Juniper's Nic Yanes on Keeping Your People Happy

What up, 95% staff retention rate.

March 31, 2016 ● 3 min read

Too many young cooks never learn how to be a manager.

Myself included; when I was a young sous chef, I was a really terrible manager. I didn't care about anybody's feelings. I didn't care about what they wanted. It was only about the food, and that was it. That's really where the fundamental fail is. That's why people are like ‘there’s a shortage of cooks’ — [it’s] because they all think they're chefs.

Now, I say good morning, every morning, to everybody, no matter what. If I see one of my cooks in the weeds and he's supposed to make family meal, I'll jump in and make it. I listen. Listening to people is key to getting them to listen to you. Empathize and level with them. This is somebody that is that here to make the guest experience great — you have to treat them great first.  

Here are some of the things we do at Juniper, where we’ve managed to retain about 95 percent of staff since opening [last year].      

1. I pay everybody very fairly. An extra dollar on their check per hour means a lot more to them than it really hurts the business.  

2. Being closed Sunday night and all day Monday always helps.  

3. I opened with a smaller staff, instead of hiring a big staff and then cutting hours. Some of these guys were working 70 hours a week when we first started. As we figured out where we needed more bodies, we were able to strategically add people into their spots and really not skip a beat on anything we were doing.    

4. I make sure that their schedule is out and steady. If I have to make a change, I talk to them first before I just do it. I try to really just tune in to what I wanted as a cook; I couldn't make any plans because chef hadn't posted the schedule yet. It's just kind of fucking annoying. You know what I mean? I couldn’t get on with my life.  

My cooks know their schedule months in advance and I honor it. If they need to be out town and we don't have the manpower, I work the station. I worked the brunch grill Friday and Saturday and Sunday this week because a cook’s dad was in town and she wanted off. It’s just the little things that you have to do as a chef-owner, and if you do, I think people believe in you.  

5. Show your genuine care, and love to be hospitable, to make people smile. Whether it's getting the staff coffee, or water, or food or whatever. That's what hospitality is. Be like, "Hey, I'm going to go stack up these up in the walk-in, you need anything?" There's so many little efficiencies that you can create at a restaurant if you think that way. If you think you're just going to try to save money on labor and food, you’re already missing the point.  

6. We also opened with benefits. A lot of people don’t offer benefits to start with, and they wait until they get their wheels going, but it was very important to me. I remember not being able to go to the doctor or the dentist or anything like that as a young cook. Me and my business partner each took $10,000 off of our starting salary so we could do it.

7. If you have one bad seed that doesn't really believe, it's infectious and detrimental to the team in general. To be a good manager, you have to identify that swiftly and deal with it, cut it out. They might be good somewhere else. They might be great somewhere else, but right now they do not jive with the team.     

A lot of people don’t realize that how much of a team atmosphere this is. Really, it takes everybody.

As told to Roxanne Webber | Original photo of Yanes via Juniper