How To Deal With Restaurant Labor Issues

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This month we’ve been focusing our blogs and podcast around paramount approaches to mitigating employee turnover. In brief summary; don’t fall fool to hiring for functionality over aspiration and turn inwards to effectively analyze the root of turnover issues. Let’s take a detour and go down a different road… enough with the best practices and strategies for now; let’s get down and dirty and examine a story of employee turnover that I recently heard. While we’re looking at this story, put yourself to the test and analyze what you would have done in a different way in order to have turned this disaster into a beautiful partnership:

The ‘Joe’ Disaster

I needed a new server for my upscale burger joint. We’d recently lost a couple of our servers to new life ventures and my team was feeling the pressure without them around. I realized I needed to start the interview process, and fast. I decided I would save some money and instead of hiring two people, I would hire on just one more server to fill our gap.

I had about seven people come in for interviews, and of the seven, one really stood out to me. Joe had a remarkable resume and seemed to be precisely what I was looking for. For starters, he’d eaten at my restaurant numerous times – great I thought, he’s already been briefly introduced to our concept and has seen my team full speed ahead at work. He clearly likes the concept otherwise he wouldn’t be looking to work here. Check. He had years of experience as a server, and on top of that, fine dining experience from restaurants that seemed to be doing well (at least as far as I could tell). Double check. Judging by his resume Joe had all the ability in the world to step in and make up for our missing pieces. He didn’t initially strike me as the guy who everyone would be friends with, but he could do the job, and do it well.

I gave him a quick synopsis of what his job would entail and he signed the dotted line. I was excited I had filled the void so quickly and knew my team would be just as enthused. Joe would start on Monday. I scheduled him to shadow with our top server on our slowest day so he could really soak everything in and learn the ropes. He would be shadowing for the next week and then he was on his own. Throughout the first week, Joe was gung-ho; he was clearly trying and I felt he was succeeding thus far.

He’d been on his own for around a month when I started to hear comments from various team members that Joe had an attitude problem; I personally couldn’t see it and from my perspective he was excelling. Sure he wasn’t Mr. Popular but he also wasn’t hurting my bottom line. A few more months rolled by and I noticed a friendship forming between Joe and some of my managers. Maybe it just took him a bit of time to settle in and get to know everyone – now, I believed, he was fitting in.

Wrong. Unbeknownst to me, Joe had been taking more shots with our bartenders than orders from our patrons. He somehow felt that his work days were play days and our guests were secondary. I started to see the attitude problem that I’d previously heard through the grape vine. Joe was an issue that needed to be dealt with before the fire got bigger. We had a come-to-Jesus talk and I assumed he knew I meant business. I however, decided not to put him on an action plan because I foolishly presumed he was an adult and would take my criticisms with heed. Another few weeks rolled by and nothing changed.

To top it off, one of our most loyal guests submitted a complaint about the service he’d recently received; I’m sure you can guess who his server was. Within only a few months of service, Joe was already making my situation far worse than it was when I was down some servers.  He needed to go.  I had to pick up the pieces from the mess he left, I would have to start the re-hiring process all over again and I would have to cross my fingers I wouldn’t hire another Joe.

Where do you think this operator went wrong? What did he do correctly? What would you have done differently to avoid the disaster…