Happy Staff, Happy Bottom Line

 
Happy Staff, Happy Bottom Line
Lucien Gunter believes treating your staff well helps boost your bottom line.

Treating your staff well brings myriad rewards: Happier customers, appreciative employees, but perhaps most vitally: Higher revenue.

At  Acme Oyster House the staff seems to have as much fun as the customers. With five locations—in New Orleans, Baton Rouge, Louisiana, and Sandestin, Florida—and about 500 employees, the company has an annual turnover rate of just five percent, according to chief operating officer Lucien Gunter.

Gunter spoke at the Louisiana Restaurant Association’s Louisiana Foodservice & Hospitality Expo, last week. His presentation focused on the bottom-line benefits of treating your employees well.

“They are your frontline,” Gunter says. “They are your ambassadors.”

Here are some of the highlights of his seminar, ‘Getting the Best from Your Staff Ambassadors’:

1) Training costs are just one aspect of the price of high attrition. The other is “the time that it takes to get someone to embrace the culture of the restaurant, understand who you are as a company, and really buy into that vision,” Gunter says.

2) Employees need to know your company is invested in them emotionally as well as financially. Gunter calls it feeding into their emotional bank accounts. By that he means getting to know their personalities and the individual challenges they bring to the workplace—whether it’s juggling a job with schoolwork or being a single parent.

3) Your financial commitment to employees speaks volumes, too. Employee benefits at Acme Oyster House include a 401(k) and tuition assistance, with cash rewards for outstanding GPAs.

The company provided three months of full pay to all employees who were stranded by Hurricane Katrina in 2005. “That was a $1.4-million guarantee, at a time when uncertainty was the only thing that we knew,” Gunter notes.

4) It’s not enough to simply announce that you have an open-door policy. You have to cultivate a relationship in which employees feel comfortable approaching you. “You’ve got to open yourself up to the people working for you, to let them know that you care,” Gunter says.

5) One way Acme Oyster House measures the value of its staff members is by calculating sales per labor hours. “For us, labor is not a cost; labor is a sales-building tool,” explains Gunter, who notes that the restaurant’s 2011 sales reached $26 million.

6) Successful restaurant operators recruit workers who are talented and trustworthy enough to handle their jobs without someone hovering over them. “If you don’t have predictability of service and execution, you’ll never have comfort,” Gunter warns. “You’re always going to have to be in that building because you know that, in your absence, it won’t run itself.”

7) A good manager’s role, in Gunter’s view, is to help his or her employees shine. In football terms, he sees himself as the ‘blocker’—giving his staff members the opportunity to score a sale or a promotion. He says his message to them is, “Tell me what gets in your way from being successful. My job is to knock it down.”

By Sonya Stinson