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For limited-service restaurants, the holiday season can bring an increase in traffic and demand as shoppers stop in for good food, fast. Employees play an integral role in providing stellar, and sometimes memorable, customer service through the hectic season; encouragement and trust keep spirits high and restaurants running smoothly.

Anthony Braun, COO and CFO for the Heartland Restaurant Group LLC, dba Dunkin' Donuts, had this in mind when he sent a letter to his team recognizing their "amazing spirit, unwavering commitment and incredible work ethic," and reminding them to take the time to stop and enjoy time with loved ones during the holiday season.

"Our culture is to care about one another, that's what we do," said Braun. 'I don't ever leave [the store] without being thankful for everyone who works in this company."

For the Dunkin' executive, recognizing the sacrifices the team makes to work throughout the season, which picks up speed around Thanksgiving and slows down after Christmas, means taking personal time to visit locations open on the holidays and letting employees know their hard work is appreciated by delivering gift cards and thanking them for giving up time they could be spending with their families.

Braun also believes effective employee engagement occurs year-round and takes place beyond the holiday parties and award ceremonies. A store's culture can be a determining factor in building a strong team, committed to upholding the values of the brand and delivering quality customer service.

"The difference between a decent place to work and the best place to work is not what you're given but how you are treated," Braun said.

When management adopts a spirit of humility and genuine care, the same attitude can spread throughout the entire team. It's the same spirit that can lead to incredible instances of customer service.

Take the story of a mother visiting one of their Dunkin' Donut locations to purchase a dozen Pittsburgh Cream Donuts, a regional menu item her son enjoyed. Despite the doughnut being sold out, the cashier assisting the customer volunteered to make her a fresh batch so she wouldn't leave empty-handed. It wasn't until Braun later received a letter from the customer that he learned the doughnuts purchased were the the last thing her son ate before passing away from cancer.

"That's an example of a day maker," said Braun. "Sometimes it's as simple as knowing someone's cream and sugar preference. If you have the opportunity to make their day, why not do it?"

Striving to live these values can lead to an atmosphere where employee engagement reigns supreme.

"You have to lead with your heart and manage your business with your mind; if you can provide that type of environment, you'll be successful in engagement, retention and productivity," Braun said.

Recognizing employees during the holiday season doesn't always require cash bonuses and large gifts; showing appreciation can be as simple as a handwritten note. Snagajob recently surveyed job seekers to find out the type of rewards they would love to receive at work when extra hours or money are not an option. Discover what's at the top of their lists by checking out "No Money, No Problem: Holiday Bonuses Your Staff Will Love."

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