While watching American Idol the other evening I couldn´t help but draw the correlation between the three and four person signing groups auditioning with hopes of making the final cut and the wait staff of a so many restaurants. Repeatedly, (yes, I am addicted to AI ) one person forgot their words or dance step. Some didn´t have the same spirit as the other members of their auditioning group. The meltdown was usually blamed on nerves but in reality, the cause was partying in Hollywood.
There always seems to be one bad apple on a staff that ruins the shift and rhythm for the entire restaurant. And, that bad apple doesn´t have to be a slacker or one who doesn´t perform their side work to make life miserable. Frequently, the best waiters have attitudes and egos comparable to the winner of the National Narcissistic Society Award. Making themselves feel superior to others on the team, allows them to justify their thoughts that the only job requirement of a waiter is to serve food: This is where the power struggle between staff and management usually begins.
Many managers assume they have the final word in dining room operations. In reality, the manipulation of the management by staff can have a devastating affect not only on the dining room manager and supervisor, but also on the restaurant as a whole.
We´ve all been in eateries where one waiter stands out as the "do nothing person", hovering in the corner with only a few tables, and continually seems to be talking to the bussers, the chefs, or other waiters attempting to make a living. I have a mental list of those who have worked for me. Instinctively, I knew immediately who the bad apples were. Like so many of us though, rather than terminate the relationship in mid training, I would convince myself or my dining room manager that with a little work the person could be trained to adhere to our procedures and schedule.
I was inevitably, constantly, wrong.
One evening, in my Carmel, California restaurant I watched as a server, ignored her tables and hovered around the front door. A customer pulled me aside and pointed out the calamity as they waited for their drinks from the bar.
Approaching the server, I asked what she was doing peering out the door. She claimed that Clint Eastwood was coming into the restaurant and she wanted to talk to him. I told her that her tables needed attention and that our policy was that we didn´t bother or intrude with the guest´s privacy. She proceeded to tell me that she knew Eastwood and that he wouldn´t be upset if she approached him.
I explained the customers at her table wouldn´t be upset if she approached them either and that, she could call Clint when she got home.
That was her last night at The Fish Ranch. I should have terminated the relationship weeks earlier but I didn´t want to deal with the replacement aggravation. That is one of the afflictions owners face. We tend to keep a waiter on staff that we know brings the others on a shift down and adds to the clumsiness we frequently offer in service. A sure way around the emotional aspect of the business is to develop and write job descriptions for each position on your staff. If an employee fails to fulfill the requirements of the job, termination will be easier.
I don´t think any of us need to embrace all of the traits of Simon Cowell, but his quick decision making is something we all need to explore to achieve smoother running dining room service.