Types of disciplinary measures for restaurant employees

What disciplinary procedures and actions an employee policy should include? This is rather a tricky question for many restaurant owners. On the one hand, the introduction of punishments makes sense as a way to let your team know that you take the restaurant house rules for employees very seriously. On the other hand, knowing that every mistake will lead to a fine, employees may feel way more stressed at work. 

Depending on the harm caused by employees’ wrong actions, you can make a verbal warning, a written warning or even a final written warning before deciding to charge a fine or dismiss an employee. Relationships between an owner and staff can be easily spoiled by a punishment that is perceived as unfair. Such situations usually lead to misunderstandings, rumors, and start a vicious circle that increases staff turnover

So, when you give your employees a handbook that explains your restaurant policies, employees’ rights and responsibilities, you should make sure the section describing the restaurant's disciplinary procedures is well-thought-out and clear.

Types of disciplinary measures for restaurant employees

Penalties as disciplinary actions at restaurants

When a restaurant manager thinks about how to discipline restaurant employees, introducing fines may seem the simplest way of making an influence. This method is popular among managers in restaurants and cafes. But let’s be realistic, its effectiveness is rather doubtful.

If team members know they can just pay for a violation nothing stops them from keeping on doing what they do instead of changing their bad habits and refusing from malicious practices. This leads to high staff turnover, which means people come and go while mistakes and violations happen again and again.

Sometimes restaurant owners miss the moment when the penalty system in their restaurant becomes ridiculous. An employee may receive only 10% of their earnings because of the accumulation of penalties.

If you use a POS system that automates your employees' payroll calculation, look at the stats to analyze how your penalty system works. It may help you to be more realistic and use fines more carefully.

If you have a penalty system in place, consider what to do with the fines you charge. Don’t give your employees a reason to tell that you put their money in your pocket. Think about a transparent system for saving and using the money that you collect as fines for the common good.

An effective alternative to penalties

There are different types of disciplinary measures at work. A system of punishments can be a spoke in the wheel of your restaurant operations. Considering that by far not all damages caused by employees’ mistakes can be compensated, it’s better to find alternative ways to encourage positive changes. 

The good thing is that modern restaurant owners don’t rely on penalties in the first place. Many try to act the opposite by finding ways to reward their employees when they do something right rather than punish when they do it wrong. They realize that it’s better to create a disciplinary system that helps employees work appropriately and clear out resentments.

How to avoid violations of discipline in your restaurant?

Before introducing different types of disciplinary measures, you should decide on 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?

  • Engage staff in the development of the rules. Collect opinions and feedback to know what would work for your team and what wouldn't. 

  • Don’t break your own rules. Restaurant staff rules should be the same for all workers, including managers.

  • Create simple and clear rules and regulations for employees in your restaurant. The shorter, the better. No one wants to delve into documents with lots of paragraphs and subparagraphs. Try to give the information briefly and clearly.

No matter what type of disciplinary sanction policies you use, the main thing is to react quickly to the contraventions. If an employee remembers their mistake, chances are higher they’ll agree that the reprimand is fair. Here is some advice:

  • Don’t tell off management in front of the rest of the team. This can affect the reputation and future relationships between them. 

  • Justify the reason for the fine or punishment and be specific. Employees shouldn’t be left guessing what they did wrong.

  • Don’t attack an employee’s personality. The problem is actions, not the employee’s social status, gender, race, or age. 

Always talk with employees 1-on-1. You don’t want to humiliate a person in front of co-workers. Instead, you want to resolve a problem and make sure it’s not going to happen again. Remember that the main task of disciplinary actions is to improve employee performance.

How to prevent your staff from repeating the old same mistakes 

Some restaurant owners suggest that if a waiter doesn’t clean a table on time they should pay a fine and if they do it again they should pay twice as much. Don’t think that increasing disciplinary fines for a repeated mistake will help. With this approach, employees may consider penalties to be expenses. Rather than learning from their mistakes, they’ll just hope nobody notices. 

Imagine a waiter forgets that a particular dish is on stop and makes a guest wait for that dish for half an hour before they realize it won’t be served. Instead of charging a fine, encourage them to make their best to improve the situation and make the guest leave your restaurant satisfied despite this incident. Otherwise, they’ll pay the guest’s bill. It won’t be a piece of cake for a waiter to make someone happy after a long wait, still, it’s a chance to avoid paying a fine through improving their service

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Federal labor law and restaurant discipline policy 

The federal government empowers employers to take over the reins relying on other laws to ensure everything is done fairly. Such as:

Employee attendance policy in restaurants

Tardiness is probably the most common problem in any workplace, including restaurants, cafes, and pubs. In jobs with a flexible schedule or irregular hours, it is not such a big deal. But employee tardiness isn’t acceptable in the foodservice industry. It can harm your restaurant’s reputation. 

For example, the working day of a regular cook starts at 10 a.m. According to the restaurant kitchen rules for staff, it means that by this time they should already be in the kitchen and starting to cook, 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. 

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, it may spoil the guest’s impression about your place. It is very important to talk through all the specifics, the schedule, and penalties for tardiness, at the job interview, to let the newcomers know about your restaurant rules for employees.

Types of disciplinary measures for restaurant employees

Discuss problems with the employees

Being a good supervisor means knowing how to hold awkward conversations. To put into force any type of disciplinary action for employees of restaurants, managers should know how to communicate and ground their decisions. On your list of punishable, fireable, and prohibited offenses may be the following:

  • 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.

You should develop procedures for reporting such cases and an action plan for dealing with violations. Disciplinary conversations should be on your action plan for every kind of rule violation. Here are some pieces of advice you can follow when doing disciplinary meetings:

  • Do your homework: formulate the claim, collect proof and cold hard facts.

  • Schedule a 1-on-1 meeting with an employee.

  • Explain what rule was broken and how you expect your employees to behave in such situations.

  • Let the employee explain their actions and decisions.

  • Decide on the best course of future action.

  • Write a summary of the meeting.

  • End the conversation by showing the employee you believe in them and don’t doubt their progress.

Let your employees know their behavior needs to improve after every offense. Outline actions the employee needs to take to improve their 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 profile.

Not every situation requires a disciplinary punishment for employees of restaurants. If the problem was caused by a lack of knowledge or incompetence, try to help your employees improve their performance. Provide additional training and a special refresher course or ask a more experienced team member to become a mentor for them.

An extreme case of disciplinary action taken against employees is a dismissal. Yes, it's harsh but the point for most restaurant owners or managers is crystal clear. If anyone from the team doesn’t stick to the rules for restaurant employees, they will no longer work in the restaurant. If you fire one incompetent person who brakes your restaurant rules for waiters from your front-of-the-house team you give a good lesson for the rest.

Creating an effective team with a good relationship between management and staff is a long and difficult process. Start with the introduction of a code of conduct for restaurant employees appropriate for your location. 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 a team that can’t work without fines and reprimands simply because they got used to it.

An efficient disciplinary policy increases productivity and provides a positive atmosphere for the team. Don’t forget to conduct training and masterclasses, 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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