How to Improve Team Communication with Restaurant Staff and Management

How to Improve Team Communication with Restaurant Staff and Management
D. J. Costantino

By D. J. Costantino

You would think something as second nature to people as communication would be easy to manage in the workplace. After all, there are so many more pressing problems that need to be dealt with. Maybe one of your servers just called in sick at the last minute, your shipment of inventory containing all the ingredients for tonight's dinner special never showed up or the plumbing is acting up again.

Communication is the key to facilitating productive relationships between managers and employees. The problems mentioned above all have a quick, albeit annoying, fix. However poor restaurant communication will only exacerbate these problems, leading to increased employee turnover and lower employee satisfaction. To understand how restaurant communication drives productivity and results, you have to develop a familiarity with the risks of poor communication.

The Dangers of Poor Restaurant Communication

Poor restaurant communication equals poor service. Those who work in a restaurant can attest to the sudden and unpredictable stress that comes with a surge in patronage. There are many working parts between the kitchen and server, and everything needs to be working seamlessly to ensure customer satisfaction. Your bartender forgetting to make a drink for one of your tables or your server bringing a plate to the wrong table is all it takes to throw off the rhythm of your staff.

At times, it's a civil war between your front-of-house and back-of-house teams. Poor communication can always broil down to an argument behind closed doors, but sometimes you aren't always that lucky. Should one of these altercations be noticed by a customer, you run the risk of receiving poor reviews, a damaged reputation, or worse yet, having an employee quit on the spot.

Good restaurant communication is a measure of how your staff works with each other, but also how you work with your staff. The following are habits to avoid at all costs when communicating with your staff:

Yelling at underperforming staff (especially in front of customers). In fact, any form of yelling should be at the top of your “do not do” list.

Keeping your staff in the dark about upper management decisions. An informed staff is an efficient staff. Keeping them up to date with new objectives and areas that can be improved will be key in leveling up your restaurant.

Not putting in any floor time. The best way to manage is to do so with your own eyes. Observing how your staff communicates with each other and with your customers is crucial to locating what your staff is doing right, and what your staff is doing wrong.

7 Steps to Improve Restaurant Team Communication


1. Pre-Shift Meetings

It's time to bust out that clipboard and write a checklist. The pre-shift meeting is a valuable management tool that lets you get your staff ready for the coming shift. Keep these short and sweet; 10 minutes tops. You don't want to lull your staff into a tedious meeting right before a long shift. Instead, you should hit all on the following points:

  • Any promotions you have running
  • Any changes in policy, or remind them of especially pertinent policies
  • Featured items for the day
  • Field questions

As a restaurant manager, this is your time to shine. This is when you can transition from a boss to a coach by keeping your staff informed and encouraged. While you do want to be in the driver seat for these meetings, you don't want to do all the talking. It's imperative to give your staff a voice so that they can bring any issues to your attention. Sadly enough, approximately 65% of U.S. employees are not engaged at work. This stems from management not taking time out of their day to facilitate discussion and promote task engagement.

2. Positive Reinforcement/Recognition

Everyone seeks approval. It's something that has been hardwired into our heads since infancy. One of the most common mistakes a restaurant manager can make is perpetuating the belief that positive reinforcement is best received as a tangible gift. WRONG. Not only are the best kinds of positive reinforcement more effective, they're also free. In fact, positive reinforcement and feedback are proven to stimulate the same neural pathways in your brain that cash stimulates.

A simple “thank you” or pat on the back has proven to lead to:

From a psychological standpoint, positive behaviour is a learned trait. Exercising positive reinforcement allows your staff to identify when they're doing something right. Over time, these habits become second nature as the person begins to associate that action with the feeling of being emotionally rewarded.

3. Open Door Policy

A simple solution to a common communication problem. Keeping the door to your office closed relays the message that you don't want to be disturbed. It's just like body language. Keeping your door shut is the equivalent of crossing your arms and throwing on headphones while speaking to someone. You could be missing out on valuable feedback from your staff and new opportunities to connect with your employees in a time of need.

Keeping your door closed creates a barrier between a manager and his/her subordinates, and can convey disinterest, secretive behaviour, and untrustworthiness. Keeping that door open is proven to lead to closer working relationships, increased accessibility, and greater quality of communication. In fact, open door policies are the fastest way to access information. Studies show closed doors will inhibit serious and even urgent situations from being brought to the manager's attention.

You can also try taking your open door policy digital with 7shifts' Employee Engagement and Shift Feedback feature. Gather employee feedback directly after their shifts to keep a pulse on employee satisfaction.

4. Use team building activities to create trust

It's important to establish trust among teammates and make sure that there's a strong bond.

