Restaurant Management Skill #2: Open Communication

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Many restaurants and coffeehouses rise to the level of “good,” but not many are truly great. Great ones don’t tend to fail—and open communication with and among your staff can make you one of the great ones.

When you look at the heart of problems—drama and chaos that can infect your business—you don’t have to look much farther than communication issues. Good managers go out of their way to communicate to their team and their guests, whereas implied expectations can be their downfall.

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A few ways to assure you’re communicating with your staff in ways that will positively affect your business:

Set the context

Every employee comes to work with their own set of culture and experiences. Make sure they always understand:

  1. The big picture
  2. How they fit into that big picture
  3. What’s in it for them (i.e. why they should care)

Constantly communicate the “why” behind what you’re asking of them—why it’s important and the role they play. If possible, do it in real time, making a point to talk about how employees’ work relates to the success of the business.

If you fail to set context and paint the larger picture, you contribute to the silo mentality, where employees don’t see why their individual contributions matter.

Rinse and repeat

Communication isn’t a one-time event. If you state the “why” for policies and procedures in a staff meeting, don’t let that be the end of it.

Building trust and credibility is about communicating a message consistently across multiple touch points—at meetings, in one-on-ones, and spontaneously during the workday when the opportunity presents itself. Don’t be a nag or a broken record, but do know that when employees hear the same message repeated, they’re more likely to take notice, believe it and act on it.

Create dialogue and check for understanding

Every time you communicate, you have an opportunity to make sure the message is heard and understood. Find out if your staff gets what you’re saying by asking them to paraphrase what they heard.

If you want to know if your audience understands the “what” and “why” behind a strategy, ask them, “What challenges and opportunities do you see with what I’ve explained?” If you want to know whether they heard your key messages or need additional context or detail, ask them, “What are your key takeaways from the information I just shared?”

Building opportunities for questions and dialogue into your communication helps you measure in real time how well employees receive your messages.

Listen, and follow up

For communication with your staff to matter and make a difference, you need to learn what’s working well, what’s not and how things can be better. And that requires a lot of listening.

Ask broad, probing, open-ended questions that let the listener guide the conversation, such as:

- “Help me understand…”

- “How do you envision…”

- “Do you have alternatives you’d like me to consider?”

Be sure to share your motivation for getting feedback, and to engage people fully when listening to them. Then follow up on their ideas so they know their voice matters. Let them know if you like an idea and how it will be implemented. Or if you won’t be taking their advice, tell them why. Either way, show appreciation for their feedback, and that their thoughts are valued.

Also consider what environment(s) in which employees would be most comfortable sharing input. In staff meetings? One on one? Anonymously through a suggestion box or an online contact form?

Use calls to action

As you communicate, what actions are you’re trying to create? Clearly communicate the actions you want employees to take. Be specific and give examples. Without a call to action, your message can fall flat.

It can feel tedious, but good leaders tend to repeat themselves. Sometimes over and over—and over—if necessary. Running a restaurant requires constant, clear and honest communication with your staff—for your success and theirs.

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Check out more articles in this series:

Restaurant Management Skill #1: Adaptable Leadership

Restaurant Management Skill #3: Accountability

Restaurant Management Skill #4: Attention to Detail