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Reducing Staff Stress

By Tom Gray

Anybody working in the restaurant business today knows that stress is part of the daily routine. We thrive on stressful situations to a certain degree---otherwise, we’d be in another line of work. And while the capacity to function under pressure is indirectly responsible for making us successful, stress can reduce productivity and create tension among staff members. So, how to find the right balance for you and your staff in the kitchen without creating a bunch of slackers? These NO STRESS suggestions will help.

Notice what’s going on.

Offer a complete training program.

Solve problems sooner rather than later.

Take responsibility, and expect others to do so as well.

Respect your crew.

Express clear expectations.

Simplify where you can.

Show your appreciation.

From the moment you arrive at work, notice what is happening. Are the prep cooks standing around chatting or busily working? Is the sous chef managing the crew or in the office buried in paperwork? Are the tasks of the day on target for completion? Even if you won’t be serving guests for another three or four hours, you must get a handle on how the day is shaping up. If it appears you are not geared up for a smooth opening, take action immediately to get back on track.

Offer and follow complete training guidelines. Very few people enjoy the training process, as either the trainer or the trainee. Shortcutting this critical step, however, can make or break an employee. Write your recipes down and require cooks to follow them. Thorough training will mean less stress on staff when they need to find answers and less stress for you when you demand consistency.

Encourage and allow your key players to solve problems. Emphasize that you want them to work toward solutions by themselves, and push them a bit. If every problem has to wait for your attention, you will become overwhelmed with the minutiae very quickly. Likewise, when a problem does surface, don’t be afraid to delegate.

Evaluate each person’s responsibilities and hold him or her accountable. Within any organization, success hinges on how well things get done. Any staff member’s inefficiency in any area will create stress for others. Don’t hesitate to shuffle staff positions to increase performance and reduce stress.

Respect your staff. Respect is essential in maintaining an environment that is conducive to productivity and a smooth-running operation. Remember that your crew has a life outside of work. Post schedules on time, and allow schedule requests so they can plan activities outside of work that they find enjoyable. Think of unusual perks such as dining certificates to restaurants around town, discounts on dry cleaning, or book/magazine allowances that enhance their work environment or reward them for work well done.

Set clear expectations for your staff. During the interview process at Bistro Aix, we outline three core expectations: one, come to work; two, come to work on time; and three, do your job. Our expectations sound elementary, yet some staff members have difficulty accomplishing these basics. But by clearly expressing our expectations at the onset, stressful situations have been avoided because employees knew what was expected of them and where they had fallen short.

Simplify where possible. Take the time to develop logical systems and protocols for handling everyday tasks and operations. Also, encourage your staff to suggest ways to streamline procedures. Don’t put up roadblocks for your employees to get their jobs done.

Show your appreciation to your team and individuals who shine every day. When someone does a good job, make it a point to let him or her know you notice. On a small scale, we use the T-shirts and promotional materials we receive from vendors and distributors as perks; a T-shirt or hat and a thank-you go a long way. On a larger scale, we close each year on Super Bowl Sunday and host an employee party. While it’s an expensive endeavor for the business (closing down for a night, purchasing drinks, catering food, and renting equipment), it’s a fun way to decompress after the busy holiday season, and the gesture builds camaraderie and good will.

No doubt, stress is not going to go away in this business. Instead, find means to reduce it without losing sight of your work ethic and drive to succeed.

Tom Gray is partner and executive chef of Bistro Aix in Jacksonville, Florida. A Culinary Institute of America graduate, Gray worked in New York City, Los Angeles, and Napa Valley before returning to his roots in North Florida. Among its many honors, Bistro Aix garnered Santé’s 2003 Wine Hospitality Award and the DiRoNA Award of Excellence since 2004.

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