When it comes to smoothly running a successful business, the proverb “it takes a village” rings true – especially with restaurants. No role is dispensable, but more operators are realizing that praise, along with valuing and appreciating hard work, are the underpinnings of a thriving restaurant.

Restaurateurs like Stella Dennig of Daytrip, Jeffrey Kim of Nudibranch and George Cole of Sons & Daughters are seeing the benefits of such efforts: a healthier work culture and better retention.


As simple as it seems, the act of listening is the first way to appreciate staff. “It's easy to understate the value of formal systems built to hear our team and act on their feedback,” says Dennig, co-owner and general manager of Daytrip in Oakland, California.

Post-shift meetings are held nightly for both front and back of the house at Daytrip. “I get the feedback nightly and use it to incorporate changes, asks, protocol shifts, etc., in our pre-shift meeting the next day,” she says, adding that a safe space to share feedback is crucial. “It's an important step in building the foundation for a healthier culture.”


In addition to health benefits, Daytrip helps employees with time off, from swapping shifts to two weeks of guaranteed time off.

“Increasing pay across the board, enhancing healthcare offerings, guaranteeing two weeks of paid vacation and establishing a bonus program based on profit sharing” improve his employee's experience at Sons & Daughters in San Francisco says Cole. An IRA is also offered.


At Nudibranch in New York City, value and appreciation come in the form of acknowledgment. The website boasts the names and positions of everyone on staff, including hosts, porters and servers.

“From having staff-wide pre-shift meetings to cross-training all positions, we actively preach the importance of working together,” says Kim, co-chef/co-owner. “Whether it's front of the house or back of the house, it's still one house.”

On Nudibranch's social media accounts, staff are also recognized for their work and for their personal interests. Kim says he's cultivating a healthy work environment – one that ultimately aids in staff retention – by highlighting and uplifting their talents and interests.

“Excellent compensation is a great way to attract good, talented people, but is not necessarily enough to keep them,” Cole says. “We respect our team members, celebrate their accomplishments and successes, all while setting clear expectations of excellence and helping them to meet them.”

At Daytrip, each team member's name appears on the menu, giving everyone the attention they deserve, Dennig says. “Daytrip's systems and growth over the past year and a half,” Dennig says, “have been so heavily impacted by the entire team's feedback. Every single person is so essential in running service nightly.”

Pactiv Evergreen


Visibility is also important to customers becoming increasingly interested in the well-being of staff who make up the spaces where they spend money. “Guests and consumers are interested now more than ever on who is behind the scenes creating, imagining and cultivating the food, drink, cuisine or experience,” Kim says.

Says Denning: “While people want to feel better about where their dollars go, the gap between that desire and the reality of what it means for their bill is still very wide. There's a lot of work to do, but at least we're moving in the right direction.” Similarly, poor treatment of staff no longer flies with the staff and public, thanks to social media and cancel culture.


While cultivating a positive culture can happen anytime, Dennig recommends setting clear intentions and expectations prior to opening a business. “That helps attract people who share those values from the start.”

She also suggests frank conversations as a way toward a positive work culture as well as setting goals. For example, Dennig mentions “setting target hourly and salaried raises you'd like to get to one day and set achievable benchmarks over time.” Moving in that direction, even without a sense of how you'll get there, is the proper first step, she says. “Set a bar that feels challenging but achievable, meet that mark, then raise the bar.”

Kim recommends getting to the core of why people are in the restaurant industry in the first place. “We are all in the industry for different reasons, but at the core, our work is to nurture and take care of one another as best we can.”