If you want to keep your staff on, don't piss them off.
I’ve worked in restaurants on and off for the last eight years. I’ve been everything from back server to bartender in chains, fine dining, family restaurants, burger places, and hipster pizza joints. At my first restaurant, a server told me that everyone on the planet should work in a restaurant for at least a year. I didn’t understand that so early on in my restaurant career, but working in restaurants definitely shaped me into the person I am today.
During those eight years, I’ve had some really amazing managers. I once watched a GM write a $300 check and hand to the server whose money had been stolen. I’ve seen a manager physically step in between a server and an aggressive guest to protect the server from almost certain harm. After an incredibly stressful week juggling my senior year of college, a full-time internship, and a full-time job, a manager once let me cry in his office until I had let it all out, and then gave me the rest of the night off.
Great managers and great guidance truly can make a restaurant.
That being said...managers and staff don’t always get along, and not all managers are this amazing.
I never had the pleasure of being a restaurant manager, so I’ve found it’s a lot easier to complain about them. I reached out to my restaurant friends for their biggest complaints about management.
So, if you want to know why your staff gets so easily frustrated, here are the 8 things restaurant managers do to piss off their staff.
1) Don’t Let Them Eat
I get it. You don’t always have to feed your staff (though it’s super nice when you do), but at least let them eat at some point!
I’ve seen servers inhale chicken wings picked from plates over trash cans in the dish pit because they haven’t eaten in seven hours.
"Family meal" is a great way to let your staff try the food at the start of a shift on full stomachs, but if they’re on a double, that’s the only meal they eat for the whole day. It’s not enough. And it’s especially hard for employees to watch the managers eat at the end of a busy Friday night when they haven’t eaten since lunch (and have essentially ran a marathon).
You don’t have to let them eat in front of the guests. You don’t have to give them a dinner break in the middle of a busy Saturday rush. But the average server walks 23,000 steps a shift and can cover up to 10 miles. Let them eat.
2) Don't Let Them Have Any Fun. None. At All. Ever.
When I asked my friends for feedback on what was most frustrating about restaurants...I couldn’t believe how this didn’t occur to me immediately.
Going out to eat is fun! Restaurants are social. They bring people together, whether you’re meeting up with friends or sitting alone at the bar to feel more social (something I’m prone to do while traveling). The whole process is social.
I’m not saying that the servers should be goofing off and ignoring the guests, but when the staff is having a good night, the guests can feel it. Let your team have a good time while working – it's infectious and will pay off with richer and more positive guest interactions and experiences.
3) Be Totally Inflexible With Scheduling
"Clopens" are when a staff member closes the night before and then opens the next morning.
Please don’t schedule us on clopens.
They’re brutal and should be avoided at all costs. Most healthy adults need to sleep between 7-9 hours per night. If your employee closes and has to reopen, with travel and getting ready, chances are they’re definitely getting less than 7 hours of sleep.
Shift Work Disorder is a real thing that affects 5%-10% of serving staff. Shift Work Disorder alters the internal circadian rhythm and makes falling asleep harder. Can you really expect your staff to be performing their best when this hits them?
In addition, please don’t schedule staff members outside their agreed upon availability, and don’t schedule staff members when they’ve requested off. I know servers who have been scheduled to work on the day of their college graduations. When we ask for a day off, it’s (usually) for a good reason.
And...just one more. Make sure that people are scheduled for the right times/shifts. If I apply for part-time and get hired part-time, please don’t schedule me for five nights a week.
If you can avoid being inconsistent or unorganized with things like staff scheduling and running restaurant payroll, your staff will love you that little bit more.
4) Schedule On-Call Shifts
In October, six major retailers decided to stop on-call shifts. New York Attorney General Eric Schniderman said on-call shifts should be a “thing of the past” and that “People should not have to keep the day open, arrange for child care, and give up other opportunities without being compensated for their time.”
One server I spoke with, who lived an hour from her restaurant, said on-call shifts were mandatory in her restaurant, and had a half an hour to get to work once called. She arranged child care, drove halfway to work, only to never be called in.
