Asked & Answered: How to Get Your Staff to Drink the Kool-Aid

Asked & Answered: How to Get Your Staff to Drink the Kool-Aid

Step One: Be a magical, strategically-minded unicorn of happiness. Step Two: Get rid of the robots.

December 9, 2015
● 5 min read
Asked & Answered: How to Get Your Staff to Drink the Kool-Aid

Asked & Answered: How to Get Your Staff to Drink the Kool-Aid

Step One: Be a magical, strategically-minded unicorn of happiness. Step Two: Get rid of the robots.

December 9, 2015
● 5 min read

"You're a constant force of positivity and light with the perfect amount of sass. You go above and beyond for your team, no matter what the cost or distance. There are no words to accurately describe just how important you are to the Toro team nor how much we love you."

So said the Toro Boston team to their General Manager Katy Chirichiello on her birthday last week. At the moment, she zips between the Boston and New York locations of Jamie Bissonnette and Ken Oringer's beloved tapas outpost, and will be joining the team of their upcoming Little Donkey as GM early next year. She is "hospitality with controlled chaos," as Bissonnette says.  

Chirichiello is, predictably, an energetic, upbeat conversationalist, but she also curses in a really delightful, emphatic way, like a seedy deckhand with a tremendously sunny disposition. She'll have you pledging Team Katy in a matter of minutes, but first: her tips for excelling as a manager, and getting your flock to drink heartily from the company Kool-Aid. 

Invest in your staff…

Feeling like the people you work for are investing in you, that you're a priority to them, can go a long way. In this industry that can sometimes get lost when so much focus is on the guest. That focus you are trying to give to the guest can't actually become what you want it to, if your focus isn't on your staff first. 

Like a car, if you don't take care of it, those moving parts are going to stop working. My moving parts are my staff. I need to take care of them, and invest in them if they're going to want to do a good job. I'm definitely more on the emotional, culture-motivated side, versus the operations. I really, really, truly, truly believe that culture is such a huge piece in a successful restaurant.

…and be their cheerleader.

Give your staff the freedom to be themselves and embrace their uniqueness. Something that I stress especially with new staff, is that there's a process—this is our baseline of expectations that everybody has to follow here, but from there, it is your show. Figure it out. Do your guests want to bro down with you? Bro down with them. If they need a little extra to feel just a little bit more important, give it to them. Do they want really nothing to do with you? Just figure it out. I don't believe in robots.

Rather than this is pre-shift, let me talk at you and tell you this is what we have on the menu today—every time—we do things like kitchen appreciation day, where front-of-house will make food for the back-of-house, just to keep us all as one united front. We all know there's back-of-house/front-of-house drama occasionally. It helps. 

Find a place that feels like a second family.

At the end of the day, you're going to be there a lot. Especially in this industry, with the hours that are demanded of you, it's inevitable you're going to see these people more. 

Side of cheese, with extra cheese.

We get cheesy as fuck sometimes. Oh, it's somebody's birthday? Guess what we're doing? We're going around the table and everybody has to say something that they love about this person. Might feel so awkward and so stupid, but at the end of the day, those are really nice things to hear. There’s some days in the summer at Toro Boston, where it's just so nice out, and everybody is like ugh, I don't want to be at work. So: get all your side work done by 5 o'clock—we open at 5:30—I'm taking you all to get ice cream. Giving them something, anything, breaks up the monotony.    

Love this industry.

Don't get me wrong, there's a lot of seriousness to this industry, but I'm not going to be able to keep my head above water as a manager if I'm going to just sit here and let a shitty day happen. What will pull me out of it is pulling somebody else out of theirs. You end up kicking what you need to do into high gear and making it nice for somebody. I'd be lying to you if I said it wasn't a little bit of a game.

Make people feel something.

I really believe as human beings we need to feel something. I know I need to be pushed, maybe challenged, motivated. I know someone may not necessarily be enthusiastic because they're newer and they're not like the veterans who just walk around very comfortable in this space. Not everyone needs the same thing.

BE JOYOUS, DAMNIT! Chirichiello, via Facebook. 

Patience, ever patience.  

People who aren't in this industry sometimes don't understand there actually is a method to our madness, that there is strategy behind what we are doing. I can understand you're walking in and you're seeing open tables, and some girl that you probably think is some stupid little hostess tells you no.

I've had somebody literally take me by the arms and throw me into a door because of the wait time. Those kinds of things don't compute in my brain. Those are the challenges for me, when I cannot wrap my head around this kind of a problem, but I need to fix it now. Once in every eight years you're going to get something that extreme, but you have all these different levels of hurdles that you have to work with on a nightly basis.

It does require you to have thicker skin. It's all face-to-face, in the moment, and you need to be quick on your feet.  

It's just dinner.

That means so many things. That came from one of our chefs, Mike Smith, who was with us for years.

This is not life or death, it's just dinner. This is meant to be enjoyed. We all need to figure out a way how to make this enjoyable for ourselves, because in the end that will trickle down to the guest for sure. There's so may important things that happen at dinner, which is why we look for people who have an innate ability to create all of this magic at a table.

That also applies to the staff. It's just dinner, so don't totally freak out. If you don't know the answer, come talk to me, come figure it out. Don't bullshit these people. Help them have a lovely experience, don't be hard on yourself. Don't be rigid.  

RESOURCES: 51% emotional, 49% technical

I feel like anybody listening to me talk about it could probably tell I read Danny Meyer’s Setting the Table. 51% emotional, 49% technical, that's totally me, a bazillion percent—I truly believe in it. I think that's a great place for people to start in trying to harness what hospitality really is.

All of us have a copy of that book in our restaurants. It's definitely something to reference if you're feeling defeated, or you're realizing you're in some kind of a cultural swamp and you've got to bring it back up for people. Because that shit is real.

When you’re out, look for:

Enthusiasm from the staff. I don't need some cheerleader at my table, that's not what I'm saying, but somebody who clearly is excited about something, even if it's their one favorite dish. The way they're going to talk to me about it makes it more of a conversation, rather than just being there as an order taker. Those are the things I'm looking for, that you clearly enjoy your job. I want to see that they believe in that space, they believe in the food, they believe in their style of service. If that is the case it will come off very quickly and very clear.

I'm not going to sit there and judge them for not switching out my plate. Those kinds of technical things aren't going to be the things that resonate with me.


As told to Cassandra Landry | Unicorn Collage by ChefsFeed


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