Coping with difficult team members in foodservice

Our top 4 strategies

When things get busy in the high-pressure environment that is the commercial kitchen tempers can certainly heat up.

It’s not uncommon for a ‘us’ vs ‘them’ mentality to begin between the front and back of house staff, between team members and management or even between different shift groups. Often members of each group think they are the hardest working or most misunderstood in the venue which can lead to jealousy, conflict and ultimately poor customer service.

Restaurants are fast-moving and often personal relationships and annoyances can get in the way of a harmonious team dynamic. Only a venue with cooperation and support of all the staff can provide high quality meals and excellent service (while still making a profit!).

Easy to say, right? But where do you start if you have members on your team unwilling to play ball? First up it’s important to recognise the symptoms of a disgruntled team member. Perhaps they are quick to voice the mistakes of others, instead of helping them learn. Perhaps they are calling in sick a lot or simply not showing up. Or maybe they make every shift… but are a bit broken from too many big nights to be able to perform properly.

Here are our tips for handling difficult staff and conflict in your venue…

  1. Take it somewhere private – arguing in front of customers or other employees is not a good look. It can also escalate the situation as the employee will feel like they have an audience.
  2. Don’t be afraid to call for backup – With an abundance of staff on your roster, it’s easy for a game of whispers to begin. It’s wise to have a second senior staff member on hand for these dealings, to witness what was said.
  3. Get to the bottom of the situation – is it professional or personal? It’s easier to handle with compassion if you know why they are upset.
  4. Give them a chance – let everyone have a chance to share their side of the story so they feel heard and understood.
  5. Follow up – just because you feel like you resolved it today, doesn’t mean it won’t come up again. Handling disgruntled employees is an ongoing effort, make sure to touch base every few days afterwards.

Of course, handling a difficult employee is never going to be an enjoyable part of your job, especially in a close-quartered environment such as foodservice. However, if you put these simple steps into action it could help prevent future conflict, so you can focus on those that are working hard.

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