12 Steps To Improving Culture & Quality Of Work Life In Your Restaurant


QUESTION From: Anonymous (edited)

“...if I hear one more of them say ‘I have no life’ I’m gonna f#@kin lose it! But I get it. I’m feeing it too. How do I give my people a better quality of life?”


Culture: A great place to work is where you trust the people you work for, have pride in what you do and enjoy the people you work with.

Quality of Work Life (QWL): The balance between an employees’ work demands and outside interests or pressures has long been an ever-evolving area of corporate social responsibility.

Let me first ask: “How many hours/day hours/week are your disgruntled employees working?” and “What is their hourly rate?”

If they’re putting in 40hrs a week over 3 days and have another job to help make ends meet - it’s likely a staffing and/or labor $ issue.

If it’s not - ask yourself if you’re really committed to providing “Quality of Work Life” as an essential benefit to working in your restaurant and understand from the get-go… It’s not going to be cheap.

But there are lots of ways to improve morale before going down that QWL path.

In almost every situation though, I’d start with more hands on deck as I’m a firm believer that recruiting & proper training cures A LOT of ills.

There’s no secret to a strong workplace culture. Ultimately, the best thing you can do to improve the quality of life for you and your staff is to first ensure you have all of the makings for a pleasant workplace environment.

After all, it’s favorable conditions that prevent many fires (like the one you’re describing) from even starting in the first place…and ensure a desirable QWL can flourish if and when you decide to go that route.

Get Back To The Basics

Be mindful of your (or your manager’s) own: Awareness, Competence, Confidence, Kindness, Calmness, Enthusiasm,  & Patience.

These are the core qualities that every manager should possess (and self-inventory) in order to ensure a strong culture is, at the very least, possible.

Once in place, strong management can take the following 12 Steps to continually improve employee satisfaction:

  1. Keep promises to build and preserve trust.

  2. Value everyone equally and maintain mutual respect.

  3. Facilitate informal honesty and accountability.

  4. Have fun, bust chops (not behind backs or in groups) and build interpersonal relationships.

  5. Use experience to hire strategically and reduce friction / make things easier.

  6. Develop team members’ strengths and offer autonomy when possible.

  7. Regularly share expectations and goals.

  8. Live a “Team-First” life by helping & sharing when needed (Full Hands In-Full Hands Out).

  9. Clearly articulate / define Mission, Roles & Responsibilities.

  10. Accept failures as their own and successes as the team’s .

  11. Bond with staff by Eating, Meeting & Cleaning Together when possible.

  12. Provide competitive compensation.

A company that does not measure and improve employee satisfaction may face increasing turnover, declining productivity and limited ability to attract and retain additional qualified applicants.

I think you’ll find that once the actions on the above checklist are part of your restaurant’s daily routine - there’ll be little left to improve.

If you’re serious about making quality of work life (QWL) an even greater priority, it may require re-approaching every aspect of your business model with a genuine and sincere interest in giving yourself and your staff a better quality of life.

Consider the following additional creative and practical steps you can take to make even more meaningful impacts:

Schedule & Staff Thoughtfully 

Approach your schedule with everyone’s wellness in mind...from days & hours of operation to arrival times that facilitate calm and gradual shift changes.

Get to know your staff and work around their other responsibilities / main interests whenever possible instead of only when necessary.

To avoid staff getting: “in a rut” or “Groundhog Day Syndrome” focus on hiring staff with overlapping availability and mix up the scheduling a bit so that the same employees aren’t always working together.

Have a staff-friendly Shift Change Policy & readily accessible Shift Change Book (or software) in place.

Being closed on Sundays isn’t just a Chick-fil-A thing anymore. Closing on Sundays is a perk that more and more businesses are offering their employees who value family time, personal time, worshiping and/or yard work / gardening. When you consider the fact that over 90% of survey respondents said that they would prefer more time off to making more money; it’s not a stretch to see that providing family time by providing every Sunday or every other Sunday off (via rotation) is an amenity that affords you and your employees time for things that a raise in pay often wouldn’t.

Consider Ancillary Benefits & Perks

Spend some time brainstorming (independently or with your management team) on ideas that might facilitate downtime that facilitates a CULTURE OF GRATITUDE. (e.g., pay hourly rate or provide one free meal for staff members who spend one day/month off for volunteering in your community).

Provide Mandatory Paid Vacation Time

EVERYONE needs a respite to recharge. As any report on QWL will attest - mental, spiritual and physical rest directly impacts quality of work life and that directly affects a company’s ability to serve its customers, improves job performance, increases customer satisfaction and results in a decrease of workplace accidents.


Ask your staff to submit ideas on what they would like to make their job easier at the restaurant if money were no object / if you hit the lottery. 9 times out of 10 - you’ll find that the most meaningful change requests don’t cost a dime.

Offer Paid Sick Days

For tipped employees, this benefit would require calculating the average daily tips claimed by each employee independently. Encouraging staff to stay home when they’re not feeling well not only decreases their amount of overall down time - but prevents them from getting other employees sick as well.

Create Opportunities for Autonomy

Whether it’s inviting staff teams to have an active voice in how stations should be set-up or allowing servers / bartenders to have their own spiel (so long as key points are touched upon), the more we give people autonomy, the less likely we are to micro-manage and keep our eyes on the bigger picture.

Posting a BOH and FOH “Crew Ladder” or some other diagram labeled with each hierarchical position and the corresponding requisite education, tests and hours of skills training is a good way to encourage facility-wide cross training, provide opportunities for personal growth and allow ownership / management to adopt a more “Montessorial approach” to training where staff can organically gravitate to areas that are of greatest interest to them.

Delegate More

Remember, you can’t take care of your business (or your employees) if you aren’t first taking care of yourself. (and your family) first. This industry is, at times, like being a passenger on an airplane that frequently depressurizes. So always remember to “…secure your own mask first before helping others.”.

Don’t get me wrong I’ve done the 80–90 hour work week myself and necessary as it may be at times, it’s also quite addictive - and NOT sustainable in the long run.

When you love what you do, it gets harder and harder to tear yourself away from it - especially when the situation (or your own doing) necessitates your presence in order for things to work.

The ideal is to delegate as much as you possibly can without sacrificing the guests’ experience, overall quality or profitability.

I’m not saying there won’t ever be those weeks (or quarters) where you’ll NEED to be there all the time and you simply can’t take a day off (and probably shouldn’t); but there is no honor in that badge...it’s only a sign that something else is lacking - most often structure/systems, competent management, culture or capital.

Check out the following article for more on this topic and let me know if you need help developing an actual plan to execute those 12 steps,

Josh Sapienza