Cultures that work discussed at NRA 2013

At the NRA 2013 Show’s Profitability and Entrepreneurship session, Tom Decotiis, co-founder and partner of Covertus LLC, a branding consultancy, moderated a top-line panel. Amelia Levin reports

On the panel were Mike O’Donnell, CEO and president of Ruth’s Hospitality Group (Ruth’s Chris Steak House); Richard Rivera, chairman of the board for CraftWorks Restaurants & Breweries (Rock Bottom Restaurants, etc.); BJ Stone, founder and CEO of Stone’s Cove KitBar; and Kerry Kramp, CEO and president of Sizzler USA. Here’s a summary of their advice for creating restaurant and workplace cultures that work.

Decide what type of culture you want to create
“Culture relates to businesses and brands, and not every culture is going to be right for your business,” said Decotiis. To create your own culture, determine first what are your core beliefs and values. Then, determine what success is and how it should be achieved, because all cultures form around a goal for success, he added.

Is your value knowing the range of gross profit percentage for each menu item, so you have contests among your servers for those who sell the highest profit items? Or is it being able to accurately and enthusiastically describe the attributes of each menu item to maximise the customer experience. Both are ways to create culture, but one doesn’t apply to everyone.

Think of culture like layers of an onion
This was Decotiis’s idea for addressing the various areas of culture creating from the inside (core), out: beliefs and values; goals and vision; policies and strategies; procedures and behaviours; experience and memories; symbols and symptoms.

Create a sense of belonging among your employees
“We work to build an engaged strong sense of belonging,” said O’Donnell of Ruth’s Hospitality Group. “If I envision our loyal staff not being with us, I can see our profitability going way down.” To keep them there, the company gives workers health and vacation benefits, fair pay and other rewards for their loyalty, which spans through 10 years and beyond for many. Company beliefs and values are constantly addressed and expressed so that staff work together to achieve goals. Ruth’s Chris also actively recruits new people, conducts regular employee surveys for feedback and analyses both soft and hard data to ensure it’s on the right track in this regard.

Don’t forget about the Millennials
Kramp of Sizzler pointed out the importance of hiring and nurturing Millennials, the next generation of restaurant staff and executives. “When an employee feels loved and cared about, all of a sudden they’re better able to love and care about the guest,” he said. Though they may need a little extra positive feedback and support, the hard work and dedication they show as a result directly contributes to creating a strong culture.

Remain transparent
Keeping an open dialogue and honesty is at the core of culture creating. “If you have a regularly late employee, don’t just question why the person’s late,” said O’Donnell. “Ask them what’s going on and figure out if you need to do something differently to accommodate the fact that they have to take 12 buses just to get to work.”

Build trust among your staff and customers
“It’s all about intention,” said Rivera of CraftWorks Restaurants & Breweries. “You have to declare what you’re all about.” Do you want to do the right thing? Do you want to treat your employees well? Do you want to show concern for social welfare and the environment? Whatever it is, declare how you’re going to behave and then do it. The trust factor will automatically increase.


Amelia Levin


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