Creating Culture - Going Up or Coming Down?

April 25, 2022

If you’ve never worked in a restaurant or kitchen, can you say you understand culture & teamwork?

Of course you can. Sports, the military, any group activity is an opportunity to learn about teamwork & culture. But there’s something different about working in foodservice. At least that’s my perspective.

I remember fondly my time as a banquet server & captain during college, working at the Holiday Inn & Holidome in Manhattan, KS. We had a great team. We called ourselves the “ ‘Dome Rats”- don’t ask me why, I’m guessing because we spent a lot of time behind the scenes and were always hustling. Who knows.

We all worked crazy long hours, and I don’t remember having any major issues-we were a well oiled machine that could knock out multiple services a night for up to 1000 people across 12,000 square feet of catering space without batting an eye. But why did we work so well together?

I learned as I became a captain on that team that it was because there was a respect and nurturing of that environment from the top down, but not much heavy-handed oversight. The hotel GM rarely got in our way, but was always available to lend a hand if needed. Our banquet manager knew when to be “one of us” and when to be the leader. The executive chef knew when to let us “have a plate” and when to jump in the dish pit. The new team members always got a warm welcome and in-depth training. They kept it all together, but we ran the show. And it was a 5 star production.

Every job I’ve had when I was on the frontlines of an F&B operation allowed me to understand and value teamwork and culture. But that experience as a catering server taught me the way to create and develop a team. In the end, that team owned its success. The people leading the team simply nurtured and rewarded the right things in public & corrected in private.

Top down culture creation isn’t going to work. You have to give the team the direction and vision, and let them take ownership-and they will build it. You have to nurture the unspoken leaders on the team and let them build that culture and teamwork from the ground up.

I miss that team - I’ve recreated similar environments during my journey, but that group was special. They taught me how to be a great manager and leader and also gave me some great memories.

I hope that you all can find and create your own special group of “Dome Rats”. Our teams need that more than ever right now.