How to Make Core Values Actually Mean Something in Your Restaurant
“Next in line!”
“Hi, I’d like a No. 4 with a bottle of water to go.”
“Will that be for here or to go?”
“Uh, to go.”
“That’ll be $17.75. Thank you, your order number is 43. Next in line!”
Five minutes after I ordered this meal, another employee emerged and screamed, “Order number 43!” She handed me my bag and walked back into the kitchen, saying over her shoulder, “Thank you. Have a good day.” On the wall hung a sign listing the restaurant’s top core value as “Extraordinary Customer Service.”
There was nothing wrong with this experience. I wouldn’t complain or post a negative review. I sympathized with these employees. Clearly they were in the weeds. But I did notice the service wasn’t extraordinary. Whatever values they professed, they weren’t living them.
If value statements alone were as impactful as they’re intended to be, all of us would see better teams and better service wherever we went. Rarely does the reality of these statements match the pageantry. In most cases, these grand declarations of corporate identity are left on posters or in the “About Us” section of a website. I often ask my audience members how many of them even know their organization’s formal mission statement or core values. Few hands go up. And even when franchisees or their employees can identify them, there’s a disconnect between their meaning and what’s actually happening on the floor.
The problem with most value statements is that they’re too abstract. Employees get them as ideas during meetings, but once the dinner rush starts, there’s no practical application. Everyone says they value “passion” and “teamwork,” but what does that really mean? What does it look like?
Part of my work as a food and hospitality speaker and consultant is helping restaurant franchisees operationalize their values. That means transforming intellectual ideas into actionable behaviors. It’s helping employees walk the talk. When they do, they’re no longer just busy. Their effective. They’re brand ambassadors who run tighter operations and provide better guest experiences that align with whom you aspire to be. They’re more likely to do this when their guiding principles are made tangible.
Defining your values
The first step to bringing your values to life is clarifying what they are and what they mean. What things does your organization believe are most important to achieve your goals? No doubt you want to make money selling food. But what must you stand up for to do this well? Service? Speed? Customer Experience? We’ve all heard the usual ones.
But what would your values be if you never shared them with the outside world, if they existed only for your team? Your slogans, logos, and offerings define your external brand. Your values define your internal culture. Customers will benefit from your values, but employees should be driven by them. They’re the ones who must understand them. More importantly, they’re the ones who must agree to them. Be clear about what they are. Hire employees who embody them and reinforce them every chance you get.
In a franchise system it helps when values at the corporate level inspire standard brand practices.
I’ve observed this among some of my top restaurant franchise clients. IHOP president Jay Johns told me, “At IHOP, our seven core values of integrity, excellence, innovation, accountability, inclusion, trust and rallying around the communities we serve drive every aspect of our hiring, training and restaurant dining experiences.” At the Tropical Smoothie Café convention, I heard their corporate team talk extensively about their values of Relationships Rule, Think Bigger, All In and High Five and what these principles look like at the restaurant level. They train new owners in these values during Franchise Leadership Class and use them for franchisee assessment and recognition. Many restaurants have some version of “continuous improvement” as a core value. Edo Japan trains team members to express their value of Kaizen, the Japanese philosophy of “good change,” by encouraging guests to request personal customizations to their meals.
Some of these ideas may seem very ceremonial, idealistic, or time consuming. But remember, something is driving your employees. If you can influence their drivers, you can boost their performance and save yourself time. It starts with words — a conversation. Only then can it be transformed into behavior.
Bring your values onto the floor
It’s important to avoid abstraction. Do your employees really know what you mean by “integrity” or “compassion.” Spell these out. Explain what it means to honor each of your values. What does “integrity” look like in the workplace? What does a lack of “compassion” look like?
Last year a restaurant group in California brought me in to help improve their culture. They’d already generated a solid list of seven values that included things like “Respect,” “Continuous Improvement,” and “Fun.” They explained they discussed these concepts regularly with employees.
The issue was that their discussions were broad, almost academic. During meetings they’d say, “Remember, we’re all about respect and continuous improvement. Make sure you demonstrate that every day.” The team would nod their heads. What wasn’t clear was exactly how they could demonstrate respect and continuous improvement. How could they be held accountable?
I suggested management go deeper with their values. For each one, I asked them to list four to six bullet points. They should read like Do’s and Don’ts. For “Respect” they said things like:
“We speak kindly to each other.”
“We accept each other’s differences.”
“We avoid gossip.”
They did this for each of their seven values, resulting in dozens of specific behaviors they clearly understood and agreed to. The process made their values more tangible. Then during their meetings and daily huddles (another practice that’s great for operationalizing culture), I suggested each team member share one thing they did on their previous shift and one thing they intend to do on this shift to live their values. That created more focus around these principles, and more importantly, more accountability.
Values impact your restaurant as much as your marketing or your recipes. Right now something is driving your employees and influencing how they behave. If it’s not the values you want, it might be a value system that you don’t. Take time to decide what principles you want to inspire your team. Then convert those principles into action. Because when it comes to living your values, policies and practices do a lot better than posters.
[A version of this article originally appeared here in Nation’s Restaurant News]
For more information about Food & Hospitality Speaker Scott Greenberg, please call 520-548-1160 or contact us through this website.