Reinventing the Restaurant Culture (with a little help from Bonfyre)

When most of us think of chefs, we think of the celebrity types popularized on reality TV. Scenes of high pressure, high drama situations in the kitchen where egos can get in the way of actually focusing on cooking. It’s a cutthroat industry where many times business etiquette gets thrown to the wayside. Fortunately, there are business-minded chefs who invest in their employees and empower their teams for success.

Recently, I sat down for lunch with Gerard Craft, entrepreneur and James Beard award winning chef (that’s pretty much the Oscars of the food world and a first for St. Louis) to talk about how he is not only striving for excellence with the food and service at his restaurants, but also working to redefine the restaurant culture.

Sitting down over an Italian Trio from Gioas Deli (my favorite sandwich shop on the Hill), we talked about what makes a great culture.

Q: What makes a great culture?

GC: I’ve always studied the companies (even outside of the restaurant industry) that have created amazing cultures like Southwest Airlines, Virgin, etc. It’s those companies that invest in their people and institute a collaborative and creative work environment that serves as our restaurants’ barometer of success. At Niche Food Group, we want to push one another to think big, think differently, and have a little fun along the way. It’s an individual responsibility, but everyone knows the team is there for them when needed.

Q: What are the challenges you face to achieve that goal?

GC: The restaurant industry is tough. It’s long hours, grueling on the body, and takes time away from family and friends. On top of that, your work is immediately judged, by not only the guests but your executive chef or front of the house manager. You have to develop a thick skin. There’s a lot of turnover in the industry, but we do our best to keep those members of our team engaged who are really helping to define that culture.

Q: How does technology play a role?

GC: Technology and Bonfyre specifically have been an increasingly important part of our business. I encourage our executive chefs to be on Instagram and Twitter showcasing what they do best, but sometimes with some of our team members (who are equally as important) like our dishwashers and busers, it’s difficult to give them a voice. Bonfyre allowed us to do that. We utilizes the app in a number of ways:

  • It’s been a sounding board for the development of new concepts (especially for our first fast casual restaurant that’s opening this fall) from packaging to voting on logos
  • It appeals to our team who are constantly on the go in the restaurant with it’s mobile/chat-centric functionality
  • We created communities for each concept to streamline communications with management teams
  • We utilized Bonfyre for relationship building and person-to-person engagement by holding a contest for the whole group to post a selfie and share a bit about themselves so everyone within the 4 existing restaurants would get to know one another. The winner received an iPad and it was fun to see how into it a lot of our employees got!

Its exciting to see the level of success Gerard is having with all his Restaurants and it is humbling to know Bonfyre is playing a small part in that success. And maybe even helping reinvent the restaurant culture.