What Is A Toxic Restaurant Culture, And How Do You Fix It?

When we walk into a restaurant, we love seeing the waiters and servers with their pleasant smiles and elegant outfits, and if we are lucky, we may even be able to catch a glimpse of the head chef, all decked out in his chef whites or elegant chef coat.

However, there is a side to restaurants that we as customers do not see, and that is the internal culture and workings of the restaurant. These days many good restaurants have had to close down, not because their business was not good or because their food was bad, but because they had a toxic internal culture that prevented them from developing and growing.

There are many things that can contribute towards a toxic culture in a restaurant. The long hours that the staff work, the stress and difficulties of the job have led to increased instances of harassment, bullying and even substance abuse. Poor management by the owners and cases where such issues have not been addressed from the onset have caused huge problems in the hospitality and food and beverage industry.

Of course, it is not simply one instance or one factor that causes an unhealthy culture in a restaurant, but a combination of factors, and contributions are made from the very top-level staff to the bottom level, with everyone having to rake responsibility for creating such a culture. Employees start feeling unhappy and unappreciated, they feel their contributions to the success of the business are undervalued, and thereby they are demotivated and less productive. Irrespective of whether they leave your employment and move onto better pastures or not, the fact is that when your employees are unhappy, they tend to create a bad reputation for your business, which will finally have a huge impact on your revenue.

The silver lining to this dark cloud however, is that by identifying that your business has a toxic culture, you can work towards fixing it and improving it. Here are a few signs that your restaurant has a toxic culture, and some ways to fix it:

Lack of upper management support – The restaurant business is a very customer-oriented one, and as such, there will no doubt be instances where your staff will be at the receiving end of abuse from customers. If you as the top management are not giving your staff the support they need, when they need it, then you are failing very badly, since the staff will tend to feel helpless in such situations when they are being abused (whether physical or verbal) and are unable to do anything about it. The same is true when it comes to internal abuse between staff members as well. Another factor that contributes towards a toxic culture is when the top management dismisses good suggestions made by employees, demotivating them and making them feel insignificant.
Everyone likes to be heard, and listening to your employees is an important part of good management, and also a way of slowly but surely fixing a toxic environment. Taking your employees’ side when it comes to an unreasonable complaint by a customer or even speaking on their behalf in instances of abuse, as well as taking note of their comments and suggestions for improvement are good ways to foster a healthy working environment. By addressing issues of physical and verbal abuse between staff members, it shows that such behavior will not be tolerated within the organization, and makes employees, especially those who have been subject to such abuse, feel safe within their workplace.

Constant criticism and non-appreciation – Constantly criticizing employees when there is a problem but not praising them or appreciating their contribution when things are going well can cause a toxic work environment. Even such instances where you pull up staff and talk negatively to them in front of other staff members can be very demotivating and unhealthy.
There is no doubt that people will make mistakes, but pointing them out and helping your staff to correct them by giving them that opportunity is a part of good management. Appreciating their hard work and their contributions is also very important to keep a positive atmosphere in the workplace, and to developing a healthy culture.

Negative attitudes and constant complaints – It is not only the management, but employees too can contribute a great deal towards cultivating a negative culture in the workplace. Negative attitudes and constant complaining when policy changes are made or when schedules are issued, can be very toxic, because soon you will find that it is not just one person, but everyone else is joining in on it too.
Showing empathy towards employees who are displaying a negative attitude can help in most instances, since they will feel that they are being heard by the management. In this sense it is also important to develop policies within the organization that deters people from such attitudes. Set an example, because your behavior will reflect in their behavior.

As you can see, a negative culture within a business can cause many problems for the staff and the management, even resulting in closures. Such toxic cultures can develop from the top most management to the smallest employee, and it won’t matter if you are the General Manager, the head chef in his or her chef whites, or if you are a dishwasher, it can spread fast throughout the organization. In addition, when there is greater staff turnover, you will need to be constantly training new people thereby increasing your costs as well. While a toxic culture can exist in any business, the important thing is to identify such a culture and work towards fixing the problems. Don’t forget that happy employees will always go above and beyond their call of duty to help their workplace.