Oh hello there…

In these strange and challenging times, there seem to be two keywords circulating, “coronavirus” and “unprecedented.” Coronavirus has swept through people and industries at a rate never seen before in the modern world, its prompted decisions, and spurred situations that were not even a consideration a few short weeks ago.

Asking whole kitchen and front of house teams to please not come to work because the government had ordered all restaurants to close? That’s unprecedented. While employers struggle to work out if they can even deliver on payroll and keep their teams until this storm blows over. Without a doubt, its a turbulent and trying time.

When I was fresh out of university, I worked in a lovely quaint and quintessentially British pub called the Alford Arms in Frithsden, Hertfordshire. In 2016 a horrendous fire burnt through the top two floors and the roof, leaving the locally beloved pub out of action for months. The owners at the time Becky and David took the decision to pay all staff in full for the duration of the closure, now a bit older and wiser, I see and appreciate what a generous and admirable decision this was.

We re-opened with a grand celebration and a fantastic welcome back into the community, the days leading up to this were filled with deep cleaning, re-painting, varnishing, polishing, re-upholstering, remembering what all the wines tasted like (essential and necessary work), and brushing up on waiting skills.

The time in between this frenzied preparation and the fire were odd, we were all part of something that for the moment didn’t seem to exist, we had zero remote work to be getting on with, we didn’t even have company email addresses.

Looking back, this must have been a very trying time for the owners and management, having promised to keep and pay for the staff it was crucial to keep us engaged with the Alford and its values, so we were ready to go when the time came.

We know that many restaurants are putting in their best efforts to keep and pay their staff, it’s an extremely hectic time, with new bureaucratic hoops to jump through. However, when all is said and done, when sanctions are lifted, and the threat is over, you want a happy, healthy, and cohesive team ready to get back to work.

With this in mind, we’ve come up with 10 ways to keep your front of house and kitchen staff motivated and engaged in a time of crisis:

1 – Create a connected space for your team

If you do one thing, it should be this, if you don’t have it already. It could be as simple as a WhatsApp Group(s), a place to chew the fat, keep your team in the loop, and share news.

Depending on the size of your team, you may want to check out Slack, create a Facebook Group, or use Workplace From Facebook.

Honest Burgers have trailblazed the employee engagement path, Chantal Wilson Head of People told us, “I must credit Workplace by Facebook, and The Bot Platform has been critical to keeping our people engaged. We have 100% engagement (weekly) with Workplace, so we can be really innovative.”

2 – Keep your team informed

Now you’ve got your medium for communication, use it! Lack of communication is the downfall of any relationship.

Especially in a workspace where everyone is ordinarily present, sharing company news while you open for the day, new announcements made in your pre-shift briefing. It’s important to realize that this natural chatter and conversation time previously taken for granted is now gone. Remember they’ll be as worried about their jobs and the business, it’s also their livelihoods at stake.

Keep them up to date with company news and highlight the good news, the emergency funds, the measure the government has taken, the positive examples springing up in the hospitality industry.

3 – Regularly call your team

Line managers should be calling their team I would argue once a week at least, as we’ve already covered they are probably worried about, well, everything and everyone they love. As their managers, you should know how they are and care how they are, and now, in particular, they should feel like you care.

Not only will it bond you with your team, but you’ll also potentially add unknown amounts of value to their day (they may live alone, struggling with their mental health, lonely, stuck with people they don’t want to chat with, sick!). Your support will pay dividends in the long run, and in the short term, break up and add interest to all your days. Five minutes could make all the difference.

4 – Host an online pub quiz 

Make it yourself, as a group, have each member of the team write a section or use one online. And don’t stop at quizzes, host anything! Play bingo, host house parties, and have elected DJs, play 20 questions, or whatever other random games the internet has to offer.

Join the other 2.5 million people and download Houseparty (limited to 8 people) to video chat. You can play the games on the app, a reliable source has told me Zoom works a treat for parties, or Google hangout, Facebook Workplace.

5 – Meal challenges

Meals times are becoming a bit of “ready, steady, cook” in our household, trying not to shop too often coupled with not always being able to get the things we want are proper lessons in the difference between want and need, and creative cooking.

On your communication channels, why not share what you’re cooking, or challenge the team to a cook-off, or get the front of house team to try their best to recreate their favourite restaurant dish and let the chefs judge on presentation and ingredients used? You could even eat dinner together on video calls! Ideally, this will encourage healthy eating and creativity.

6 – Encourage exercise

Health is wealth, and you hopefully don’t need to be told that it is essential for physical and mental wellbeing. Encourage the team to use their one government recommend outing by going for a walk or a run, roads are quiet, and the weather is (currently) beautiful in the UK.

Strava is a widely used app in which you can record different forms of exercise, track where you’re going, you can add friends and comment messages of support. Get the team involved and outside (while carefully following government advice and guidelines).

7 – Open forum questions 

Organise an optional team video call a couple of days a week where keys members of the management team, owners, etc. are available for conversation and questions. A bit of a Q & A from both sides could stimulate some good group conversations; keep doing it even if no one shows up (if they aren’t there, it means you’re doing a good job keeping them informed).

It’s sometimes hard, particularly when open 7 days a week, to have the opportunity for direct conversations with your team, particularly those on the floor. They are the ambassadors for your business, its a great opportunity to fact find and learn about the day to day running of things, collect feedback and ideas.

8 – Learn a new language

Fantastic use of time for everyone involved! Firstly a great life skill, secondly how cool to be able to chat with future guests in their native tongue? Bound to prompt some happy customers and, in the meantime, gets the mind working (it’s also actually enjoyable).

Duolingo is my favourite app, and it’s free, extremely intuitive, and there are even particular sections for conversations in restaurants. You can add friends and see their progress, set personal targets and goals.

9 – Reopen ongoing projects

For many, the future is uncertain, but there is no reason why it shouldn’t be positive until then. Here is an ideal opportunity to examine your processes, restaurant layout, team structure, guest experience, change napkins supplier (!) – the list goes on.

Why not get your team involved in thinking and discussing changes you may want to make when you re-open? It’ll give them a sense of ownership and inclusion in business decisions. Perhaps you want to make your restaurant more green, reduce your waste, or eliminate all paper bills and receipts (we know some people that can help with that 😉).

10 – Setup a film or book club 

There are few things more delightful and charming in this world than a good book, and what better time than now. Have a member of the group choose a book/film/documentary for that week and set a time to discuss it, its a team activity which tends to tangent off into lots of exciting conversations entirely unrelated to the subject in question (at least my book club does).

There are online book stores, the most famous being Kindle and Amazon, and great documentaries online related to restaurants and hospitality. My personal favourites are Jiro Dreams of Sushi, and the series Chef’s Table, both of which can be found on Netflix.

11 – Honest Burger Example

Want a fantastic example of excellent staff engagement? The Honest Staff Retention Program is winning hard right now, well done to the team for creating this, it’s super awesome. Download.

Being a leader is hard in times of crisis, we’ve all got our own worries to fret over, but one of the best things you can do is help others. Reaching out to your team will drive engagement, loyalty, and friendship, which will last once the coronavirus pandemic is a distant nightmare. These are the times’ people will remember, and these acts of compassion and kindness will dictate how they remember these times.

Do your bit for your community and care for your team.

We really hope this has provided you with a little bit of inspiration, even doing one or two things could make all the difference. Let us know how you get on and WASH YOUR HANDS.

Written by Nicky Peck with love, from myself and the whole TableYeti team.

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