Types of disciplinary measures for restaurant employees

Is punishment a necessary method for every manager?

Disciplinary procedures and action against violations and rule-breaking is rather a tricky question for many restaurant owners. On the one hand, it makes sense and a guilty employee should have an exemplary lesson to prevent offenses in the future. On the other hand, constantly keeping staff in awe will produce only negative effects. 

The relationship between an owner and staff may become more strained and the team atmosphere won’t stay friendly. This usually leads to misunderstanding the rules and their original purpose, rumors, and, most importantly, increasing staff turnover. As a result, the quality of service will become lower and lower and the number of dissatisfied guests will increase.

Penalties and salary

Sometimes disciplinary sanctions in a restaurant become ridiculous and, because of the accumulation of penalties, at the end of the month the employee receives only 10% of his/her rate. Situations like this do not only occur in individual cases; large chains often rely on the penal system, especially after the introduction of new rules. 

If we assume that an employee is undisciplined, untidy, and doesn’t learn from mistakes, why keep him on the team? Always ask yourself this question before giving someone another "second chance".

By the way, when a POS system automates your employees payroll calculation, it definitely will save you time. When the software keep track of employees' work time, you can set each employee the rate per hour, shift or percentage of sales per shift. You will be able to view the hours worked, the number of shifts, the percentage of sales and the totals to pay salaries to employees. It is much easier to control the statistics of worked hours by each employee.

Keeping in awe

Managing employees through fear of punishment is the simplest way of interacting and it’s not surprising this method is so popular among managers in restaurants and cafes. But let’s be realistic, its effectiveness is rather doubtful. As we have said, it leads to high staff turnover, which means that people will keep coming and going while mistakes and violations remain unaltered. And at the end of the day, “buying off” misdemeanors can become a habit. 

When team members know they can just pay for a violation, nothing stops them from keeping on doing what they do instead of learning a lesson.  Also, you need to figure out what to do with the fines you charge. Most often, managers and owners make the mistake of using them in their own interests. The best way to apply fines is to save them and put them to use in a competent incentive system.

Types of disciplinary measures for restaurant employees

Effective alternative to penalties

There are different types of disciplinary measures at work. The good thing is that not every restaurant owner relies on a penalty method in the first place. Many try to act the opposite by choosing to encourage rather than punish their employees. Depending on the seriousness and the circumstances of the offense, you could give your employee a verbal warning, a written warning or even a final written warning before resorting to a pay cut. 

After all, working in a friendly atmosphere is much more pleasant, especially given that some violations can’t be “paid off”. It’s better to try to affect behaviour, encouraging change instead of focusing on the fact that a problem exists. Don’t try to put a stick in the wheel; it’s better to help your employees to work. Best is to learn how to combine incentives and punishments to create a disciplinary system.

How to avoid violations of discipline?

Before introducing different types of disciplinary measures, you need to understand what exactly you expect from your staff: enthusiasm and discipline or fear and hate. We doubt that someone strives for the second option. So what to do to stop employees from breaking the rules?

  1. Learn to wait and endure. Every training needs time, so you can’t do it all at once.

  2. Don’t break your own rules. Rules should be the same for all workers, management included.

  3. Create simple and understandable rules. The shorter, the better. No one wants to delve into codes with lots of paragraphs and subparagraphs. Try to give the information briefly and meaningfully at the same time.

How to punish your employee fairly?

No matter what type of disciplinary sanction policies you use, the main thing is to react quickly to the contravention. As long the employee remembers his mistake, he will realize the fairness of the fine or reprimand. For example, if the waiter gets a penalty at the end of the week for sending the wrong order to the kitchen on Monday, it's going to arouse nothing but resentment.

Always talk with employees face-to-face. Your purpose is not to humiliate a person in front of co-workers but fix the situation and make sure it’s not going to happen again. The main task of disciplinary actions is to cultivate superior employee performance. Never get personal, at the very least it’s unprofessional. The problem is actions, not social status, gender, race or age. 

It is really important not to tell off management in front of the rest of the team. This can affect reputation and future relationships between them. Always justify the reason for the fine or punishment and be specific. Employees shouldn’t be left guessing what they did wrong and what exactly you didn’t like.

Types of disciplinary measures for restaurant employees

How to prevent rule-breaking

Don’t increase disciplinary fines. For example, a waiter doesn’t clean a table so he’s fined and pays – then he does it again, so you fine him twice as much, and so on. With this approach, an employee will perceive penalties as expenses: rather than learning from his mistakes, he’ll just hope nobody notices them. The punishment for misconduct should prevent its repetition. 

For example, a waiter forgot the restaurant’s stop-list and made guests wait for a dish that won’t be served that day for another half-hour. For the first time, he can be let off with a warning. Give him the opportunity to deliver high-quality service to guests so they are satisfied. It is not usually a piece of cake to make someone happy after a long wait. If this happens again, the waiter must pay the guest's bill. The employee is warned, now it is up to him—pay and be more careful next time. Nobody wants to feed guests “in the house”, even if for the waiter the dishes will be at cost.

