Working in a restaurant is not for the faint of heart.
A climate that redefines chaotic, life in the restaurant industry always happens at a dead sprint . The hours are long and unconventional, the work is laborious, the customers will test your patience (and will to live) on a second by second basis, all while your heart rate is hovering somewhere between “Tom Brady just touched me” and “Hello, Clarice”.
Restaurant staff need to be firing on all cylinders mentally, physically, and emotionally for hours at a time; it can wear on a person pretty quickly, and likely contributes to the 73% annual employee turnover rate the restaurant and accommodations sector saw in 2017. Is it any wonder then that restaurants are rife with employees calling out of work each shift?
What Should You Do if An Employee Calls Out of Work?
Did you know there's a scientific correlation between warm, sunny days and employees calling out of work? It's true — just ask a restaurant manager.
If you've found yourself on the receiving end of a phone call from a staff member who won't be coming in for their shift, first things first: Don't panic.
Most restaurants have a pre-planned system in place for how to respond should they find themselves short staffed last minute. This way, they're not left scrambling as meal service begins and can ensure their guests will still receive the level of service they expect when visiting your restaurant. This plan of attack usually includes the following:
1. An Employee Management Platform
If you haven't already, you should really consider investing in an employee management platform. Companies like 7Shifts, Bizimply, HotSchedules, and Harri are all incredibly robust all-in-one employee management platforms where restaurant owners and managers can:
- Create easily editable schedules
- Track employees' hours worked
- Request employees' availability
- Message staff members quickly and easily
- Accept and track time off
- Manage HR related documents
If you're still using a spreadsheet to manage and schedule your employees, stop reading this right now and go request a demo from one of those guys ↑. From one restaurant industry friend to another, your quality of life will drastically improve once you retire your overly complicated employee management spreadsheet from hell.
2. Cap Last Minute Call-Outs
Let's be real: Life happens. There are a variety of unavoidable and unpredictable reasons your restaurant staff many have to call out of work last minute including illnesses, family matters, and the like.
Handling these personal emergencies with compassion and understanding is the best thing you can do as a manager, it lets your employees know you care for both their professional and personal wellbeing and that they can trust and rely on you when times inevitably get tough.
In today's competitive job landscape, employees want to work for companies who care. Matt Tenney, author of Serve To Be Great: Leadership Lessons From A Prison, A Monastery, And A Boardroom puts it best,
“Leaders who are able to create sustainable, high-performance cultures over the long term see their primary purpose as serving the employees on their teams–not just the other way around...these ‘servant leaders’ realize that when people know we truly care about them–and not just about what we can get out of them–they tend to go the extra mile.”
However, you can't let your staff abuse your good nature; unfortunately, some of them will try.
Many restaurants cap the amount of times during a designated period an employee is allowed to call out of work last minute— six months for example — and create rules around the acceptable excuses. This will cut down on the amount of call outs that suspiciously roll in whenever the forecast calls for beach weather.
When an employee calls out of work, encourage the staff member to check the employee management system and reach out to others who may not be scheduled for that day so you're not short staffed for a shift, then record the scheduling change in your restaurant's manager's daily log.
3. An Employee Attendance Points System
Another option to cut down on employees calling out of work last minute is to create an employee attendance points system.
Assign different point values to call-outs, sick days, tardies, and no-call no-shows. Next, set point thresholds associated with consequences. Here's an example:
tardies → 1 point
sick days→ 2 points
last minute call-outs→ 3 points
no-call, no-shows→ 5 points
5 point total: Employee is given a smaller section and additional side-work.
7 point total: Employee is docked a shift the following week.
9 point total: Employee is suspended.
As with the capping system, record your employee's attendance point total in your employee management platform. If you notice an employee consistently calls out or looks for a replacement for a specific shift perhaps their availability is to blame; if you notice an employee has racked up a ton of points for an extended illness or long term family emergency, have a conversation with them to see if there's anything you can do to support them.
Points can also be positive: If an employee doesn't earn any points for six months or more, reward them for their excellent attendance.
