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Who Is Killing The Restaurant Industry – Part 7 (The Staff Member)

Let’s begin by clearing up a simple yet widely held restaurant misconception… Theft is not shrinkage! You see shrinkage is when you send your table cloth to the cleaners and it returns the size of a serviette, theft on the other hand is when somebody else decides to take the table cloth home with them. Many urban legends abound about the restaurant owner who calls his staff into a meeting, “Guys” he pleads “we have a very big function tomorrow and we are short of cutlery and ashtrays, if you could all please bring them back just for the day tomorrow, you can restock your homes again next week” If it wasn’t so sad it would certainly be funny!

No, theft is not the only manner in which the staff are strangling the life out of the restaurant and no, it is not restricted to any level or segment of the staff, and NO, not all staff are stealing (some have already been fired… just kidding) but it is so rampant and so prevalent that it seems to shadow all else. But let me not be blinded by this one element and introduce you to Suspect #5 – The Staff Member.

He or she comes in all manners and form, all genders, all sexes, all races, all ages, all nationalities, all levels of experience and of course all levels of operation. The restaurant is a melting pot of talents and personalities and it is an owner’s ability to blend and grow these talents that often separates great restaurants from mediocre ones. Let us understand this… all restaurants draw their staff from the same pool of talent and all have the ability to train and develop this group.

“Train them?” the owner often inquires “why bother training them, why bother going to all that trouble and expense, when they will probably just leave?” Right! But what happens G-d forbid that you don’t train them and they decide to STAY? Restaurants like many other businesses in South Africa tend to place their most valuable asset, their customers (NOT the Johnny Walker Blue), in the hands of their lowest paid, least trained, highly demotivated and least appreciated members of their staff… Their waiters! And then they sit and wonder why… Why the turnovers are falling, why the expenses are rising, why they bothered to get out of bed this morning?

Back to the beginning… well most arrive at your door by accident! No formal training, little or no experience and most importantly, very few have ever been a customer in an establishment like yours. Now you need to pay very careful attention to this next statement because herein lies the rub… “It is impossible to deliver a level of service that is greater to the one you have been exposed to!” That is it!

If you have never been served with care or flair it is impossible for you to deliver that. If you are constantly treated as inferior, stupid, untrustworthy etc… that is EXACTLY how you will treat those around you INCLUDING the customers. You see, your front line staff is treating your customers exactly the way you and your management are treating them. No better and probably no worse. After all who do they look up to, to set the example? Don’t believe me? Picture this all too common scenario…

Pre-shift meeting, manager talking to waiters, he says “Guys, just returned from a restaurant breakfast and you know what they told me? The customer is always right, the customer always gets what he wants, and the customer always comes first! Get it? From today forward that is going to be our motto, which is how we are going to run things around here, which is going to turn our business around. Now go out there and let’s make them happy!”

Halfway through service waiter runs up to manager “Sorry table 4 needs a steak knife and we don’t have any”

Manager looks at waiter, raises finger and sticks it straight in his face “Do you know why don’t have any steak knives? Because you steal them, that’s why! That’s why we never have any friggin steak knives or spoons and we always have a zillion fish knives, you see, you don’t steal fish knives!”

Cut back to restaurant where aggravated customer calls over same waiter to demand a steak knife. “Sorry sir says waiter, we don’t have any… you see the customers steal them all.” And of course, you the owner, read about this on hellopeter.CON the next day.

Now if undertrained and under motivated waiters were your only problem, life would be manageable but there is a kitchen full of problems too. Once again, lack of formal training, little or no respect from management and a constant running battle between back and front of house are just one of the many perks you get to enjoy as a restaurant owner. How come they never mentioned this in the disclosure document?

Slowly grazing their way through your stock or just walking out with it, the kitchen staff has a direct influence on your bottom line. Disregard for property, a feeling of entitlement, lack of vision, no aspirations, lazy, oh yes I have heard it all and NO that is not every one of them, it just feels like it. And for what you are paying, you were expecting what? So let’s speak salary for a second… I am not particularly interested in how much you pay and whether you feel it is great, fair, market related or all you can afford. There is a lot more to it than that, I am not saying people can survive on nothing, I am saying there is another ingredient.

