Managing Problem Employees


writing a list Despite the best efforts to hire shining, honest and exemplary staff, problems can occur in any workplace. In the restaurant, problem employees can be especially visible and adversely affect operations, food quality and customer service. Owners and managers should be aware of the potential problems and strive to resolve them whenever possible to maintain a well-functioning operation.

Identify Problems

Small problems like employee tardiness are typically simple to resolve. More menacing troubles like theft or harassment need immediate attention and stringent consequences. A problem employee may demonstrate any of the following characteristics, behaviors or signs:

Tardiness. An employee who is late once or twice may need a reminder about company policies. An employee who is consistently tardy can throw off flow of the shift and strain his co-workers.

Hygiene or appearance problem. One employee’s foul hygiene or poor appearance will give rise to poor perceptions of the food quality, cleanliness of the restaurant and overall atmosphere.

Laziness. As the expression goes, “if there is time to lean, there is time to clean.” Employees who spend more time leaning, as it were, may need a refresher on their job description.

Poor attitude. Customers come to a restaurant for friendly, polite service and a pleasant experience. Service from someone with a poor attitude taints the entire dining experience and reduces patronage.

Poor job execution. When an employee cannot perform his or her job at an acceptable level, additional training may be required, unless there is a deeper problem like poor attitude or laziness.

Poor customer service. It is essential that all employees be well versed in customer service and table etiquette. Hosts and hostesses, servers and bussers should all exhibit quality service techniques.

Insubordination. Problems with supervisors or managers are common plights in many businesses. A disrespectful staff member can leave a blemish in an otherwise positive workplace. » Learn More

Drug and alcohol abuse. Managers may witness signs of abuse through an employee’s appearance, actions or attitude. Coming to work showing signs of substance abuse or in possession of illegal substances should not be tolerated.

Vandalism. Many restaurants fall victim to attacks of vandalism. However, sometimes the destructive acts are directly due to employee recklessness or intentional defacement and require disciplinary action.

Theft. Employees have been known to find methods of stealing money, supplies or food from a restaurant. This not only hurts business profits but also fosters an environment of dishonesty. » Learn More

Harassment. Harassment in any form is never to be tolerated in the workplace. Any sign or notification of harassment should be immediately addressed. » Learn More

Resolve Problems

Attempt to find a resolution before deciding on a drastic consequence. Be sure that you understand the situation and the possible reasons for the behavior. You do not want to add to the already high turnover rate in the restaurant, but you may have to make some decisions regarding the kind of behavior you tolerate in your establishment.

Initiate communication. When there is a problem, address it with the employee right away. Be sure to explain the reasons that the action is problematic, and let them know the consequences for their actions, if any apply. Keep the lines of communication open to foster an environment of trust and respect.

Ask questions. Without prying, ask questions about the employee’s life outside of work. Learn about his or her hobbies, siblings and school commitments, which could provide insight into reasons why the employee is consistently late or executes poorly. Granted, the employee may be lazy and irresponsible, but there may be more to the problem than meets the eye. A manager’s attention and care may help to resolve the issue.

Document problem behavior. Keep notes in employees’ files of any time there is a problem, altercation or breach of policy. Issue written documents of inappropriate conduct and communicate with employees when there is a problem. This will show any consistencies in negative behavior and provide verification if more serious action is needed.

Implement further training. It may be that the employee does not have a complete understanding of his or her responsibilities on the job, and needs further training. This does not necessarily point to incompetence but perhaps misdirection or misinformation.

Abide by the law. At all times, be aware of any illegal acts that may be taking place in your restaurant. Theft and harassment may require legal action and should result in immediate employee termination.

If possible, take preventative action to stop the problems before they start. Depending on the problem, termination may be required.

Define policies. Whenever employees are hired, make sure they receive a copy of the manual and have the opportunity to read and ask questions about its contents. The better an employee understands these policies, the more apt he or she will be to follow them. The employee manual covers just about all potential problems, including:

  • Job descriptions
  • Appearance standards
  • Punctuality
  • Customer service standards
  • Performance standards
  • Drug and alcohol policies
  • Theft and vandalism policies
  • Harassment policies

An employee handbook or manual will always outline policies and procedures for the workplace. » Learn More

Define company objectives. Illustrate your restaurant’s goals, ideals and values to all potential hires and current employees. Be sure that your business delivers the image and attitude that you want and the service your customers expect.

Create rewards. Many managers create rewards for their workers for executing the job well and following employee policy. Basically, those who consistently do well get rewarded. Rewards might include a gift card to the restaurant or a raise in pay.

Make great hires. You can try to resolve problems before they start by hiring honest, trustworthy, responsible people. Try not to hire out of desperation. Take the time to hire someone positive. Find out about past jobs and why the candidate left, contact all references and give the candidate a trial period working a real shift. True integrity can be tough to judge, but get to know the person as well as possible before giving the green light. » Learn More

Communicate consistently. Reprimand in private and praise in public. Sometimes the employee needs feedback in order to realize that their positive behaviors are noticed just as much as their negative ones, and vice versa.

Lock up alcohol. Some temptations are too great for young restaurant staff or bar employees. Keep alcohol stores under lock and key to prevent any insider pilferage.

Monitor employee access. Take precautions and limit access to store keys, safe codes and register passwords. Be sure that mature, responsible employees like shift leads and assistant managers are accountable for any keys and codes, especially when it comes to cash or alcohol storage.


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