Food & Beverage - Managing Slow or Lazy Staff - By Ken Burgin

You know they've switched off, but what will you do about it?

Profitable Hospitality Someone who takes an hour to do what others fix in 20 minutes, then disappears for a cigarette; or the one who can't move from behind an empty bar to help clear dirty tables.

It's aggravating to managers and the other staff who carry them, and may be the reason why good staff leave, especially if they think you tolerate laziness that makes their work harder.

So what does 'fast' or 'good enough' actually look like?What are the benchmarks? This is often the missing information, but essential if you're going to escalate the issue to disciplinary action.

I'm often asked by new operators 'how many floor staff do I need per customer?' Hard to answer without knowing the style of service, but I usually know that, just by asking, they're overstaffed. Many times, young or new staff are doing the best they know how, but they've neverseena better way.

The benchmarks are all around you.They can be set by comparing efficient venues with a similar style (and it's another reason for eating and drinking out). Their bar staff handle the whole room with two people, why do we need four? One person handles their carvery line for 100 lunches, why do we need two?

The McCafe at my local airport handles thousands of customers a day with one or two staff, but a funky café nearby needs three stylish people to handle a fraction of that. Best practice numbers are there if you go looking, and as with this last example, the productivity increase also comes from more automation and careful workplace design.

Setting your own Staff Key Performance Indicators is acritical stepin establishing minimum speed and work standards. At some point, there have to be numbers to measure results against.

Here are more action steps to consider:

  • Tighten up arrival and departure times, and start using electronic time tracking. Is this one of your innovations for 2012? Equipment and service prices are very affordable.
  • Be clear about breaks - when they start and stop. Are extra breaks allowed for smokers? Could the issue be boredom or tiredness? Technically that's not your responsibility, but becomes a problem if ignored.
  • Insist on a Doctor's Certificate for absences (within legal requirements). If illness or recovery from injury is drawn out, use the rehabilitation services that are a part of your Workcover system.
  • Train supervisors and duty managers in 'instant discipline', so they handle slacker-problems when they arise. Role play situations and share ideas on how to keep staff lively. Set up aYellow Card*system for immediate feedback - most of these problems should be handled on the spot, not turned into major incidents for senior managers.
  • If performance is so poor that dismissal is required, make it clean, fair and fast. Other staff know why it's happening, and there's often a feeling of relief. Base your decision on facts and good advice, and remember...you've got an audience!
  • Install surveillance cameras - the technology is cheaper than ever, and you can keep an eye on what's happening from your laptop or mobile phone anywhere in the world. I often hear good reports about this simple action.
  • Keep a dailyLogbook*with the number of customers served, number of staff etc so performance records are available for all staff to see.
  • If staff want to complain about a lazy colleague, how can they? This can be tough, especially if the slacker is popular. But if they are popular, they're likely to be a role model and you've got an even bigger problem on your hands - one you should have noticed long ago! Many bosses say 'my door is always open' but are you really approachable?
  • Insist that speed be part of all training activities, and establish benchmarks: how long should it take to make 4 lattes and 2 espressos? How long to set up a banquet room for 100 people? How long to prepare 500 canapes for a finger-food party?
  • Use yourMystery Customer Survey*for reports on staff activity when management is not around. An Employee Survey may also help. Your staff won't take long to tell you what's boring or a waste of time if they've got group support.
  • What's happening on the PC? There's a range of software available to monitor computer and internet use - ask your IT person for suggestions. How and when can mobile phones be used and Facebook accessed?
  • Concerned about use of the company vehicle when it should be making a catering delivery? Modern GPS systems can monitor locations in a snap - it may be worth investigating.
Finally, what is the 'pain or gain' for poor or good performance?Don't make threats you won't carry out - I've seen too many staff on their 50th warning. But unless there are real consequences for poor behaviour, what is the motivation to do anything better? And how often are people praised for doing a good job? Not 'Idol' hype where every small achievement is cheered, but real acknowledgement (even aLetter of Thanks*) for handling the customers from hell, doing double shifts to cover staff absence or selling way beyond the average.

Laziness is real, but it's the symptom of something else: poor selection, lack of skill, lack of performance standards, lack of feedback or boredom. But you can't afford to be 'slack' in how you handle it!

Profitable Hospitality offers management and cost-control systems (Manuals & CD-ROMs) for restaurants, cafes, hotels, bars and clubs. The systems are based on the extensive consulting and operating experience of CEO Ken Burgin, and enable busy owners and managers to set up complete operating and cost-control systems in minutes, not months. Profitable Hospitality also runs regular management training workshops in the areas of kitchen profit & efficiency, restaurant marketing and functions management. A free monthly e-newsletter keeps you up to date on the latest industry management issues. www.profitablehospitality.com.

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