Back in 2002, I was offered a job at Mugg & Bean at what was then a VERY poor salary. The company was just starting to grow, money was tight and NO ONE was earning much back then. I was faced with a dilemma, take the job that I really wanted at low pay or “seek work elsewhere”. I turned to a mentor for advice and what she said to me I have shared with thousands since then. “We all feel underpaid, every one of us believes we are worth more than we are being paid, the problem is the day you feel UNDERVALUED. Take the job, feel underpaid but promise me on the day you feel UNDERVALUED, you will resign”

So the question is not how much you pay your staff but how much you VALUE your staff and do you make them aware of that? Are they really part of your team, do you share financial information with them? Do they know what your rent bill is, your gas bill, and your electricity? Do they know what a 40cm plate costs before it hits the floor or a margarita glass before it is left on the floor? Serviettes, toothpicks, wrong orders, expired product? Give them the benefit of the doubt, educate and involve them… they may just surprise you, you may just surprise yourself! The doubters are already shaking their heads and wondering what planet I am from or if I hit my head in the cycle challenge… the question is what if you don’t?

How long can you keep tearing your hair out, bitching to your managers or your spouse in late night sessions? Einstein said it best… “Insanity is doing the same thing over and over but expecting a different result” Let me spell it out for you now… They staff aren’t gonna change, only you can! Then, after you have tried it and I mean properly and you still have the same problem, you can turn to Mike’s Rule Number 17b “If you can’t change the people… change the people!”

Speaking of rules, I have been delivering my “Keep the Change” training for about 10 years now and I still believe that there are only seven rules you need in a restaurant. So throw away the 238 page document and start living by these seven rules.

  • Rule No 1 – Be on time (Lateness is a sign of disrespect, you are telling the people around you that your time is more important than theirs)
  • Rule No 2 – Don’t screw the crew (Keep all relationships outside of the workplace! This applies to ALL levels of staff and management)
  • Rule No 3 – Don’t steal (it is not the value of the item that determines whether it is theft or not, it is the action)
  • Rule No 4 – Don’t swear at people (you will hear swearing in a restaurant, live with it! But there is a huge difference between F#ck and F#ck You!)
  • Rule No 5 – Have respect for those around you (Regardless of age, race, sex or standing in the restaurant or the community)
  • Rule No 6 – Make money (Work the extra shifts, take pride in what you do, make a difference to the profitability of the restaurant)
  • Rule No 7 – Have some fun (This is a tough job in a tough industry; you gotta find ways to play, find ways to have some fun!)

If you are going to print these out and post them, don’t bother sticking them on the employee notice board. If I ever kill someone, that is where I am going to hide the body. Not even CSI Miami will find it there.

Wait I am not done yet… I haven’t covered the single biggest threat to the restaurant industry in South Africa yet, and that is the disappearance of middle management in restaurants (and many other industries). Why has this happened? Well think back 15 or 20 years. It was the dream of most waiters to move onto management with a dream that someday they would own their own restaurant… It was once mine. But those were the days when you could open on a wing and a prayer, rents were reasonable and set up costs within reach… Not anymore! The chances of working your way through the ranks to ownership have all but disappeared. Without that dream and without that incentive why would you take the plunge from waiter to manager? All the aggravation, all the responsibility, the hours, the stress and HALF the pay? Are you friggin nuts?

Then there are our own racial prejudices, and we may as well get them out in the open because they aren’t going anywhere. There are still a lot of owners who would gladly hand the keys over to a white guy with a criminal record (that they never bothered to check) than a black guy without one. There are many who still cling to the belief that if the customers don’t see a white face, they will not return. These comments might make a lot of people feel uncomfortable but they are a reality that still needs to be addressed.

The ONLY solution to the staffing problem lies in training… costly, time consuming, tedious and difficult! But what are the alternatives? More of the same, more restaurant deaths and more unemployment. A word to the legislators… “Any labour law that helps CUT jobs is not a good one! Minimum wages mean minimum employment!” I am not advocating cutting salaries and I am not implying we should pay less, I am saying that if a restaurant or any business is expected to survive in a free market economy, they need to operate in the same environment. You cannot legislate all the input costs and conditions and then complain about the lack of job creation in the country. Make up your minds, what do you want?

One of the solutions lies in a restaurant academy, and if there happens to be a big sponsor out there looking to make themselves truly relevant to the industry, give me a shout, it’s time for some serious change!

If it wasn’t for the STAFF the SUPPLIERS and the CUSTOMERS… this would be a great job!

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mike [at] mikesaidwhat.co.za
+27 81 398 2190


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