Almost everyone who works in the restaurant industry at any level would agree that it is a 24-7 business (24 hours a day, 7 days a week). Stress can be high and life/work balance can be minimal. Recent and past studies have shown that stress and life/work balance are directly related to productivity, turn-over and the bottom line.
Rick and Deann Bayless chef/owners of the internationally known Mexican restaurants Frontera Grill and Topolobampo in Chicago, Ill. have taken some proactive steps to create an environment that fosters balance and team spirit. They even purposely chose a location that could be closed 2 days a week, Sunday and Monday without cutting profit. This allows everyone to have 2 days off in a row, and gives Rick and Deann time to have a life away from work.
The Baylessâs encourage family members to work together and find opportunities for employees to have a good time with each other.
One of the ways they do that is to close their restaurants one week a year and take everyone who wants to go, to Mexico to experience the culture and regional cooking. Rick said that this experience gives him a chance to talk and hang out with staff; buspersons, the maitreâD, and servers. ã At our restaurant we support people having a lifeä, said Bayless. ãOur trip to Mexico creates a sense of loyalty, a better understanding of our food and Mexican culture and we all have fun together. Weâre gone for 4 intense days, usually taking a 2AM flight so we can begin our trip as soon as we get there. The 30-40 people who go return more excited about their work and the food we serve.ä
Recognizing that everyone needs relief from stress, the Baylessâs look for other opportunities to help bring their staff together apart from work. They have an annual fall harvest with a traditional Mexican barbecue in a pit, and all employees are invited. In the winter, their holiday party includes employees and their families. Management prepares the food and serves it. Not only is it their way of saying thank- you to the staff but it provides and opportunity to relax and get taken care of. Because Rick and Deanne believe in the importance of inclusion, the holiday party has events f or kids with clowns and magicians, and live bands for the adults. Everyone gets to dance and play together.
According to Larry Butcher, maitreDâ , these events and the overall philosophy of the restaurants have contributed to the low turnover and team cooperation. ã We believe in the dignity of people. Everyone here has worth, no matter what position they hold. This is an intense business. We serve a high volume of people an have to work around very little personal space.ä Butcher, who has worked for Rick and Deanne for 11 1/2 years has gone on every trip to Mexico. ãHaving this shared experience helps relieve stress and frustration in dealing with customers and their questions about the food and its culture.ä
ãEmployees become more passionate about what they do and pass that onto our customers. It relieves stress because we get to know one another and it is easier to approach each other when we work. We see each otherâs humanness, get a sense of each others styles and are less afraid to resolve conflict. There is less distance between people Because there is less stress at the restaurant, employees have the mental and physical energy to enjoy friends, families, and outside interests after work. Except for the people hired in the last 2 years as the restaurant has expanded, most people have stayed between 8-10 years.ä
Of course not all restaurants can take their employees on vacation. or close 2 days a week. However, here are some principles that can be applied on a management level to reduce stress, and build life/work balance.
Recognize the stress of the job.
Acknowledge the relationship between life/work balance, turnover, and productivity.
Develop a specific plan to show appreciation your employees.
Encourage all staff to pursue outside interests and be considerate of their time.
Get feedback from buspersons, servers, kitchen staff, and managers.
Enable employees in all job functions to interact with each other.
If employees in your restaurants are happy and more relaxed they will better serve your customers resulting in return and new business.