Four Ways Restaurant Managers Can Lead with Empathy

What do you do when a staff member suffers a family loss? How do you handle an employee’s repeatedly lackluster performance? 

These problems and more can be addressed with an oft-overlooked soft skill called empathy. Empathy is literally putting yourself in someone else’s shoes. But it’s more than that. True empathy means dialing in on an experience or emotion that helps you feel and understand what someone else is going through.

Here are four ways restaurant managers can use empathy to navigate a difficult situation.


1. Helping a staff member through loss. 

At some point or another, we’ve all lost a family member or good friend to uncontrollable circumstances. Unless you’re completely understaffed and can’t survive a single day without a single employee, allow them some time off to be with family

Tap into your own experiences of losing someone and share it. Revealing your own vulnerability can strengthen your bond with staff. 


2. Improving poor performance. 

The cost of turnover is high. Sometimes it makes more sense investing time in a poor performer rather than firing them. 

Sit down with your underperforming staff and figure out what’s going on. Maybe they’re going through something personal, maybe they don’t feel valued because the assistant manager keeps messing up their schedule. Whatever the issue is, feeling heard makes people care about their jobs and ultimately do a better job. 


3. Drop the idea of us vs. them. 

Guests should be #1, but it can be hard to remember that when people are rude, demanding, or entitled. If someone has asked a waitress for water three times and still hasn’t received it, wouldn’t that get you peeved? 

Putting yourself in the seat (or the bar-stool as it may be) of the customer can help you understand where they’re coming from and how to encourage guests to come back and give you another shot. 


4. Stop hiding in the office.

Physically separating yourself from the rest of your team creates a divide during shifts. If it’s slow, hang out in the server station and shoot the s***. You may be the boss, but never forget you’re still one of them and you’re all on the same team. 

Often as restaurant leaders and humans, we make assumptions about why someone behaves a certain way or is not doing a great job. The sooner we stop making assumptions and start talking to people and addressing those concerns the sooner we actually start solving problems and doing our jobs better.  


What are some management tips & tricks you use to help your staff through hard times? Let us know in the comments below!