Why Trust is So Important and How Restaurant District Managers Can Build It with Employees

Is gossip an issue in your restaurant? Do you get the sense employees don’t trust you?

Busy restaurant managers and district managers often face challenges with employees when it comes to building trust. When there are profits to worry about and daily tasks like reporting to focus on, it can be easy to let employee management fall by the wayside.

But it’s vital that your employees trust you, because that will improve their work ethic and performance, which will impact the bottom line. Ultimately your business is more likely to succeed if its employees trust their managers.

A Harvard Business Review article explains what trust really means in a work environment and how managers can work to instill it in their employees.

Here’s the biggest reason why you need to earn the trust of your employees: They'll tell you what's really going on at your restaurant.

Employees who trust you as a manager are far more likely to keep you in the loop.
They tend to be more receptive to feedback and to be honest with you about their goals and performance, as well as that of their colleagues, making it easier for you to have a finger on the pulse of your workforce. 

Beyond that, employees who trust you are more likely to let you know when something is going wrong. If they believe that they can count on you to treat them fairly, they won’t hesitate to let you know when they see inappropriate behavior or observe negative patterns.

Managers can’t be on the ground everywhere at all times, seeing and hearing everything that goes on. But if you have employees who trust you, you’ll have far more transparency into what’s really going on.

How to Earn Trust

Of course, earning employees’ trust is easier said than done. But there are certain proven strategies that can help. Below, we outline five key strategies and give examples of how to execute them and how they can be helpful in a restaurant context specifically.

1. Get Personal

Building a personal relationship with your employees will go a long way toward earning their trust. It takes time to do, and it can slow you down somewhat, but it’s well worth it in the long run.

To accomplish this, spend time with your employees both while they’re on the job and in less formal settings if you can. Build camaraderie by learning about their backgrounds, interests and family life. Successful politicians often have a knack for remembering important people’s personal details; it’s a good skill for a manager to hone as well.

Example: If you oversee several locations or work a more traditional nine-to-five schedule, you may not always get a ton of facetime with all of your employees. It’s tough to build trust with people that you don’t see often.

One way to combat this is to take the time to drop in during different times of the day at all of your restaurant locations. You don’t need to do this every day, but doing it on a weekly or biweekly basis can help you start to build real relationships with your employees.

You may also want to schedule an offsite meeting a few times a year. You can use it as a chance to tell people about exciting developments for the company, but make sure to mix in some social time too. It will give people a chance to let loose and get to know you (and each other) on a more personal level. This absolutely builds trust.

2. Use Transparency (Strategically)

Often the key to trust is transparency; the more people know about what’s really going on, the less they’ll be wondering. If they feel kept in the loop, they’ll be more loyal and more open with you as a manager.

It can also go a long way towards curbing the rumor mill, because employees will have less to gossip about when they actually have concrete information about what’s going on behind the scenes. There’s less stress and therefore less need to chew the fat over potential concerns.

Example: It can be very motivating to share details with your employees about sales, customer feedback, marketing efforts and even health inspections. These are good examples of areas where being transparent can help get your employees excited to meet shared goals. You should also keep your employees in the loop about new technologies or methods that you are trying out, and solicit their feedback to make them feel like they are part of the process.

Of course, it’s important to recognize what information is appropriate for the larger group and what isn’t. While it may be alright to share information about profits in your restaurant, keep in mind that certain corporate details may not be suitable for everyone, such as hourly wages or salary details. Just make sure that you explain to employees why you can’t share a certain piece of information if they ask for it. That kind of transparency can itself be very valuable.

3. Motivate

Another important strategy for increasing trust is to lead by motivating rather than by commanding. This can definitely be a tough one to learn, and it can be difficult to translate from a more traditional office setting to a restaurant.

But the principles behind it are sound and worth applying to your management techniques. The key, as Harvard Business Review puts it, is to “encourage rather than command.” In other words, you want your employees to feel empowered to do their jobs and do them well.

Example: Often there are tasks which need to be taken care of in restaurants that are not particularly fun. Everything from cleaning equipment to taking out the trash to regularly tracking compliance data has to be done by someone.

You may feel like it’s impossible to motivate someone—to get them excited and enthusiastic—to do a task like this. However, if you frame it as a key part of the business’s overall operations and explain exactly how it helps things run smoothly, you can help your employees to see how they are part of a team and that their efforts contribute to a larger whole. Positive feedback can be more powerful than you realize.

Additionally, using technology where possible to automate and simplify rote tasks like compliance reporting can go a long way toward making employees feel better about their daily tasks because they know you are interested in efficiency and don’t want to waste their time.

4. Be Good at Your Job

It may not be totally intuitive, but one of the most important things you can do as a manager to inspire trust is to be good at your own job. Employees are usually adept at seeing through B.S. and will call you on it, whether to your face or behind your back. They won’t respect or trust a manager who isn’t competent.

But if you are clearly good at your job, do it with enthusiasm and take it seriously, that will set a good example for your employees and make them feel like you are worthy of their trust. You can read more about why competence is so vital to building trust here.

Example: Some managers stay in the back of the restaurant, overseeing kitchen operations or working at a desk, but not doing a whole lot that employees can see with their own eyes. They may even spend the vast majority of their time working remotely from a corporate office or from home.

To alleviate “invisible manager” problems, show up. And every once in a while, get up and pitch in. Clean up a station, bus a table or sweep the floors. Your employees will see that you are part of the team.

Additionally, be sure that if you say you will do something that you always follow through. For example, if you say that you’ll upgrade a piece of equipment, make sure that you actually do it and in a reasonable timeframe. If you truly can’t, explain why you are unable to follow through (and try to avoid overpromising in the future.) This will help your employees to feel like they can take you at your word.

5. Own Up to Mistakes

Finally, this is one of the hardest skills for anyone to master. If you make a mistake at work, you should own up to it openly in front of your employees. This helps them build trust in you because they see that you’re not perfect but you are self-aware and committed to doing your best. That’s a manager they can look up to.

Example: It’s easy to make mistakes in restaurants, where the tempo is often very fast-paced and things can easily slip through the cracks. If you fail to clearly explain expectations and then your staff lets you down, you should proactively take the blame for not being clear rather than scolding.

That way they won’t feel like you are attacking them for something they may not have done on purpose, which can lead to mistrust. It’s never a bad idea to err on the side of taking blame and giving praise. Be genuine, of course, but remember that a little humility goes a long way.

Restaurants are often unique workplaces, with challenges that don’t always arise in other settings. There is a high potential for miscommunication, and long hours and stressful periods can ratchet up the tension.

For district managers who oversee several locations, it can be particularly challenging to ensure that you are building relationships with your employees, modeling transparency, offering motivation, demonstrating competency and openly owning up to mistakes. But it’s well worth it to put in the effort to build trust, because it will have lasting positive benefits for you and for your restaurant.