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Federal Labor Laws Regarding Discipline 

Despite the amount of United States labor law, there are no federal labor laws devoted specifically to discipline. The federal government empowers employers to take over the reins relying on other laws to ensure everything is done fairly. Such as:

  1. Family Medical Leave Act of 1993 (FMLA).

  2. Fair Labor Standards Act of 1938.

  3. Federal Anti-Discrimination Laws (Title VII of the Civil Rights Act of 1964, the Age Discrimination in Employment Act of 1967 and the Americans with Disabilities Act of 1990).

  4. Safety and Health Standards (Mine Safety and Health Act, Occupational Safety and Health Act, etc.) .

  5. Retirement Standards.

  6. Workers' Compensation.

  7. Work Authorization for non-U.S. citizens.

  8. Federal Contracts:  Equal Opportunity in Employment.

Indicate the most expensive policy violations

  • Theft, including consuming ingredients.
  • Using customer loyalty cards.
  • Inappropriate behavior in front of restaurant guests.
  • Preparation of dishes and drinks without pre-check or check.
  • Absence from the workplace without informing the manager in advance and without an acceptable excuse.
  • Alcohol consumption during work time.
  • Workplace bullying and physical violence.
  • Discrimination or harassment.

Restaurant managers need to issue a handbook to every employee. This will specify the restaurant's policies and protects your business against unfair business practices and all kinds of discrimination claims. The handbook should outline the restaurant's disciplinary procedures such as written and oral warnings, standards of conduct and performance expectations.

Types of disciplinary measures for restaurant employees


This is probably the most common offense in any work place, including restaurants, cafes, and pubs. In jobs with a flexible schedule or irregular hours, it is not such a big deal. But tardiness definitely isn’t acceptable in the foodservice industry. It can harm your reputation. 

For example, the working day of a regular cook starts at 10 a.m. This actually means that by this time the kitchen staff should already be in the kitchen and starting to prepare, not just crossing the threshold of the cloakroom. Schedule the beginning of the working day at least 15-20 minutes earlier than the time the restaurant opens its doors. 

Many automation systems for a restaurant business allow entering the time when employee open the cash shift. For example, if you own a pub, you will be able to view when waiter or barman came to work and if he/she was late in pub POS system

Delays in the restaurant business are very critical. Guests may appear at any time, and if there is no one to take the order or at least serve a cup of coffee, the guest is not going to stay any longer. To avoid these unfortunate situations think ahead and be smart about setting staff working hours. It is very important to talk through all the specifics, the schedule, and penalties for tardiness, at the job interview, to let the future employee know about the restaurant's policies.

Discuss the problem with the employee

Being a good supervisor means knowing how to hold awkward conversations. Let your employees know their behavior needs to improve after every offense. The process of disciplinary action should keep the employee informed every step of the way. Outline actions the employee needs to take to improve his/her performance and discuss ways in which the problem could be solved. Always record the warning and write a summary about the subject of “the talk” to put in the employee’s personal file.

Disciplinary conversation plan:

  • Confirm the offense, write it down.
  • Schedule the meeting off the clock.
  • Explain the problem.
  • Make sure the employee realises the negative impact of his/her actions on the working process.
  • Reach agreement with the employee about the subject.
  • Decide on the best course of future action.
  • Establish together a follow-up strategy if needed.
  • Write a summary of the meeting.
  • End the conversation by showing the employee you believe in him/her and don’t doubt his progress.
Types of disciplinary measures for restaurant employees

Negative performance conversation outcome

If the cause of the violation is a lack of knowledge or incompetence, try to help your employee resolve their weaknesses. Provide additional training and a special refresher course or ask a more experienced team member to become a mentor for him/her.  If the violation is repeated, even after an intervention to deal with employee performance issues, consider a stricter type of punishment such as a temporary pay cut or dismissal. 

Dismissal is usually the extreme case of disciplinary action taken against employees. The point for most restaurant owners or managers is crystal clear: They don’t care about the reason for the violation. There are rules and if employees don’t stick to them, they will no longer work in the restaurant. Yes, it's harsh, but managing this way you get rid of incompetent employees and give the rest of the team a good lesson.

Creating an effective team with a good relationship between management and staff is a long and difficult process. Start small, rethink the system of penalties for the restaurant. It’s better to learn from other people's mistakes. Most well-known or large chains minimize disciplinary penalties and rely on trust, fairness and employee motivation. 

Build the right relationship system from the very beginning, otherwise, at some point, you will have to fire someone who isn't able to work without "payoffs", fines and agreements simply because they are used to it.

An efficient disciplinary policy increases productivity and provides a positive atmosphere for the team. Don’t forget to conduct training and master classes, and introduce mentoring systems in your restaurant. A high-level service plays a significant role in the restaurant business and without well-established discipline, it is very difficult to deliver.

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