Let's face the truth: on-call shifts in restaurants are frustrating for the staff, lower morale, and can lead to higher turnover rates. Some employees jump on the opportunity for on-call shifts and appreciate the option – but it's best to let them tell you it works for them.
5) Play the Same Playlist Over and Over
You know when you hear a song on the radio that you really like? And then the radio station plays in 400 times in the same day and you can’t be in your car without hearing that song and you want to throw your radio out the window?
This is the same feeling your staff has when you play the same playlist over and over and over again. Thanks to a stint at one particular restaurant, I can never listen to the song “Pumped Up Kicks” again.
Also, music creates a lovely ambiance but please...make sure it’s not too loud. It’s frustrating for the staff (and unpleasant for the guests).
On the topic of music in restaurants, one of my former coworkers told me this story:
If your staff is irritated, unfocused, and can’t hear, the guests’ experience will be affected. Especially if the music's too loud. If your staff thinks it’s too loud, the guests do too.
6) Don’t Trust Your Staff
I’ve had to work with the flu multiple times because I wasn’t allowed to call out. I know servers who have been written up for asking to go home while sick. I once worked with someone who had food poisoning and the manager wouldn’t let them go home because they were “probably faking.”
In August of 2015, over 60 people contracted the norovirus from a California Chipotle. After dozens of people showed up at the ER with food poisoning, the Chipotle in Simi Valley sent 17 sick employees home. 17!
Let that sink in: 17 (yes, 17) employees had to show up to work even though they were sick.
The flexibility of schedules and the ability to pick up/drop shifts make restaurants incredibly appealing. But on the same page, when a staff member is sick, it’s difficult to call out. There are people who may abuse the “call out” system, but generally, the staff knows how calling out affects the shift and their coworkers, and won’t do it unless absolutely necessary.
7) Don't Acknowledge Good Work
One restaurant I worked at was incredibly strict. Your job was your life and you were supposed to exceed expectations at all times.
I was working a Thursday night and was serving a couple from out of town. I was friendly and helpful and helped guide them through the complicated menu. At the end of the night, they told my manager I was the best server they’d ever had, ever. (Sidebar: there was no way this was true, but I rolled with it nonetheless.)
I happened to have been standing within earshot when they said it. My manager saw me overhear and the look on his face...he knew he had to tell me I did a good job – and it pained him to do so.
Case in point: When your staff goes above and beyond for a guest, or even if they don’t but are complimented anyway, let them know. It makes us feel validated. It makes us feel noticed.
Have you realized the same server has closed five nights in a row? Or is constantly covering for other people? Or even just shows up, does their job, and doesn’t complain? Sometimes, it’s nice to have a little recognition.
If you’re only ever commenting when your staff does something wrong, and never when they do something right, it doesn’t leave a good taste.
8) Be as Inconsistent and Unorganized as Humanly Possible
If the host tells a guest they can’t sit at a certain table - for whatever reason - please don’t contradict that decision in front of both the host and the guest.
If a bartender feels the need to cut off a rowdy guest, please don’t serve that guest another drink. It’s embarrassing and unless you’re intentionally trying to make your employee look bad, try consulting them on their decisions in private first.
There are always managers who are easier to work with than others, but when a server gets conflicting information and feedback depending on who is managing that day, it’s extremely frustrating for your staff.
When expectations change depending on who is opening or closing, it creates unnecessary confusion. Some restaurants have weekly manager meetings, which is great. But please be open to allowing your staff to interrupt those meetings for important questions/closeouts/general comments.
Of course there are hierarchies in restaurants, as there are in all work places. It’s a rule of life. But when it’s unnecessary and public, it’s embarrassing for the employee and makes the whole restaurant look bad. And in the day and age of Yelp, is that something that you want for your business?
How to Not Piss Off Your Restaurant Staff
I’ve had some great managers and remain close with many. I even asked for input from them for this blog (don't worry - that will be a whole separate post to come later). There were nights that I loved going into work because of a great manager and a happy staff. Psychologists define the formula for Happiness as:
Happiness = Set Point + Conditions + Voluntary Activities
As a manager, focus on those conditions. Play some new tunes (not too loud though), let them lounge in bed when they’ve got the flu, and give them some snack breaks.
After that, you’re (mostly) good to go.