How hiring a psychologist changed our restaurant
It’s customer expectations – not accolades or rankings – that generate the most pressure for foodservice professionals at the top of their game, said Joan Roca, co-owner of El Celler de Can Roca in Spain’s Girona.
Recently crowned the third best restaurant at the annual World’s 50 Best Restaurants presentation in Melbourne, Roca operates El Celler de Can Roca with his two brothers and has done so since 1986.
Despite its 31 year tenure, the restaurant is one of the most progressive in regards to its approach to workplace culture. A prime example is the brothers’ decision to hire a psychologist, Imma Puig, who visits the restaurant and speaks with its team members once a week.
“She was working with Barca (the Barcelona football team) and we thought maybe she’d be able to help us with the team, so that we could better our emotional understanding and connection,” Roca told Hospitality at the recent Estrella Damm Gastronomy Congress in Melbourne.
“In a fine dining restaurant there’s a lot of tension and so it’s a good way to improve the relationships between the teams: the cooking teams, the waiting staff and the sommeliers, and the staff out the front.”
Puig meets with the entire team, with individuals and with the teams separately, discussing everything other than the restaurant’s food.
According to Roca, the effect has been extremely positive. Both staff morale and their performance has improved. “The environment is much better, and the atmosphere. We want to make people happy. The people that come to our restaurant, we want to make them happy and if we want our clients to be happy then we have to try to make our team happy too. So what’s improved is that many of the little problems – we now know that they exist. If we didn’t know that, then we wouldn’t be able to solve them,” he said.
Having regular sessions with a psychologist has improved staff turnover while also ensuring front and back of house staff keep their eye on the prize – especially in the lead up to events like the 50 Best.
“Obviously it [the 50 Best list] is very important, but it’s not what generates the most pressure for us. The pressure is really coming from the ones that come to our restaurant, because they’ve come from far away and they’ve made a reservation with 11 months’ anticipation. They come with high expectations. This is pressure – the daily pressure – not so much the list or the guides, where one year you can be up the top and another year not. You have to distance yourself from that because otherwise you can go crazy.
“We’re very grateful and very happy for these lists because they make us visible, but the quality of the restaurant will always be intertwined with the clients, not the lists.”
There are a number of other steps the restaurant takes to keep staff motivated and performing at their best. The team does a lot of travelling internationally, seeking inspiration from other restaurant operators, cultures and cuisines. The restaurant is also looking into how it can best retain its female chefs after their start families – an on-site crche is not out of the question, Roca said during a presentation at a recent Costa Brava Tourism Board brunch in Melbourne.
“We also decided to close on Tuesdays at midday to be able to have these sessions with our psychologist but then also for creativity purposes – to incorporate the team into the projects we’re running, and to just share and speak with our team,” Roca said.
Perhaps the most important way that the Roca brothers ensure they have a strong, motivated and cohesive team is to have a meal together, every day – at their mum’s restaurant across the road.
“Every day we go to eat at my mother’s restaurant – every day, the whole team. And the three of us – us three brothers – we eat around the kitchen table with my mother at 12 midday, before her clients arrive.
“The fact that we’re living in the place where we were born [also helps]. We’ve realised our dreams without having to leave our humble home town within the city of Gerona. And this, this is a very good reason to maintain that distance. We always give thanks and we say thank you but we’re not going to believe that we’re the best in the world. That’s just how it is.”