“Trying to eliminate the front of house and back of house and make it one big house, everyone working together.” says Chef William Eick, executive chef-owner of Naegi and Matsu.

Your restaurant team may be divided up into departments, but it's important not to forget that you're one team, with one goal. That only works with a high level of trust, and the best way to get there is by putting time and effort into team building activities.These can take many forms, like:

  • Team outings like a dinner, picnic, or sports game
  • Friendly competitions like cocktail making
  • A charity event
  • Staff meals before a shift starts

For example, At Andolini's in Tulsa, OK, owner Mike Bausch hosts an annual “Andomania” event. The Olympics-style events have each of their 6 locations in friendly competition for restaurant tasks like pizza dough-making.

Trust among your team and stronger communication makes your restaurant work better, too.

“...I've seen a turn with staff staying longer when we worked as a full team. People were willing to help each other in odd situations. Servers helping in the dish pit or running their own load. BOH help them sweep and mop. Shared responsibilities. It's not one person getting blamed for everything. Then you don't have people throwing each other under the bus, either. Falls on everyone. Can't say one person didn't do something,” says chef William Eick.

5. Use dedicated tools

Another way to encourage and strengthen staff communication is to use dedicated tools. Create a place—like a group message or chat server—wholly for communication among your team. When communication is in a centralized location, it's more accessible for team members and ensures they can still talk to their team without sacrificing personal privacy.

Your team probably won't want to be a part of one massive group text. Use a dedicated tool like Slack or Discord, or combine team chats with scheduling software like 7shifts. With 7shifts' built-in communication tools, it's never been easier to create a dedicated team channel for all of your employees to chat. Send group announcements to keep the whole team in sync, or send private, secure 1-on-1 messages to teammates. You can also easily create group chats based on departments or roles on your schedule for easy collaboration. By keeping your team communication in one centralized place like 7shifts, it makes it easier to keep all of work in one place.

6. Encourage honesty and transparency

Communication among your team isn't always going to be easy. Encourage honesty and transparency among your team members to make sure everyone feels comfortable speaking their mind.

How? By leading with your own example. If a manager isn't transparent in their communication, and isn't honest and straightforward, your team will adapt that style. It's important to address the hard stuff head on, and not sugar-coat it to avoid hurting feelings or protecting others. The last thing you want is for your team to not speak up about an issue—even a small one. Those small issues can erode trust in your team and lead to unengaged employees who leave.

7. Get employee feedback on the team's communication

Communication is a two way street, and just because you feel it's open and honest, doesn't mean your team may feel the same way. In the spirit of honesty and transparency, check in with your team often.

The best way to do this is to give them options for how they want to respond. Some may be comfortable giving feedback to management in person, but, understandably, some are more open when feedback is anonymous—no matter how high the level of trust on your team. Give your team ample opportunities to give feedback on communication—and be sure to understand and address it.

What to communicate and when

Not all restaurant communication needs to come from the top to the entire team. Sometimes, it needs to be funneled to management only. Part of team communication is to know what to communicate to your team and when to do it.

Management teams

Managers have different responsibilities than the team at large, and need their own place to communicate amongst each other and to ownership/upper management. The best place to do this is with manager log book software. This is a place for managers to keep notes on every shift, eventually building an archive of what's happening in your business. It's a place to store notes on how the team is doing, which processes are going well (and which aren't!), and even how the team is communicating.

You could use a physical book for this, but a digital, mobile-friendly manager log book like the one in 7shifts makes it even better. It's easily shared from manager to manager via email, and is searchable, making it easier to identify trends in your restaurant.

All Staff

It's important to keep all of your staff informed of what's going on in your restaurant. Use a direct line to communication with the entire team to share things like:

  • New staff joining
  • A change to operating hours
  • Menu updates
  • Health & safety policy changes

With a communication tool like 7shifts, owners and operators can send an announcement blast to their entire team at once to share critical information. It even includes read receipts and reminders to ensure they've received the message.

One things to keep in mind when sending announcements is frequency—any more than one a day and it can become cluttered, and reduce the likelihood of staff continuing to read them.

Frequently Asked Questions

How do I know if my team communication is improving?

Openness among the team, increased efficiency, and a general sense of good morale and camaraderie are all signs of good team communication.

How is team communication different than one on one?

A successful team is always talking to each other, sharing ideas, and helping each other out. Team communication involves everyone on the team working together, whereas one-on-one communication generally concerns one or two people.

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D. J. Costantino
D. J. Costantino

Hi! I'm D.J., 7shifts' resident Content Writer. I come from a family of chefs and have a background in food journalism. I'm always looking for ways to help make the restaurant industry better!