maroon berets and we swore an oath. That oath still runs through my head and is a part of my DNA. When you live by a code you have only one objective, and that’s to live it!

The samurai warriors had the bushido code, core tenets they swore to live by or die. A code of conduct can be bonded into the very core of who we are—never underestimate the power of identity.

Here’s the code that I’ve followed for the past 25 years. Feel free to use as much of it as you like or use it to inspire you to create your own.

The Code

  • Respect is everything! Respect the product, the equipment, your teammates, and most importantly, yourself.
  • We are a team! First, last and until the end! Never compromise the team by putting your personal agenda before the everyone else. We succeed as a team and we fail as a team—no finger pointing! Accept responsibility for your actions while you’re a member of the team.
  • The “Golden Days” of big staffs is gone. The new word is “productivity,” which means producing more with less. It’s a fact of business that we must accept.
  • Pursue excellence every day, all day. Ask questions, keep notes, read all you can, explore, and learn.
  • Never compromise on quality or the standards. If you have to ask yourself a question of whether you should or not, you’ve really already answered the question. Hold yourself to higher standards.
  • Clean as you go is how we operate. Keep your station clean and organized at all times; it reflects your state of mind. Everyone is expected to maintain clean and organized work areas.
  • Aim high, think big and do whatever it takes to exceed expectations. Special requests for a guest are never a problem. If we can, we will.
  • Good enough never is. There’s no room for mediocrity. Surpass what was accomplished yesterday.
  • Our guests pay their hard-earned money (just like you do) for a dining experience that goes beyond all expectations. To give them anything less than our best work is a true insult.
  • We don’t just serve food and beverage, we create memories that people hold on to for a lifetime.
  • Push each other beyond perceived limits. Team members help each other improve their skills. For example, when it’s slow, work other stations or tap into other team members’ experience. When you think you know it all, that’s it—game over.
  • Talk daily about what we did and didn’t do right. Our strength is in our ability to communicate to each other without fear. Be clear, be concise, and be respectful.
  • Take action. If you see something is wrong, correct it immediately. You always have the power to make things right at that moment. Proper action beats good intentions.
  • If you want better results, ask yourself better questions. Focus on questions that promote personal responsibility. We don’t whine or complain about situations, we only discuss solutions.
  • Remember that every task, every job, is of equal importance; every person on this team contributes. Every little detail contributes to our “magic.” We share an attitude of gratitude for each member of our team, our guests, and our community.
  • It’s our honor to provide the gift of hospitality to the world. We believe in the essence of hospitality and always remember that we’re the hosts for everyone who enters our bar or restaurant.
  • Very special people have come together to make a very special team. We’ll continue to surround ourselves with exceptional team members.
  • All life is about change, and those who can adapt quickly are most often the most successful. “To improve is to change, so to be perfect is to have changed often.” - Winston Churchill
  • My favorite quote is from Michelangelo: “I saw the angel in the marble and carved until I set him free.” Your life is the marble and you’re the artist. Chisel and work at creating your own masterpiece each day.

Only put thing out a code that you would go to Hell and back to defend. A code only works when the team knows you believe in it 100 percent! Words without the actions to back them up make you a hypocrite. The industry is full of hypocrite managers—don’t be one of them.

Read this: Your Work Family: The Key to Your Legacy

When you can express your values through a code of conduct within your bar or restaurant, you’ll have team buy-in at a level you never thought possible. Will everyone on your team take the oath you create? Of course not. Then again, not everyone is a good match for your team. It’s far better to send someone down the road to work at another bar or restaurant than try to make someone to believe in your set of values.

When you know exactly who you are (core values) and what you believe in (your code of conduct), you’ll have the one thing many miss: a culture that stands out.

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