4. Schedule Employees on 'Stand-By' Each Week
When creating upcoming schedules for your employees, schedule four employees on "stand-by" for the week: Two for the lunch shift, two for evening service. If you have any last minute absences or call-outs before a shift, these stand-by employees will fill the spot.
Have stand-by employees call in 30 minutes to an hour before the shift starts and see if there are any call outs; if so, it is their responsibility to work the shift. Added bonus: The stand-by staff member is allowed to hand off one shift of their choice to whomever they filled in for, to be redeemed at their discretion.
Rotate who is on stand-by status each week, and give stand-by staff members the legally mandated advance notice, as outlined in your local predictive scheduling legislation. Being on stand-by may be annoying for staff members, but think of it like jury duty: Everyone has to do it at some point, it's your "restaurant industry civic duty".
And Now, For Our Main Event...
Restaurant managers are quite adept at spotting a shoddy excuse to call out of work a mile away: They’ve heard ‘em all - and then some. As a result, restaurant staff have had to get pretty, er...well...creative.
Short of pulling a Ferris Bueller’s Day Off —though someone’s probably tried it— restaurant staff have used some seriously impressive excuses to call out of work.
We asked real restaurant managers to share the most ridiculous excuses they've heard staff use to call out of work. I’ll pause here so you can go get yourself some popcorn (and maybe a notepad while you’re at it).
Well, That’s Shi**y
- “We had someone call out via Facebook message explaining that he had ahem... a reserved seat on the porcelain throne. He went into graphic detail. He didn't realize that the messenger goes to all manager staff.”
Weekend at Bernie's
- “Grandmother passed away (6th time) but employee was snapchat friends with several other employees and was seen partying instead”
- "My cook's grandmother was sick, so he needed a Friday off 3 weeks out just in case she had her funeral that day."
They Fought The Law...And The Law Won
- "Called from jail"
- "They were in jail. Found out he wasn't there when we went to bail him out. Needless to say that’s how the story ends."
Where's Liam Neeson When You Need Him?
- "We had a server call and tell us they would be late because someone took their bus hostage with a knife."
- “An employee disappears for 2 days, upon arrival at the establishment, said he was kidnapped. The unusual thing was, that he arrived tanned, and his lies grew more than the nose of Pinocchio”
It's a Jungle Out There
- "My cat farted on my pillow and now I have pink eye."
- "His hamster ate the cables of the fire alarm in his house"
- "'I feel that my dog is needing me, I have to go, if everything it's ok I come tomorrow"... that's rare."
- "He had forgotten to feed his fish"
- "Employee called and said his pet python had attacked and swallowed his girlfriend's cat and was trying to make it regurgitate it, so he wouldn't be in."
Love & Other Drugs
- "They accidentally put their roommates "shrooms" in their morning omelette and wouldn't be able to function for a couple of days."
- "Someone told me they forgot they had a dentist appointment, went to the appointment and were issued so many drugs they forgot they had work."
- “I had an employee call in sick fifteen minutes before her shift because she had to "pursue an experience." I told her that wasn't an acceptable excuse and she argued it was a mental health day. I said if she could get a doctor's note we'd honor the sick day. Lo and behold no doctor's note came in. No server anymore, either.”
Hold On, I'll Call You A Waaambulance
- “I have a fever of 98 - the average human’s body temperature is 98.6. Needless to say, she got a science lesson and a few extra days off.
- "My son put a coin in his ear"
Blame It On The A-a-a-a-a-alcohol
- "Last night I went partying and I have a very strong hangover. I will not be coming in to work today"
Proceed With Caution
- "My employee had driven her car through an office building... she was telling the truth."
Honesty Is The Best Policy
- "The best excuse I got was when an employee was perfectly honest and directly told me that they were not up to serving guests that day. In the short term I was unhappy, but I'd rather deal with covering the shift than deal with bad service for the shift."
What's the craziest excuse you've heard someone use to get out of work? Leave it in the comments below!