Core Competency: Restaurant FOH – Positive Mindset and Resilience

How can you confidently hire people who will meet your performance expectations?  The first step is defining performance and the qualities you need in your team to be successful.  In our Foundations for Performance series, we highlight essential performance drivers within and across industries.  Hiring for these characteristics will increase quality of hire, fit, and retention.

Restaurant waitress carrying a tray

Let's Start with a Story

I’ve participated in several RunDisney half marathon events, where thousands of runners and their families travel from around the world for a “memorable race meets Disney-magic experience.”  Because my life’s passion is the science of work, observing these types of events from the guest perspective is fascinating.  After the race, restaurants are at capacity and Cast Members (Disney’s term for Team Members) are delivering experiences that will likely become part of people’s memories for a lifetime.  No matter how busy they were, servers always asked how my race went and congratulated me for finishing the challenge (a 10K on Saturday followed by a half marathon the next day).  At brunch, following a race last November, the server asked where I ran and how I liked the course.

I responded with how much I enjoyed running through Disneyland and Anaheim, and especially enjoyed running a lap through Angel Stadium.  My mother asked the server how much earlier he had to leave for work because of traffic and road closures for the race.  He said that he had to leave two and a half hours early not only because of traffic, but also to help prepare for the post-race brunch.  However, he always looks forward to the excitement of Disney race weekends.

The caring and energetic service I received at Disney, and other best-in-class restaurants, highlights the importance of a positive mindset and resilience for Front-of-House (FOH) employees.  How can you hire people who exude joy and remain steadfastly positive despite challenges: from bad weather, to unrelentingly busy shifts, to a new menu?  Through our experience and research in the restaurant and hospitality industries, we’ve identified two factors that drive the ability to maintain an optimistic outlook, create joy for guests, and thrive through serving others: Positive Mindset and Resilience.

Positive Mindset: Hire Positively Contagious People

Think about it – how do you feel when you are around others who are optimistic, energetic, and confident?  Emotions are contagious, and hiring and retaining people with a positive mindset will increase optimism throughout your team. Dividends reach beyond having a pleasant work environment. Teams with a strong positive outlook coach and provide feedback more frequently, leading to more productive interactions, increased learning, and knowledge being shared fluidly throughout the team.  These behaviors influence team effectiveness and ultimately the quality of service and hospitality your guests experience.

Resilience: Select People with a “Just Keep Swimming” Attitude

Service work is inherently unpredictable, and requires prioritizing multiple demands while reading the emotions of guests to deliver the best experience.  Even with the latest analytics you cannot predict when, why, or how many guests will be unhappy with your service or hospitality.  It’s in managing these unpredictable demands where having people with a “just keep swimming” attitude helps you successfully move upstream and consistently deliver your guest experience in the face of unexpected obstacles.  We know the outcome of resilience when we see it – performing at one’s best no matter the circumstances – but what causes it?

First, there is a personality component.  Some people view challenges as opportunities to grow and make a positive difference.  Instead of seeing an upset guest, they see an opportunity to make someone’s day better.  Instead of a busy day when they are understaffed, it’s an opportunity to learn new skills and become more efficient.

The second component to resilience, however, requires a match between your team member’s skills, values, abilities, and the work environment.  A team member who is not aligned with your culture and does not possess the ability to deliver your intended guest experience is less likely to “just keep swimming.”

How to Hire People who Make the Best Better

Because resilience and having a positive mindset are largely a factor of personality, one of the most effective ways to build these traits within your team is through hiring.  Hiring assessments and structured, behavioral interviews are both effective tools for measuring these characteristics.  We offer short, five-ten minute assessments that can accurately screen for the qualities you need to hire candidates who exude joy that is spread throughout your team, and thrive even in when they are in the weeds.  Structured interviews are standardized questions and established, or pre-determined, ways of scoring answers that ask candidates to describe 1) how they handled challenges in the past, and 2) how they would respond to common demands your team encounters while maintaining a positive mindset.

What's Next

Hiring positively contagious people with a “just keep swimming attitude” is only one piece of performance.  You also need people who are dedicated to quality, guest-focused, and have the ability to prioritize and problem-solve.  We will cover each of these and give you suggestions for hiring candidates who will meet your expectations in the coming weeks.

Considering adding assessments to you hiring process? Assessments are powerful tools that increase your accuracy in selecting quality hires: those who perform, fit, and stay.  To help you evaluate assessment providers, we’ve put together a checklist.

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Grit: The Power of Passion and Perseverance.  (2016).

Resilience at Work: How to Succeed No Matter What Life Throws at You. (2005).

The relationship between dispositional positive affect and team performance: an empirical study. Journal of Business Management.  (2014).

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