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Creating a Restaurant Culture that Works
Joyce L. Gioia, CMC, CSP --  The Herman Group Joyce L. Gioia, CMC, CSP -- The Herman Group
Austin, TX
Wednesday, February 23, 2022


The Herman Trend Alert

February 23, 2022

Creating a Restaurant Culture that Works

For my birthday this year, I researched many restaurants in Austin, Texas. Since both my husband and I love sushi, this year we decided we would visit Lucky Robot. When I looked at their website and saw their core values and their attitude about sustainability, I knew we had to go there. Not only were we treated to fabulous food and outstanding service, but we witnessed firsthand the value of creating a culture that serves employees and restaurant patrons alike. I asked Chef Jay Huang for an interview and this Herman Trend Alert is the result.

Challenges with Retention Like Other Austin Restaurants

Seeing how well the staff worked together to deliver what is called in the trade "team service,"* I made the wrong assumption that Lucky Robot had dodged the employee turnover bullet. However, Chef Jay set me straight. He said they had had the same issues but that they have been able to retain people by paying a competitive market wage. His dishwashers start at $15 per hour USD and there is 2 percent added to each restaurant check to provide gratuities for the back-of-the-house staff.

Core Values to Rival Any Effective Enterprise

Here is a list of Lucky Robot's posted core values: Curiosity, Integrity, Accountability, Competitive, Excellence, Progressive, Modesty, Respect, Focus, Collaboration, Consistency, and Gratitude. But those core values are only the beginning.

Tenets that Define the Culture

Everyone who works at Lucky Robot commits to living their Cultural Blueprint: (I love this part!)

The Power of We: This tenet is defined by their "uncommon commitment to each other in order to achieve greatness [that they believe they] cannot achieve alone." There is a strong culture of togetherness. All relationships must be a win-win. This aspect of the culture is reflected in the outstanding "team service"* guests receive.

Sense of UrgencyThis element is borrowed from the iconic French Laundry in the Napa Valley of California. A sense of urgency is what companies large and small wish they had, but nowhere is it more important than in a dining establishment where it is important to get hungry guests fed. Luck Robot describes this element as "Arriving prepared, moving with purpose, and finishing strong." And the staff really lives it! This attitude also helps to get people served in a timely manner (the definition of good service) and helps to provide well-timed turnover of tables to optimize efficiency---and profit.

Above the Line: This aspect is described as "100% Accountability, Purposeful, and Respectful." This element prompts the staff to greet each other every day upon arrival and to say "goodbye" to each other each day upon their departure. Like restaurant staffs do in Japan, each staff member says to each colleague, "Thank you for your shift and thank you for helping me out." Very cool.

To Be of Service: Providing joyful experiences and fantastic hospitality to our guests. Chef Jay wants his staff to "come in with joy and happiness and positivity." Plus, he wants them to have the attitude that they are there to be of service to patrons and each other.

Sustainability: The restaurant defines sustainability as "placing higher value on present resources through culinary innovation, conscientious sourcing, and community education to protect future interests." Their attitude about sustainability is right on the website.

Ichiban Dake: This made-up Japanese word means "only the best"---and that is what Lucky Robot strives to be and only deliver: "the best."

But Wait There's More. . .

Chef Jay offers all of his employees, including bus-people and dishwashers, something he calls "Chef 30." During that time, Chef Jay offers individual workers 30 minutes with him to ask about anything they want. He turns his phone off and gives them his undivided attention. And the employees may schedule as many Chef 30s as they like. Second, it's OK to ask to ask for time off---with no negative consequences. Moreover, when they are interviewing, he will ask "What's important to you?" That way he may design a value proposition for the employee that will result in their long tenure.

Some Background on Chef Jay

Chef Jay Huang graduated from the University of Texas at Austin with a degree in Neurobiology. Perhaps that explains his uncanny ability to combine textures and flavors that create divine combinations that are a delight for the eyes as well as the palate.

A Refuge for Employees and Guests Alike

Chef Jay has created a unique environment of mutual support for the employees and a welcome refuge from the stresses of the Pandemic for both workers and guests alike.

What Can You Learn?

It is my belief that the culture Chef Jay has created at Lucky Robot is a role model for restaurants now and for years to come. Whether you have a restaurant or another type of business, I challenge you to think about what you could learn from Chef Jay has created this unique culture?

* I first encountered "team service" at the opening of one of the Roy's restaurants in Poipu Beach on the island of Kauai. In this type of service every patron is served by the entire staff. In other words, whichever server is available to take the food to the table or remove the empty plates is the one who does it. That service experience in Hawaii was the best one I have experienced in this lifetime. It was extraordinary. Sadly, Roy's abandoned team service for all of its locations and the quality of the service reflected the change.

Special thanks to Chef Jay Huang of Lucky Robot restaurant in Austin, Texas. For an extraordinary dining experience, visit Luck Robot. You will be glad you did!

Next Week's Herman Trend Alert: Avoiding Employee Abuse

Are your customers abusing your employees? It may surprise you to learn that more than 50 percent of service workers feel abused by their customers. From flight attendants to restaurant servers to cab drivers, and even parking lot attendants, service personnel are bearing the brunt of COVID-induced short tempers. The question is "What must employers do to ensure than their beleaguered workers are prepared for dealing with these unhappy folks---before they decide staying is not worth it?"


News Media Interview Contact
Name: Joyce L. Gioia, CMC, CSP
Title: Certified Speaking Professional and Management Consultant
Group: The Herman Group
Dateline: Austin, TX United States
Direct Phone: 336-210-3548
Main Phone: 800-227-3566
Cell Phone: 336-210-3548
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