How to communicate effectively with your employees

By Jessie Oleson Moore

Communication is key if you want to have a successful restaurant business.

That’s never been more true than today, with the average restaurant turnover rate at an astronomical 70% and employees citing poor communication as the number one reason they leave their jobs.

RELATED: 5 skills a restaurant manager needs

There’s good news: a little effort to improve communication goes a long way toward employee satisfaction and retention.

Ready to improve your workplace communication? Keep reading for some of the ways you can effectively communicate with your employees:

Leave the door open

The phrase “open-door policy” often refers to a corporate setting, with upper management literally leaving their office doors open to indicate that employees are welcome to come in with questions or concerns. In short, it’s a means of fostering more transparency and better communication.

Restaurant managers may not have an actual office door, but they can still adopt a mindset that opens the door – at least figuratively – for employees to communicate freely.

It could be as simple as having daily or weekly check-ins with employees or making sure to ask how things are going on a regular basis. Small gestures like this can empower employees and let them know that their opinions matter, resulting in a powerful and positive effect on overall communication.

Build your communication toolbox

From incorrect phone orders to employee scheduling snafus, communication issues can cause plenty of problems in restaurants, both in the front and back of the house.

But technology can help. Here are a couple of ways that different high (and low) technology tools can help improve communication with employees (and customers as well):

  • More and more restaurants are turning to QR code menus to streamline the ordering process. Sure, they’re convenient and can easily be printed on a table tent or a poster — but it’s not just about convenience.

    The fact is that online menus are easier to update quickly. Say, for instance, that you run out of your famous salted caramel cake. Unless you communicate that to employees quickly, you might continue receiving orders for the sold-out item. With an online menu that’s easy to update in real time, you and your team can stay on the same page, improving communication and saving potential headaches!
  • Online scheduling can be a huge workload for managers, but technology can simplify the process. There are plenty of employee scheduling apps out there to help managers plan more effectively and that allow staff to request time off. Not only is this a more effective way to communicate, but it saves everyone time.

Educate your employees

Education is so important in the restaurant industry, and it can really affect communication.

Consider a server who hasn’t been educated on the selling points of the menu or the daily specials. This lack of communication can have a trickle-down effect, where they struggle to effectively sell your menu items to customers, potentially reducing your profits.

Educating employees takes time and effort, but it’s a communication channel that pays off in the long run. Be sure to offer new employee training and continue to offer education specific to each role. For instance, servers might get a daily crash course on the day’s specials or a monthly wine tasting so that they can more effectively sell to customers. Back-of-the-house staff might get training on how to properly operate commercial kitchen equipment or other training relevant to their roles.

Demonstrating that you’re willing to invest in employees’ success doesn’t just improve communication – it can improve workplace morale and improve customer retention, too.

Have policies in place

Many restaurants have policies about punctuality, employee discounts, and more. Why not create some communication policies, too?

Establishing a chain of command addressing everything from complaints to time off can help streamline communication, make things simple, and keep your restaurant running smoothly.

Don’t avoid tough conversations

Nobody likes having tough conversations but ignoring or avoiding them will often backfire. If you have a problem with an employee or need to speak about an issue, don’t delay. Instead, follow these tips:

Start with a positive

Here’s a tip inspired by the classic book How to Win Friends and Influence People: always start tough conversations with something positive. For instance, for an employee who is friendly but chronically late, start by praising their great energy to make them more receptive to what comes next.

Keep it simple and to the point

Starting with the positive doesn’t mean you should dance around the issue. Address the problem simply and clearly, there’s no need to over-explain or allow wiggle room for excuses. It can be tough to face issues head-on, but a more passive-aggressive approach can be a lot more painful for everyone in the long run!

Be kind

You’ve heard the adage “you catch more flies with honey,” right? Employees are human beings, and people tend to be more responsive and communicate openly with people who treat them with kindness and respect.

Sure, the restaurant industry tends to be high turnover, but that doesn’t mean you should treat employees like disposable commodities. When you cultivate a culture of respect at your restaurant, it shows your employees respect, which often translates to great work ethic and happiness on the job.

Let’s talk it out…

Effective communication with employees isn’t always easy in the fast-paced world of restaurant management. These practices can help smooth out the rough edges, not only improving communication but overall employee satisfaction and staff retention.

Jessie Oleson Moore is a Philadelphia-based freelance writer and artist. As a writer, she has written extensively on food, personal growth, business and finance, and career development and has extensive experience producing in-depth, research-based articles and guides.