Holiday Planning should include strategies to help your staff thrive
Here’s the reality: the holidays in the restaurant industry aren’t easy. It’s controlled chaos. The big parties, the weird weather, days closed and staff gearing up for their lives while this wonky schedule has everyone out of sorts. Kids are out of school; shopping has the lunch rush coming in all over the place; for all these reasons, the holiday season has a weird, abnormal flow.
To combat this malaise and also maximize the season, here are some guidelines for making sure you have clarity on your goals while avoiding staff burnout.
Communication: The Backbone
The source of most frustration boils down to miscommunication. From waitstaff to kitchen crew, we are constantly drilling the importance of being clear and direct. It’s not about micromanaging; it’s about giving everyone the whole picture with extreme specificity. Who works when, who is running point on large catering, and when will you get a day off? Without clear communication and specificity, people grow expectations that, when they aren’t delivered, form antipathy, which is the downfall of a restaurant.
That means daily shift notes on specials and shift expectations. Additionally, going into the season, having an evaluation with each employee about goals and expectations. This sets the tone for the next few months to glide right.
Lock-in Those Schedules
No one likes a last-minute rush. Play it smart, especially about their time off during the holidays. Staff get to request their preferred days off months in advance. From there, it’s a tactical game of ensuring we’re over or understaffed. This isn’t just about ensuring operational efficiency but respecting personal time.
Incentives: More Than Just Tips
Here’s the straight talk: people thrive on incentives. We lay it out clearly. Sell those gift cards, and you’ll be rewarded with premium branded gear. Beyond the usual bonus structures, these tangible rewards drive competitive spirit and results. It’s not about dangling a carrot but rewarding genuine hustle. Also, it’s fun; people want to have fun, and you can either wallow in the day’s struggle or lead by example to ensure staff is stoked to come to your workplace.
Flexibility and Fair Play
Only some people’s holiday season is jam-packed with parties, getaways and family time. So, for those with some wiggle room in their schedules, we make it right to them later: more hours during days near Christmas and Thanksgiving along with New Year’s, and we cover more stuff they might want or need in the future shifts.
Hard Work Doesn’t Go Unnoticed
It’s simple: work hard, and you’ll see it reflected in both recognition and pay. A job well done might mean a bonus, a public acknowledgment, or even an extra day off. We don’t go for the over-the-top, cringe-worthy employee-of-the-month photos. Instead, it’s about genuine appreciation. Leaning in on that employee and directly saying thank you to them and, if possible, getting a special gift like concert tickets or something niche only they would dig.
Breaks are Non-Negotiable
I worked in a fine dining restaurant at 18 and had a schedule with six days on and one day as an on-call that I got called in for each time during the holidays. I worked 65 days straight while going to school and preparing for finals in college. I want something else for my staff.
We run a tight ship, but we’re not inhumane. Everyone gets a break. It’s a reset, a pause, a day or two to rest. It might sound like Restaurant 101, but you’d be surprised how many places overlook this basic need to give days off and breaks during shifts, especially during the holiday madness.
A fun fest is always smart, either before the season or right after a big holiday blowout. Not just a drinking party but contests, music and dumb fun sets the tone for why the staff want to work here and nowhere else. I like to do one in September and then another event in January if we exceed projections and need a boost.
Post-Holiday Reality Check
Once the holiday hurricane subsides, we don’t just move on. We regroup. A complete analysis of what went down. The good, the bad and the downright ugly. This feedback isn’t for the faint of heart but ensures we’re better equipped for the next round.
Paychecks that Make Sense
This is business, but it’s also about respect. We ensure the holiday pay reflects the grind. You work harder; you earn more. It’s as clear-cut as that. People who want big shifts show up, do the job well, and get them. People who learn more, cross-train and become more valuable get more on their checks.
Training: The Foundation
Before the holiday rush kicks in, we double down on training. Refresher courses, new guidelines and revisiting the basics. It’s not because we doubt our team’s capabilities. It ensures everyone feels confident, reducing the chances of holiday slip-ups. It’s also a way to ensure standards are being held, everyone is aligned, and there is no miscommunication about the right way to do things.
Feedback Isn’t Just Top-Down
We encourage feedback from all levels. Whether it’s process improvements, a menu tweak or managing customer expectations better, every voice counts, especially during the high-pressure holiday season. When staff feels heard because they actually are, you mitigate attrition. January is notoriously a time of year when people find new employment. With a calculated and conscientious effort towards staff morale, you can minimize and even possibly eliminate that cash drain and morale killer of a staff exodus.
In sum, the holidays at Andolini’s aren’t about riding the wave and hoping for the best. It’s calculated, methodical, and direct. We prioritize clarity, respect, and genuine effort. We’re looking to have fun, get people around their families as much as possible, and make a solid and healthy profit to prepare for January, which is notoriously a dead zone when people go out to eat at a much lesser rate. These guidelines are how we keep our heads above water no matter how rocky the waves.
Mike Bausch is the owner of Andolini’s Pizzeria in Tulsa, Oklahoma. Instagram: @mikeybausch