Stop The Restaurant “Employee Drama”
Written by: Tom House
I am sure all businesses have workplace drama, which generally includes all forms of gossip, badmouthing, back-stabbing, talking behind co-workers backs and other various negative human traits. Having spent my entire life in the hospitality business, working in nightclubs and restaurants, I have come to the conclusion that restaurant drama has to be the worst form of workplace drama and a unique form of harassment.
Being on the inside for so long, and having done every job from dishwasher to owner and everything in between, I have seen the devastating effects that “out of control drama’ has caused for countless employees. The hospitality industry is tough enough without adding this dramatic insult to existing injury. Customers are rude on a daily basis, tips are often sparse or even non-existent and the pressure to perform from owners and management is always high too! Add jealousy and hate, which is usually the reason “drama” starts in the first place, and you have multiple internal human time bombs just waiting to go off.
Another reason I am very qualified to write this piece is because when I was a server I was always one of the top sales people with the most “call parties”. Call parties are customers who come to the restaurant and only want one particular server to wait on them. I was constantly being gossiped about and hated on throughout my career because of my high skill level. I realized long ago that you are either a gossiper or a gossipee (even though gossipee is not a word, you know what I mean). You either do the talking (gossiper) or you are the one being talked about (gossipee). Rarely does one employee do both. I have been a victim of this kind of harassment and even tried to strangle a fellow server one night after a long bout of problems…thankfully other servers pulled me off of him in time.
My focus will be front of the house employees for this story. Often the best performing server or bartender is the victim of the jealousy and hate. The person or persons who begin spreading the envy to fellow employees (the instigator) is usually the one who used to be the best performer, but now has been passed up by the “new” best salesperson on the team. The haters are also employees who just do not have what it takes to ever be the best…never have and never will. As stated earlier, I am sure this drama occurs in other businesses like car sales for example, but the reason it is so devastating in the hospitality business is the front of the house (FOH) employee is charged with the task of ALWAYS being cheerful and able to entertain the guests on a nightly basis! No matter how bad this employees’ day was, or what crap they are presently putting up with on the job…they always have to be friendly, cheerful, entertaining, professional, smiling, knowledgeable, flamboyant, and able to work without making mistakes in a rushed environment! Selling cars? Please… the average restaurant or nightclub employee could do that job in their sleep.
Another reason drama starts in restaurants is known as the dreaded favoritism! Whether perceived or real, favoritism is a giant problem. This typically starts at the front door of restaurants where the hard working servers are depending on an indifferent hostess who is paid by the hour to seat the guests on multiple stations in an organized and most importantly…a fair manner! This hostess is typically a female college student who stands there all night trying to do her homework while playing with a smart phone. Often servers try to spark up some kind of rapport with this uninterested front door employee in hopes of getting her to like them, resulting in getting better or more tables sat on that server’s station. Other servers see this ‘false friendship’ trying to be created by a particular server and voila! You have drama! All servers on the floor at any given time ALWAYS are worried that another server is getting more people than they are. The truth of the matter is that someone is always ahead and someone is always behind in the head count! What most servers are not patient enough to realize is that at the end of the night ALL STATIONS END UP WITH ALMOST THE SAME AMOUNT OF CUSTOMERS. Why? Because even a crappy manager knows that this is an area that must be monitored to avert a full scale riot with the FOH staff!
Then there are the servers who everyone else on staff thinks is the manager’s favorite! To be honest, there are servers who are management favorites. Guess who they are? CORRECT! The ones who are the best! Being the best server on a staff is not just selling the most…it is also making the fewest mistakes resulting in the fewest voids, doing the most covers when it is busy and getting the fewest or even no guest complaints. But no matter what the situation is, the rest of the staff will make sure that they join forces against the “favorite servers” and make their nightly opinions known loud enough for all others to know their opinions. This is known as saying things “under their breath”. Once the sides are clearly defined, it is the “favorites” against the victims on the restaurant staff from then on. This hierarchy must be maintained going forward, because all the staff and even the kitchen staff (BOH) is now in on the drama sickness. If someone takes the wrong side with an ongoing issue…they can become a future victim of drama and hate as well. Ask any server… unfortunately it is better to be picking on others than to be the one getting picked on.
The kitchen area is where all true feelings are more likely to come out of FOH employee mouths out loud! They are frustrated and may even swear and slam things down because of the present drama that is occurring. Often this is where the victims get in trouble. They have finally had enough of the insidious brow beating that they have put up with for months and even years, and they finally blow up! The haters and gossipers are now finally happy because all their sick efforts have resulted in the object of their hate making a fool of themselves. Also the server who loses their cool in the kitchen (or even in the dining room) and strikes back with loud words or worse is going to be the one who gets in trouble. Score one for the gossipers and haters! This is how they win and this is what they want! See how sick this really is?
Jealousy and hate in the hospitality workplace is very well disguised by the perpetrators making it hard for the victims to prove. A manager or honest co-worker must actually witness the harassment themselves and inform management about the situation. Sometimes the harassed employee will go forward and complain to owners and management, and even though this can alleviate the situation for a short time, a new problem can slowly emerge from this action as well. Eventually the harassed employee feels there is no other choice but to move on to another restaurant where they find a similar situation, just different faces.
After reading this long story you might wonder why I am not offering a solution to help reduce restaurant drama. To be honest, there is no solution to the friction that occurs between human beings in this environment. It is up to the individual to either stop being a hater and Stop causing Restaurant Drama! A restaurant and nightclub staff is very much like a sports team. To the public, the perception is that the staff is together and their goal is to make the experience a great one for the guests. On a football team, the quarterback or running back is usually the best, most valuable player! He makes the TEAM stronger! On a football team there is never jealousy about the best performer and everyone on the team LOVES him! Why? Because there is no “I” in the word “TEAM”. This great team member makes the whole team look and actually be better!
The solution is one that most servers would not prefer. The drama and hate I have described in this story is worse in restaurants where servers DO NOT pool tips. Money of course creates the jealousy when other’s make more of it consistently. If you are an owner or manager with big restaurant drama problems, consider changing your policy and make all tipped employees share all tips every night. This will bring the teamwork aspect back to your restaurant quickly. Also it can be used as a threat to your staff if drama continues and you are not ready to make that big change yet. Trust me…servers DO NOT want to pool tips.
One thing for sure is that restaurant drama will always be a big problem in the hospitality business. Complain if you are a victim. Change if you are one who creates it. The best thing all of you can do is stop acting like a bunch of children in a kindergarten class. Be a professional and go to work, have fun, make money and go home!
Please see my electronic portfolio at www.abetterhouse.biz for restaurant & nightclub consulting at all levels.
A Better House, Inc. / Tom House