Nurturing a healthy work environment makes for a happy restaurant - Brand Points Plus Canada

Nurturing a healthy work environment makes for a happy restaurant

Do you lead a fair kitchen? According to Fair Kitchens, “A Fair Kitchen is a positive working environment where staff happiness is as important as diner satisfaction.” 

When the rush is on and tensions spike, a healthy functional team can determine whether your foodservice workplace is happy or toxic. By building a fair, friendly and emotionally healthy environment where team members are valued, foodservice operators can build greater job satisfaction, improve employee retention, and increase productivity.

Peter De Bruyn, a restaurant consultant and provincial chair of the B.C. Restaurant and Foodservices Association (BCRFA), says clear communication on each person’s role is one of the most important elements of a highly functioning team. “Depending on the size of the kitchen, people’s roles may change daily, and as long as it is clear what that role is, then they have a greater chance of being successful.”


Opening lines of communication — and keeping them open — can help quash small issues before they become big ones.


Opening lines of communication — and keeping them open — can help quash small issues before they become big ones. Unchecked annoyances may lead to disgruntled employees who may ultimately leave over something that could have been fixed. 

Good results are the result of empowered leaders who have the authority to make decisions, De Bruyn says. “A leader can be a line cook who has simply taken a leadership mentality to make thoughtful decisions. Employees who don’t make decisions generally tend to not be as successful and may not cooperate as well in the team environment.”

Saying ‘thank you’ doesn’t cost anything 

“Small things like ‘thank yous’ help build the ‘healthy’ portion of the functional team,” he says. “Kitchens can be a stressful place to work and often communication is direct — not necessarily rude or pleasant, but simply direct. When time permits, small gestures of gratitude for a job well done can go a long way to help build the support of the team.”

Being grateful positively impacts the culture of the restaurant business as well. Young people entering the workforce who have a positive experience with a restaurant are far more likely to stay in an environment that treats them well. 

And, remember: rewards don’t have to be monetary. They can be the staff member’s perfect schedule, or the days off requested. Small things go a long way. 

Enjoying Working Together

Share the vision with your team

De Bruyn says it’s crucial that foodservice operators share their vision of success with their team members. 

“A clear vision of the property and what is expected out of the employees is a great way to start and probably the most important.”

It’s important to be clear about roles and responsibilities, and how to deal with issues, through empowerment. “Barriers can also be that shift leaders don’t have enough accountability and responsibility to deal with issues,” he says. “If that leader needs to check with the manager on each issue, this can slow service and create undue stress. Empowered shift leaders yield better results.”


By nurturing a culture of inclusion and diversity, foodservice operators can build a space where everyone feels welcomed and valued.


By nurturing a culture of inclusion and diversity, foodservice operators can build a space where everyone feels welcomed and valued. “Fair scheduling and rates of pay for all staff based on experience and capability is essential for all workers,” De Bruyn advises. 

When challenges arise, clear communication and a culture of appreciation can help ensure success. “Transparency and achievable goals help pull the staff together,” he says. “For example, if food cost is running 32% and the target is 31% and five key elements to achieve this goal are clearly communicated, then the team is far more likely to achieve results.”

Five tips for nurturing healthy teams and restaurant work environment

  1. Clear communication. Formalize the dialogue with practices like regular short check ins, and encourage honest feedback throughout the team. 
  2. Identify and knock down barriers. Determine what is holding somebody back, and remove it. 
  3. Empower engagement and efficiency. Share responsibility, provide support when something works (and when it doesn’t) and encourage innovation.
  4. Appreciate effort and acknowledge achievement. Say thank you and tell your team members when they have done a good job. 
  5. Pull together, not apart. Working collaboratively when challenges arise helps to enhance a sense of belonging, loyalty and pride in shared success.

Focus on positive performance

  • Nurture respect and dignity.  By making everyone welcome and heard, they can feel safe with a free exchange of thoughts, feelings and ideas. 
  • Speak from experience rather than giving advice. We can share our experiences and tell others what worked for us instead of telling them what to do or how to feel. 
  • Listen. That’s how we understand somebody else’s point of view. 
  • Be open to new ideas. Provide multiple ways for team members to offer suggestions for improvement, and be willing to compromise and respect different perspectives. 

Caring and sharing

  1. Take an empathetic approach. Instead of putting your feelings on someone else’s actions, assume others have positive intentions.
  2. Watch your tone. No yelling, and no harassment or offensive humour. Identity is important, and nicknames may not necessarily be nice. 
  3. Cultivate respect for all. Hierarchies are by their nature lopsided, so encourage growth. Understand that not everybody is at the same level — but everybody is valued. 

More resources for a healthy kitchen

Fair Kitchens

United States-based Fair Kitchens is working to create a healthy kitchen culture based on open communication, passion, support and teamwork. More than 50 Canadian foodservice and beverage operators have already signed on as friends.

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