South Africa is in the midst of a technical recession, but it’s hard to believe that when you see the crowds of people eating out at restaurants. And the restaurant industry doesn’t look like it’s taking a beating as new dining spots open up all over the place.

To outlast the competition beyond the latest fad and to achieve longevity, restaurants must create a clear identity and differentiate themselves, while still offering consistently good food and a great service.

Identify your core values

To understand what differentiates your restaurant from the others, it helps to remember why you went into the restaurant business in the first place. You might find that something as simple as sourcing local, good-quality produce, organic poultry and grass-fed beef is what sets you apart. By letting your customers know that your menu is inspired by what’s fresh and healthy, you’re declaring your core values and differentiating yourself by offering more than a meal – you’re offering a sustainable dining experience.

Bean There Coffee Company in Johannesburg is an example of a business that has used its values as a differentiator. It’s the first South African roaster of certified Fair Trade coffee and has recently launched a “tip-the-farmer” initiative that gives patrons the option of adding a R5 “high-five” to their bill, which goes directly to the farmers. The core values of Fair Trade and helping the communities that grow the coffee adds an important component to the business’s culture, while adding that feel-good factor.

Don’t overlook the small stuff

Scrimping on the small things – like having waitrons hide serviettes to ensure they have enough for their next seating or chefs squabbling over the last clean frying pan – might save a few cents in the short term, but will have a serious long-term effect. If workers don’t have the tools they need for the trade, they will begin to feel like their work doesn’t matter. The knock-on effect is low staff morale, sloppy customer service and a poor restaurant culture.

What does your staff really want?

Your waitrons and front-of-house staff are the touchpoints between your customers and the enjoyable dining experience they expect. It doesn’t matter how good your food is if it’s being served by dour waitrons who are more interested in checking their cellphones than serving your guests. This brings us to another area in which restaurant culture plays an important role: staff retention.

Employing, training and retaining professional, motivated staff should form part of a long-term growth strategy. The key is to create a culture that’s about more than earning a monthly salary and one that meets the personal and professional needs of the people you employ. Speak to your staff to find out what matters most. In most cases, it’s not just money.

Simple things, like creating more flexible schedules to allow for commuting outside of peak time and planning for days off to coincide with important family events (like a child’s birthday), can go a long way to improving restaurant culture.

Incentivising staff members with certifications, educational courses or wine and food tastings, can help them to feel like they’re on a growth path to promotion and perhaps even owning their own business one day, not just being stuck in a dead-end job.

Co-create your desired restaurant culture

By deciding on key issues with your staff, you will be co-creating a restaurant culture that everyone’s invested in. It’s important to consider the following factors and reach a consensus: Explore the purpose (differentiators, the why of the business); values (what’s important to the business, what isn’t); behaviour (how can our behaviour support our values? What is acceptable behaviour and what isn’t?); and recognition (how do you reward staff?) to ensure buy-in from all parties.

Download our informative guide, Secrets to a Successful Restaurant for more tips on how to keep your business booming.

Author : Rudi Badenhorst