■ By Constantine N. Kolitsas, Consultant
A common frustration among restaurant managers – and restaurant goers for that matter! – is the lack of self-discipline among Front-of-the-House staff in many restaurants. Servers on their cell phones; staff gathering around the host stand or server station talking and fraternizing; sloppy uniforms; restaurant workers drinking out of Dunkin Donuts coffee cups in plain view of guests; smokers sneaking out for a cigarette; staff munching on snacks… we all know the signs as these are everyday realities. In fact, many of us may have moved beyond the point of frustration and simply accept these behaviors because, frankly, that battle has been lost.
If you’re reading this and you recognize these behaviors your mind is probably racing ahead and assessing the blame with regard to how some or all of these scenarios may have become manifest in your own business. “It’s because millennials are difficult to manage and their work habits are codified only on their own terms.” “It’s because the other managers let them get away with bad behaviors.” “It’s because you can’t find good help these days.”
While playing the blame game may give you peace of mind, it does nothing to change things and, in fact, only perpetuates the issues. (As stated previously, that battle may already be lost.) As in all things that occur within your business’s four walls, the root cause is You: the owner or general manager. Ouch, that’s a hard pill to swallow. You work sixty or seventy hours per week; you run around like a chicken, helping wherever it’s needed and doing things that no one else wants to do. How are those behaviors your fault? Furthermore, you’ve made rules, posted them, talked about them, directed the other managers on holding staff accountable and, still, there is not much change. Servers are still on their cell phones, gathering around the host stand or server station, uniforms are still unkempt… you get the picture.
The simple truth is that these behaviors are a result of the culture that You have either created or allowed to evolve. And the likely root cause is your own behaviors. When you are in the restaurant and you get a text, do you pull out your cell phone or do you ignore it? When there is down time, are you pulling out your cell phone to check your emails or your Facebook updates? Are you noshing on french fries in the kitchen? hanging out when there is down time? Of course you are. It’s natural. After all, you don’t just work in your restaurant, you live there. But that doesn’t matter to your staff. To them, if you can do it, so can they. And the fact of the matter is: they will not only mimic your bad behaviors, they will magnify them one hundred times over.
The first step in righting the ship is to acknowledge that there is a problem and to understand your role in the creation or perpetuation of that problem. Look in the mirror. Don’t tell yourself what you want to hear but tell yourself what you need to hear. Be your own toughest critic. Once you have accepted that these issues are a reflection of yourself, take a look at what impression these behaviors give to your guests. If you go into a business and see these types of behaviors, what do they tell you either consciously or subconsciously? I’ll tell you what they tell me and you can take it from there: that if the front of the house is in disarray, the back of the house is worst. If there is no discipline where the public has a vantage point, what happens in the back, where behaviors are invisible to the public eye? It signals to the customer that there is little or no control.
So now we’ve determined that the problem is rooted in your own self-discipline and that these behaviors are off-putting to guests. What’s next?
The obvious first step is to cease and desist those behaviors on your part. Cold turkey. If you are to have any credibility in implementing and enforcing a code of conduct, you must Walk the Talk. If you simply tell everyone that they are to play by the rules, but ignore those rules yourself then you are doomed from the start.
From there, you must effectively communicate that the rules are changing and where rules previously existed, they will now be enforced. Post your Code of Conduct; talk about it before and after shifts; engage your best servers by having them coach the others. And most of all, Lead By Example. Your behavior will speak louder than any other form of communication.
Once you communicate, you must follow up on the discipline and do so in a manner that is consistent, fair and equitable. If your best server shows up to work in a wrinkled uniform, then you need to document and send her or him home. Even if it means that you will have to work harder. Don’t sacrifice the long-term health of the business because you don’t want to go “man down”.
Finally, you need to be relentless. Don’t give up and don’t pick and choose when you decide it’s best to apply discipline. This will lead to accusations of favoritism and resentment on the part of your staff. Apply constant gentle pressure. And make sure that family members or long-time employees are not buffered. In fact, make examples of them.
Don’t give up on having a disciplined staff – that’s almost the same as giving up on your business. Make subtle changes in the beginning and increase the pressure until you have the desired results. A disciplined staff is an effective staff. That discipline will cascade into other areas, bringing improvements throughout your business. And it all begins with You.
Estiator welcomes back Constantine N. Kolitsas valuable member on the staff of our magazine several years ago. He is a restaurant consultant living in the New York tri-state area. His company, CNK Consulting, has helped numerous businesses improve their operations, develop their concepts, and increase profitability. For more information visit cnk-consulting.com or call 1-888-869-6068.