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6 Things to Stop Saying to Your Restaurant Staff

Posted by Donald Burns on 12/4/17 8:00 PM in Restaurant Training & Hiring

6 minute read Print

restaurant staff

We use words all day long, often carelessly and with little regards to their impact.

Words can inspire and they can hypnotize us – they can also do the same for your restaurant staff.

Restaurants can easily get stuck in patterns of performance based on the phrases they say on a habitual basis. In other words: by changing the phrases said in your restaurant, you can change and modify your culture.

Take a look at these six common phrases you need to stop saying to, or around, your staff if you want to take your restaurant to new levels. 

1) "Figure It Out"

If your staff knew how to figure it out, they probably wouldn't be coming to you for help – would they?

Let's call it like it is: the restaurant scene can get heated. You're up to seven different things at once just like your servers and BOH staff are.

Take the time to explain a solution for someone who asks for help. You're the one in charge – it's your job to keep your staff moving and productive so the restaurant makes money. Brushing off their requests for help are contrary to that goal. 

What to Say Instead

Take a few seconds or minutes and explain the best practice moving forward. Not everyone has the same experience or understanding of the industry that you do, and every restaurant is different, so to dismiss an employee with "figure it out" isn't fair.

2) "No Problem"

Any phrase that starts off with a negative is usually bad.  "No problem", if you think about it,  is really two negatives back to back.

When you say "no problem", what you are implying on a subconscious level is that it is a problem. The brain is great at deleting information and this one tends to fall into that category.

Now, you might sincerely mean that it’s not a problem, but remember words themselves form 7% of how we communicate. The other 93% is from tonality (38%) and body language (55%).

restaurant staff

Seeing how much of today’s communication is either by text or email, this phrase can be quickly taken out of context.

When "no problem" becomes a norm in your restaurant and your staff starts saying it, this can be misunderstood by a guest when the server says the phrase without making eye contact and delivers in a flat non-caring tone. 

What to Say Instead

If a cook makes a mistake, don't tell them "no problem" – say "it's okay," "don't let it happen again," or take the moment to explain what they need to do better.  

When accepting thanks, a better phrase to use could be “of course”, or Chick-fil-A's ubiquetous "my pleasure".

Back the words up with a tone of authenticity and a touch of eye contact and watch the smiles appear on your guests' (and your team's) faces. 

3) "I Should" or "You Should"

You know there’re a few things around your restaurant or in your personal life that you should do.

You should eat better. You should get better sleep.

You should. You should. You should. You need to stop shoulding all over yourself! 

Related Article: 3 Tips for Better Restaurant Employee Communication  

When you tell your staff "you should" when you really mean "you must" or "I need you to", you allow them to handle priorities at their convenience – not yours or your guests'.

Meanwhile, your employees – who usually have the best intentions – are looked down on because they didn't do what they were told. In actuality, you just didn't make it clear what they needed to do. 

Saying "you should check on Table 6" implies that they may need a quick check-in and they could swing by in a minute or two. Saying "I need you to check on Table 6" implies urgency and leaves little room for interpretation. 

What to Say Instead

You can make this shift by just changing out all those things you “should” do and instead insert the word “must.” Take yourself for example. You must update your recipe costs. You must recruit better. You must take action. Modeling this behavior yourself paves the way for a successful staff as well.

4) "It Is What It Is"

This toxic phrase is often used when explaining a new rule or policy to staff members. If someone asks you for clarification regarding a new procedure that will change their job, you owe them an explanation – not a five word write off. 

From a restaurant management perspective, this phrase is also an admission of surrender.

Saying this takes away your personal power. If it is not the way you want it, then what are you prepared to do to change that. Sitting on the sideline and saying it is what is is gives you and your staff an easy out.

What to Say Instead

Literally anything. When this phrase is used, it just means there's an explanation waiting to be uncovered. Grab a shovel and dig it up. 

Related Article: What Do Restaurant Employees Really Think of Restaurant Owners?  

If you want your restaurant to reach its potential, then easy is not an option. Stop accepting mediocrity. You have the power to change all of that by taking action and pushing outside your comfort zone. 

5) "That Won’t Work"

Really? How do you know? Have you considered it has maybe worked in the past for your staff? Have you tried different approaches?

Now the common reply phrase is “I’ve tried everything.” To that I say, "Really? Everything?"

Restaurant management tends to catch us up in the bigger picture – as it should – but a major downside is missing out on some of the small particulars that line cooks and servers have adopted as their best practices. As hard a pill as it may be to swallow, maybe your servers know more about serving today despite all the experience you had years ago. 

restaurant staff

What to Say Instead

Don't say anything – listen. Your staff likely has years of combined restaurant experience. Look to them for ideas and don't be afraid to implement their suggestions, at least on a trial run. 

In Neuro Linguistic Programming (NLP) they have a presupposition that states: If something is not working, try something else. If that doesn’t work, try something else. If that doesn’t work, try something else.

Do you see the pattern here?

You keep making adjustments to your game just like a professional golfer would. They don’t hit the ball down the fairway and, when it’s not where they imagined it would land, just throw their hands up in the air and say, “That’s it, I tried!” No. They make adjustments to their game with every swing. They adapt. They're not afraid to try something new at the suggestion of another. 

6) "Did You See The..."

"Did you see the man's empty coffee cup at the counter?" "Did you see that table 7 is waving for you?" "Did you see the food is up from the kitchen?"

Yes. Your staff did see that. There's just a very good chance they were in the middle of something else. Staff can often perceive this phrase as passive aggressive or disruptive to their jobs, as you're asking a question that any experienced server or line cook knows the answer to already. 

What to Say Instead

This is another instance of not saying anything. Sit back and watch. Maybe your waitress had to put the coffee down because she was returning from carrying a large tray of breakfasts for the table in the back. 30 seconds later that coffee cup would probably be filled to the brim.

If you see a pattern of overlooked errors or start to get complaints, pull the employee aside and work with them to make improvements. Remember it's unprofessional to call an employee out on the floor in front of others unless the situation demands it. 

Up the Morale and Productivity in Your Restaurant

Words have power over you and your restaurant. Take time this week to write down those phrases that you tend to say to the team, especially to yourself. You might see a pattern in there. Once you are aware, then and only then can take action to make the changes needed.

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toast restaurant management blog

Written by: Donald Burns

Donald Burns, The Restaurant Coach™ is the leading authority, author and international coach on how restaurant owners, operators and culinary professionals go from just good to becoming exceptional. He helps independent operators create organizations that thrive and bring out their workers' natural strengths to reach their peak potential. A sought-after advisor in the areas of menu design & engineering, restaurant operations, rebranding, social media marketing, culinary consulting, team development, behavioral dynamics, productivity & peak performance.


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