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Restaurant Remedies -- What To Do With Bad Employee Attitudes?

Dear Celeste,

We own a tavern specializing in craft beers which has been open for approximately 6 months. After spending nearly a half million dollars converting this space, our sales have not picked up and we are beginning to feel financially uncomfortable. I feel my team is not supportive. I have one full-time bartender who has been with us since the start who has become really disrespectful. He does not listen to what I say and he never smiles. I have received several complaints from guests and employees and two poor Yelp reviews based on his rudeness. What should I do?

Crying Into My Brews, Southern California

It depends...

Scenario One:

I would first explore if there is a reason for the animosity. Could there be a unresolved situation that needs to be addressed? If this employee has shown competency and commitment in the past, then what has changed? If that is the situation, I would sit down with him and ask what has changed his behaviors. If it is correctable, correct it. If you have caused the situation, apologize, and commit to correct it. Do not let the negative behaviors continue as they could be the reason for the decline in your sales and lead to the inevitable downward spiral and possible doom of your business. I have seen this happen many times --An inexperienced manager or owner is intimidated by a strong-willed crew member. Not knowing how to deal with the situation, they choose to take no action at all. But this lack of action, ends up negatively impacting the rest of the good employees and they will often follow the strongest personality in the restaurant. The old adage that one bad apple can spoil the whole barrel is true.

Be sure to firmly communicate to him that his attitude and lack of hospitality is negatively impacting the business and needs to be corrected immediately and be clear on the consequences of non-compliance. Your first responsibility to protect your business, not only for your own financial and mental well being, but for the employees and guests as well.

Scenario Two:

This bartender has displayed these poor hospitality behaviors from day one. Red flags could have been waving in your face, but you chose to ignore them because his perfect attendance and excellent technical skills during those frantic first weeks of opening the restaurant appeared more attractive than his infrequent frown or snide remark. Back then he was your go-to person. Now that the others are technically stronger, his technical skills can't camouflage his biggest flaws - poor emotional maturity and lack of hospitality.

In the beginning of my career, my comfort level was to avoid conflict by trying to "coach" these kinds of poor behaviors out of their systems. Sometimes, I was successful, but it required a lot of energy on my part and their true character would inevitably show itself when they were under stress. In the end, I would have to fire them for a blow up with a guest and was amazed at the relief I felt when they were gone.

From these past experiences, I have learned that if you want to maximize the return on your "time and energy investment", you should cut loose "your non-smilers" early-- preferably as soon as you see the behaviors surface. Focus your attentions on hiring and developing the technical skills of people who display positive personality and friendliness traits. You can train skill, but it is nearly impossible to teach hospitality to a person who does not possess it particulary if they have been in the business for awhile.

So if Scenario Two is your situation, start the progressive discipline process and terminate him as soon as possible. It's time to put you both out of your misery and save your tavern before it is too late! If you would like to have your question answered, please click the button below to submit your question. We will email you an answer and your question may appear in our newsletter and blog with your permission. Restaurant Success Center is your go to place for restaurant performance solutions.

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