Ivo Nedelchev, Director of Food & Beverage/Sommelier with Hamilton Harbor Yacht Club, says improving employee engagement is one of the best ways to pass on a positive member experience.
In my early management career, I was tasked with coming up with ten training topics for the food and beverage department at the resort where I worked. My number one training topic: Creating the passion for the food and beverage industry.
You should have seen the face of my boss back then when I presented the list. He asked me if I came from Mars and how I intended to train people on that topic. I answered that I didn’t, but I would go one day as I greatly admired people like Jeff Bezos and Elon Musk. People like them think differently and completely outside of the box. They want to change the world for the better.
So I thought to myself, why can’t I change the world on a smaller scale and instead of bringing people to Mars, bring out their passion for food and wine, a passion that will be relevant even on Mars one day. Who doesn’t like to eat? Who doesn’t like to taste different food and learn the culture and traditions of a nation through eating their food and drinking their wine?
I come from Bulgaria and we have a very interesting long history and traditions. We have amazing food and wine that many people are unaware of. People who work in the restaurant business need to have passion as their foundation to make them better at what they do. In general curiosity and constant learning about the unknown have always been a must in any of the teams I have created.
Needless to say my boss expected me to have the training topics on technical skills, something more like folding a napkin or opening a bottle of wine. My point was that if I built the passion for the business then people would be eager to learn more than just how to fold a napkin or open a bottle of wine, but also the story behind the wine they poured and the food they served.
A turning point in my career was creating the so-called Wall of Fame in this same resort. We had a long corridor between the two kitchens and this was the way the staff used to come in every day. The wall was completely empty. So I asked every employee to print their favorite quote, sign, and frame it. Then we hung all the frames on the wall. This way I could see what kind of people I had on my team, what inspired and motivated them. We also added wine spectator and AAA awards that we had received throughout the years. Last we added pictures of the team and the beautiful food chef made. It made a huge difference in the morale and performance of the team. And it was fun putting it together.
At Hamilton Harbor Yach Club, employee engagement is a top priority. We work on building that passion for our business every day. Every new employee is given a hospitality-driven book beside their training manual. We picked Danny Meyer’s “Setting the Table” as our guide. We don’t force people to read the book, but constant discussion of it at lineups makes people uncomfortable if they haven’t read it.
We also give them a small puzzle that says “You’re the perfect fit for HHYC. Welcome aboard!” It’s priceless to see their faces when they complete the puzzle and read the message.
These are moments we live for at HHYC, to make members and staff smile for a second.
Once a new employee joins the team they are added to the group chat where everyone on the team shares anything interesting they come across. We share industry-related articles, daily quotes, food pictures, healthy lifestyle topics, family pictures and more. This encourages people to read and then search for more interesting topics and get to know their co-workers. We form our soccer/fitness group in the summer as we try to get back in the best shape when we have some extra time in the offseason. This is always fun and builds the team better than anything else.
Our culture of teamwork and mentorship is based on curiosity and constant improvement of knowledge and skills. We are very straightforward during the hiring process that we don’t want to see people staying in the same position and not improving personally or professionally with us. This means we are not doing our main job. Personal improvement and healthy living for our employees are just as important as everything else we do.
Creating a workplace where people feel inspired, safe and return home fulfilled at the end of the day is our mission statement in the F&B department at HHYC. And we don’t force that either. We just work on it slowly every single day as it becomes part of who we are.
Our Sunday lineup is the one we don’t talk about at work at all. We play motivational videos on the TV sets in the dining room for about 30 minutes. Needless to say everyone loves it, and especially my current boss. He thinks it is the greatest idea ever. And now everyone wants to work Sunday. We have also hired a motivational speaker to share insights on different topics that we would like to discuss.
The common game at the lineup is sharing everything that we know about the members joining us with a reservation for lunch or dinner that day. We talk out loud about every little thing we know about them including their dog names and preferences. One person inputs all that information in our POS system that pops on every open ticket. Genuine interest in people and making a connection is the foundation of our work. Creating that “wow “moment is absolutely impossible without establishing that relationship first.
Of course, we also have incentive programs. Our “High Five” program recognizes exceptional service, but the true satisfaction of a job well done for making a difference in someone’s life is what matters the most at the end of the day. When you get to the point where your team strives for this satisfaction every day, you reach a different level of work and reality.
Our latest idea is our brain teaser game with our members. Servers present a question for members to answer throughout their time of dining. Servers give clues every time they interact with members to help them come up with the answer. We try to keep it educational as we choose questions about famous cities, restaurants and chefs around the world. This way staff and members learn something new every single day.
And how does this reflect on the service that we provide? Does it add anything extra? The answer is yes. We are creating an environment where people feel themselves as they reach their full potential without even realizing it. At this point, space is the limit. Exceptional service and creating “wow” moments is becoming natural not forced. When we add all little things that inspired employees do and know, from the moment we see our members to the moment they leave, we are able to further differentiate between good and exceptional service.
Define your workplace culture. Constantly working on it. This has worked for me in every place I have worked. It has become very natural because it is who I am and how I do things. It’s how I try to make the world a better place.
If I make all my employees go home fulfilled and happy and they give that happiness to more people, I have done my job. It is the same with making members happy and making that interaction with them the highlight of their day. One of the best compliments I have ever received was from one of my bosses. He said, “I disagree with everything you do but I have to admit that you deliver incredible results.”