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Reopening your Restaurant After COVID-19 Lockdown: Motivating and engaging employees

Restaurants Canada’s recent Rapid Recovery Series provided operators across Canada with insights, advice, and resources for some of the most pressing issues facing the foodservice industry today. One of these issues is labour and staffing.

Prior to the COVID-19 pandemic, restaurants were already challenged with a labour shortage. And as restaurants reopen, ensuring that employees are ready, willing, and enthusiastic to return to work may be difficult, increasing the already-present labour shortage.

To understand how foodservice businesses can reinvigorate their workers and ensure they feel comfortable and safe in the workplace so that they want to return, we spoke with Angela Donnelly, founder of Corethentic.

Corethentic is a niche consultancy focused on transforming the very core of an organization by unlocking a culture of empowerment, accountability and excellence. Learn more here.

What are some of the ways you’ve seen companies (large and small) motivate employees in response to COVID-19?

Having pivoted my own business to deliver live video-based online training workshops, I have personally experienced how valuable they are in keeping employees not only motivated, but also helping them to feel connected whilst also developing their personal skills and competency during this time.

I have seen spotty adoption of things like “cocktail hour, sharing cooking or baking accomplishments and shared zumba or dance classes” to keep employees connected in a non-work related atmosphere. 

I have also seen birthday parties, etc celebrated remotely to ensure that employees feel remembered for their special day. Balloons on the doorstep were a nice touch, etc. 

Most of my clients have reported that they have remained very connected with team members via video-calls and spontaneous online events, etc. 

One online travel agency I am familiar with was doing some great “virtual tours” to exotic locations and everyone (employees) was dressing up in the theme of the location – think Hawaiian shirts and pineapples!

I have also seen some traditional boundaries come down where executive leadership teams have paused their meetings to say “hi” to members children who have come wandering into the room, bringing a great personal touch of humanity where in the past, this would have been considered unacceptable in many work environments. 

I have also received feedback from friends and family who have experienced that there have been almost too many check-ins from managers and leaders at times. It is a fine balance and definitely not a “one-size-fits-all” solution. 

How can employers communicate with staff so that they feel comfortable returning to work?

Ideally, the quality of the relationship that is experienced during these times is reliant on the past effort that has been made to establish some legitimacy in the relationship between management and staff.

Where that relationship is engaging and loyalty has been established, this is a time of staying connected and checking in to see how everyone is doing – be they still on the payroll or temporarily laid off.

There is still a need to stay connected and show that you care. Where this relationship has not already been established, it is a bit trickier as management can be experienced as disingenuous in their attempts to woo employees back into the workplace.

My advice would be to meet people where they are at and to work hard to establish some credibility in the relationship and demonstrate that management will provide a safe and caring environment for individuals to get back to a productive and meaningful life-style where they can contribute their skills and be a part of something great.

What are some low-cost or ‘low-hanging fruit’ strategies for employers to implement?

Ensure that the structure of the organization has clear reporting lines that are manageable at all levels, so as to enable frequent and open communications between managers and employees at ALL levels of the organization.

Ensure that these managers/leaders are equipped to adequately provide guidance and motivation to all employees and ensure a strong focus on Empowerment. We empower others by providing the means and ability then holding others to account for excellence. Period. In other words, ensure that anyone with a reporting line can step up and create the conditions required to balance the personal needs of their team members, with the goals and objectives of the organization.


Operators are facing the challenge of getting their staff in at a moment’s notice. What are some of the strategies/tools they can use to ensure that employees are excited to start working again?

Ensure that communications are open and honest and adequately empower your managers at every level to “rally their troops” and hold them to account for igniting productivity in their areas of responsibility and maintaining the necessary conditions to move their teams to a place of high performance and personal growth in the work that is done.

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