Why I Banned the Word ‘Employee’ At My Restaurant

September 3, 2016, 6:00 PM UTC
Man arranging glasses on table
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The words you use to refer to your staff and customers can make all the difference in how they feel. Yes, humanizing your business is as simple as changing your vocabulary.

That’s exactly what I’ve done at my restaurant: At Davio’s, we call our employees “inner guests.” Why?

Because restaurants are places of hospitality. You’re welcoming someone in who doesn’t normally belong there, like you would a guest to your own home. The term “inner guestconveys the idea that we should do the same for people who work at a restaurant. The same basic principle holds true — or should hold true — at any business, whether or not we normally think of it as a hospitality business. I don’t care how successful you get as a business person — you must always keep that element of hospitality. Here are three ways to make sure you have a well-managed business that pleases guests, keeps team members on their toes, and most importantly, stays open.

Get out of the office

As your company grows, you need to stay even more in touch with your people and your brand. And that means getting out of the of office. I don’t have a desk of my own — just a leather bag full of papers that I carry around. When I meet with people, it’s at a table I want to be where our guests and “inner guests” (employees) are.

In any large business, whether it’s manufacturing, sales, or healthcare, leaders can’t succeed if they hole themselves up in their executive suites, thinking they’re above everyone else. There’s no room for big egos. So if you’re starting or growing a business, I advise that you lose the attitude, get in the trenches, and get your hands dirty.

Respond to every single email your employees send you.

Everyone at Davio’s has my email address. They know I read what they send, and that I respond. I rotate through our restaurants every week, sitting down with staff at all levels to see how things are going. Yes, it’s important to listen to the issues your people have, but it’s even more important to take a personal stake in resolving them.

Invest in your people

The idea of the “inner guest” takes us beyond basic civility. There’s an old saying that a family that eats together stays together. Restaurants obviously feed their paying guests, but I think they should feed their inner guests, too. We hold staff meals at 11 a.m. and 4:15 p.m. every day, free of charge. We talk, joke around, and have a great time. Does this cost us money? Sure, but we benefit, too. It’s a lot easier for our people to serve guests well when they feel they are guests, too.

– Steve DiFillippo is chef/CEO of Davio’s and author of It’s All About the Guest.