In the end, the road to recovery for restaurants starts with how well leadership sets their people up for success.

As the world passed the one-year mark of the pandemic, there is a light at the end of the tunnel. As people start to return to normal, health experts urge the public to stay mindful and businesses to maintain health and safety restrictions.

Full-service restaurants have had to continuously adapt to requirements to remain open and serve customers, while scaling their hiring efforts to go with demand. With pandemic fatigue setting in, restaurants also carry the responsibility of offering their services with minimal disruption to the traditional expectations of the dining experience. Whether restaurants offer indoor or outdoor dining, pickup or delivery, they face the challenge of offering a great customer experience (CX) while keeping patrons and employees safe.

Because of the change in customer touchpoints at a restaurant, there are additional areas to keep in mind when tracking CX. Answering phone orders, the quality and timing of the meal, and even the greeting from the host are all areas we think of when it comes to creating a positive CX. Now with the increased use of mobile ordering, contactless pickup, and delivery through third-party apps, additional considerations need to be made, and customers need to be clearly guided through the experience.

All of these adjustments add extra stress to restaurant employees. With restaurants struggling to staff open positions, creating an internal environment where managers value employees’ safety and hard work has become more important than ever this past year. If employees are genuinely happy and enjoying the work they do, customers will notice, and that could make all the difference in a customer’s experience. Leadership can ensure their restaurant is set up for success, and that starts with the well-being of their employees.

Finding the “right fit”

To provide the best CX, restaurants need great employees. Certain skills make a restaurant employee stand out no matter the circumstance, but what defines a “good performance” when working during the pandemic has shifted. For example, servers are typically expected to be outgoing and charming, as well as adaptable to a fast-paced environment and the needs of the dining guest. But with stricter health guidelines and consumer preferences, candidates who have a strong attention-to-detail and adherence to processes or standards will ultimately provide the best, and safest, customer experience.

Along with the skills restaurants are looking for, the process for finding the “right fit” employee has changed. After reflecting on over a year of modifying restaurant operations, owners have new metrics for measuring employee success in the industry. This also means an adjustment for management. Using data from personality assessments, employee reviews and more, restaurants can adapt to the new needs of their employees. Because while flexibility and attention-to-detail are skills necessary to create a great experience for customers, so is strong communication and engagement from leadership.

How positive employee experience boosts CX

When it comes to restaurant employee success, communication and engagement are key. If leadership is open and honest to employees about how protocols are affecting their services, employees will feel empowered and equipped to properly share expectations with customers.

While little has changed in a customer’s expectations for the hospitality industry, what has changed is the way restaurants can meet those expectations. On top of providing good food and courteous service, employees must ensure that they are navigating health restrictions, while understanding that individual parties may have varying attitudes. . One common adaptation restaurants have made is leaning into outdoor dining options. Cities across the country have supported these efforts by closing streets or limiting parking options to make more room for dining. However, something like grabbing extra lemon slices for a customer’s water “real quick” is no longer a simple task. Changes such as these can cause some delays, and potentially frustrate customers, despite being necessary to protect the health of all parties.

These procedures mean that customers must adjust their expectations to these circumstances, knowing restaurant employees are working hard to bring some sense of normalcy to their dining experience. However, every restaurant will encounter customers who expect the dining experience to be exactly like it was before. Serving too many customers with this attitude can overwhelm employees. But if they have the support of their managers and the knowledge to enforce protocols, it can make a big difference in the employee experience and retention.

Leadership should also listen to employees for their perspectives on pain points. After over a year of working on the frontlines with this new paradigm, or having had to manage a layoff or furlough, they likely have ideas to mitigate the difficulty of the situation. Managers and employees both want the same thing: to give customers the best experience possible, so allow employees to contribute to the restaurant’s mission.

In the end, the road to recovery for restaurants starts with how well leadership sets their people up for success. Investing in your employees’ development and well-being will need to continue long after the pandemic. And building company culture through these initiatives will translate into better customer service. Like any important relationship, communication and engagement – internally and with customers—are key. Frontline employees are the face of the restaurant, so providing ways for them to succeed will ensure the restaurant lasts long after the effects of the pandemic disappear.

Dan Sines is Traitify’s CEO, Co-Founder and Chairman of the Board. His belief in the power of human-centered design led him to create the first-ever patented visual-based personality assessment format, which is in use today by some of the world’s leading high-volume hiring companies. He and his co-founder, Josh Spears, founded Traitify in 2011, unlocking the potential of psychology for HR while meeting the needs of the modern candidate & employee. Traitify completed a Series B in mid-2020 and is poised for significant growth in the next year.

Expert Takes, Feature, Labor & Employees