Get in the trenches
You can’t quarantine yourself and lead effectively from the safety of your home. Even if you don’t have a shift on the schedule, it’s important for leaders to be in the restaurant to see how its going and address any concerns face to face. In fact, it’s better to see your employees more often than usual right now. A good leader leads from the front, not behind.
Be visible as a leader. Show your employees that you are connected and staying ahead of the game. For pizza restaurants, this means going into your location or locations to check on the status and effectiveness of new policies, like those for social distancing, wearing masks, checking temperatures and spreading out tables. You’ll also want to make sure these new policies are part of your training process for any new employees.
Meet with employees one-on-one
As the president of a five-unit pizza chain, I don’t typically meet with hourly employees in the restaurants on a regular basis. But, since the beginning of the pandemic I have personally been sitting down with every single employee in our restaurants for at least 10 to 15 minutes.
Taking this time has allowed me to thank them and address any challenges any employee has been facing. I highly recommend this approach because it not only allows leaders to show their appreciation and express how important every role is to the restaurant’s operations, but also gives employees a time and place to open up to discuss anything on their minds, while affording leaders a closer look at what is going on in their restaurants at the ground level.
Be receptive to any kind of feedback during these meetings. At our restaurant chain, Rascal House, 90% of employees had no issues and we mostly received positive comments on everything we were doing. But, delivery drivers expressed concern that some customers weren’t wearing masks or complying with social distancing mandates during deliveries. By learning of that issue, we developed new policies and processes on how drivers can protect themselves while making deliveries.
In essence, these conversations allowed me to address concerns before they became truly problematic. The discussions also helped employees feel heard and appreciated.
It’s also important to meet with managers more often during challenging times. At Rascal House, we’ve made sure to stay connected and work to anticipate what would come next with our leadership team.
We’ve engaged in a lot of extra communication at all hours, especially in the uncertain early days of the pandemic. But, if you can maintain regular meetings, it provides some stability. Granted, you may consider, or even need, to cancel some meetings, but their presence on your schedule gives leaders a great way to refocus on issues and reconnect with your team.
Manage the messaging
There have been mixed messages from both the media and public about restaurants operating during the current pandemic. There has even been some negativity conveyed about whether restaurants are actually “essential.” Similarly, the public has shown a lot of positive sentiment about restaurants providing much-needed employment and comfort for their communities.
As a result of these mixed feelings in the community, it’s important to reconcile yourself as a restaurant leader with why you are operating before you even consider responding to any expressed negativity. For instance, like most restaurant operators, you also probably have a lot of customers who work in health care or some other essential job that affords them little opportunity to shop for groceries. Likewise, maybe many of your customers are busy families, trying to balance working from home, with watching – and during school year – helping educate their kids. In those cases, restaurants play an essential role.
At Rascal House, the needs of people in the community for our services and products became evident to me after I received multiple emails and comments from people appreciative of the fact that we were open. One person even commented that with everything being so uncertain and changing every day, we were the only thing that made them feel like there was some sense of normalcy in their life.
That was powerful. Being able to still provide food for people is huge. Our mission at Rascal House is to connect with people through food, and we are keeping that alive throughout the pandemic when many people are struggling in different ways. That includes the people we serve, those we employ and our communities at large.