Places like Eleven Madison Park, Shake Shack and Tartine are thanking workers by giving them fancy cars, sending them on retreats and handing over hundreds of dollars in gift cards
These restaurants treat their employees like guests.
The team behind Eleven Madison Park in New York City took a break on Aug. 14 and 15 this month from meticulously crafting its rich dishes like smoked-sturgeon cheesecake with caviar to go race cars and roast s’mores in the country, instead.
Around 40 employees from the three-star Michelin restaurant — which was named the best in the world on the 2017 World’s 50 Best Restaurants list — traveled from its Las Vegas, Los Angeles, New York City and Hamptons offices to the Catskills for a staff appreciation outing: two days of unplugging, team bonding and strategizing.
“It’s hard to get that many people out of the restaurants,” Will Guidara, the restaurateur behind Eleven Madison Park — which he runs with chef and co-owner Daniel Humm — told Moneyish, adding that the respite is when some of their most inventive work happens.
“When you change the scenery, and you actually pull people out of the restaurant, or out of the office to focus on having intentional fun, somehow the perspective we have is almost always heightened,” said Guidara. “Part of work is getting to play.”
And that “play” included racing BMWs around a 4.1-mile motor racing circuit situated in Monticello, N.Y. The rush is fuel for the creativity that goes into the restaurant’s legendary, imaginative plates, such as the sea urchin cappuccino with peekytoe crab and cauliflower.
“I think people’s gas tanks are certainly filled, and there’s a re-energizing that comes when you feel like you’re part of something that’s bigger than yourself. There’s something about just feeling valued. I take those days as seriously as I do the tasting menu at EMP in terms of how much thought and detail goes into producing them,” Guidara said. “It’s impossible for our people to know how to create experiences for other people if we’re not creating experiences for them.”
This week our entire leadership team unplugged for 2 days and went to the Catskills- to bond, to celebrate, to teach, to learn, and to strategize for the road ahead… oh, and to drive REALLY fast. Feeling so blessed to have this group of people as my work family- no one I’d rather do this with than all of you. And feeling equally blessed to have the incredible people at @bmwusa as partners. They inspire us every day, and they build some pretty awesome cars!! #drivefast #makeitnice
The dog days of summer are becoming a prime time for high-volume businesses to take some time off together as a team to bond and talk through strategies for the next few seasons. And sometimes that means closing for the day, like the speakeasy ice cream shop and cocktail lounge UES on Manhattan’s Upper East Side , which recently slapped a sign on its front door telling customers that, “The UES staff will be attending the Drake concert to say goodbye to our summer and have some fun.”
Similarly, Tartine Bakery in San Francisco told customers on social media that it would also be closed on Aug. 29 for its own staff appreciation day. Vinny Eng, the general manager at Tartine, told Moneyish that the sweet gesture included inviting employees and their loved ones to Old Kan Beer & Co. in Oakland, Calif. for an afternoon of food, drinks and dancing that cost the bakery between $10,000 to $12,000.
But that’s a small sacrifice for showing gratitude to the dedicated staff, Eng said. “It’s really hard because you have to justify the financial ramifications as well,” he admitted, “but it far outweighs the revenue loss for the day.”
Gathering the team together outside of the bakery, which has a second location in Los Angeles, is a way for staff members to get to know eachother better outside of the high-stress environment of the dining service, Eng said.
“Part of the intended outcome [of the event] is a space for people to come together,” Eng said. “That staff member at one location, who’s never had a chance to spend more than 20 minutes with another staff member, can have a moment to acknowledge one another.”
Studies show that investing in employees’ happiness and well-being by carving out days for team activities to show that they’re valued can increase productivity. A 2011 study reported by Harvard Medical School divided university fundraisers into two groups: one that received a pep talk from a director who told fundraisers how grateful she was for their efforts, and another that just made calls for donations. The employees who were praised for their hard work made 50% more fundraising calls than those who did not. What’s more, a poll by Tjinsite, a division of TimeJobs.com, found that more than 35% of the employees consider the lack of recognition of their hard work as the biggest hindrance to their productivity. The survey also found that recognition and rewards for achievements at work boosts morale, which in turn, increases output.
Shake Shack also publicly recognizes employees for good deeds every year during its staff appreciation day, through what it calls “CDR,” or “caught doing right” awards. Workers are recognized for doing a good deed, like excellent customer service, or helping a coworker in need. The annual celebration started after the burger giant went public in 2015.
“We were trying to figure out ‘how do you celebrate that?’ How do you communicate that without feeling that it’s a corporate thing?’ Peggy Rubenzer, senior vice president of people resources at Shake Shack, told Moneyish.
So each year, Shake Shacks across the country get a budget to throw a party for staffers during the work day, along with tons of swag like banners, T-shirts, $500 gift cards, cake and free custard for customers who walk in during the celebration. Gifts for the event alone cost the company around $100,000, Rubenzer said.
“It’s a great feel-good day with tons of energy and high spirits,” she said.
And the management team of around 650 employees takes an annual summer retreat. This year they escaped to Lake George, where the company rented out the Sagamore hotel for a few days of outward-bound fun like color wars, canoe riding and talks from execs like Twitter CEO Jack Dorsey and former Chief Design Officer at J. Crew Jenna Lyons.
“It’s fun to give back to the people who work so hard for us,” Rubenzer said. “It’s one of my favorite days of the year.”
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