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The Benefits of Designing a Strong Restaurant Culture

By Sean Kashanchi, Gallup

Leaders in every industry give a lot of thought to building a cohesive, sustainable, profitable culture.

Restaurant industry leaders do too, but the opportunities -- and risks -- of food service businesses are unique to the industry.

To create a culture of growth and profit, leaders in the restaurant industry should broaden their perspective on a few key contributors and consider how each one aligns with the brand's purpose, promise and values.

The corporate office, which has the responsibility of creating and driving the company's purpose, brand and culture yet shockingly few employees know what theirs are.

A Gallup Panel survey finds just 28% of employees in hospitality strongly agree with the statement "I know what my company stands for and what makes our brand(s) different from our competitors."

Understanding purpose is especially important in food service, as competition is so fierce and abundant.

Anybody can serve what you serve -- but purpose is what makes your brand different from your competitors.

Purpose, therefore, is a big part of brand identity and brand promise. Purpose is what keeps employees with you longer.

Purpose is fundamentally, irreversibly tied to company values.

All restaurants have a value system -- and if corporate doesn't establish one, front-line workers will. It's better by far for leadership to define the values and communicate them throughout the organization.

Establishing organizational purpose and values also allows workers to feel like they are a part of something larger than themselves. And if your staff includes a lot of millennials, this is important.

According to the Gallup report How Millennials Want to Work and Live, "[Millennials'] ultimate goal is to find a good job that fuels their sense of purpose and enables them to lead a life well-lived."

Millennials may be uniquely attuned to purpose, but all workers need to feel involved in the values and purpose of their company. And the best restaurants in the industry make their values and purpose clear.

Identity and Differentiation

Think about Panera and how its "Food Policy" values -- clean ingredients, a transparent menu and positive impact -- establish healthy food as a value and selling it is their purpose.

Ultimately, values are a self-reinforcing part of a restaurant's culture -- values sustain culture and culture promotes values.

But the corporate office must drive culture throughout the organization to make values and purpose consistent with the brand. Values, purpose and brand can die at the head office unless senior leadership believes in and embodies them.

To avoid that, leadership needs a solid feedback loop between the front line and the back office to hold everyone accountable to values, purpose and brand promise. Do that and the end goal -- increasing profits and growing your market share -- is easier to reach.

But there's a catch: Whatever the values, purpose or brand promise, the organization must first ensure that workers have the materials and equipment they need to do their jobs right. If they don't, the organization's purpose is already compromised.

Big Little Things

Gallup's Q12 engagement assessment evaluates the 12 discrete elements that indicate a worker's engagement, and having the necessary materials and equipment is one of them.

When employees chase customers out to the parking lot to get a pen back, or cooks hide towels so they'll have enough to get through the shift, or managers have to hack the POS so customers can get what they ordered, people can't do their jobs right.

If they're shorted on the things they need, workers will soon believe that what they do -- cook and serve food, keep the store clean and operational -- doesn't matter.

It's a short jump from, "What I do doesn't matter," to, "Our purpose doesn't matter." And very soon the values and brand promise cease to matter much either.

That pattern changes a culture. But it can be halted in is tracks by a corporate office that instills purpose in every values-related decision it makes, every action workers take, and in every brand experience a customer has.

That's how food service exceeds customer expectations consistently. That's how a restaurant wins today and tomorrow.

In my experience, when a culture underperforms, it's often because the head office inconsistently messaged its purpose, values and brand promise.

But when a brand dominates its market, it's because the head office knows culture should be a matter of design, not default.

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