If you are an owner or restaurant manager, you’re familiar with the scenario: you’re glancing at your watch or the clock on the POS, looking nervously between the growing crowd out in the dining room and the employee entrance. Your employee is late – really late.
Got-in-a-car-accident late, at this point. Something’s wrong, and it’s gone way past the usual “grace period” of lateness into full-on concern about covering the shift. It’s stress you didn’t need, and it has you considering if you should tell the employee not to come in again, period.
Before you make any permanent decisions that could play out poorly behind the counter, think it through. Ask these four questions before deciding on a plan of action:
Is the Employee Routinely Late?
First, ask yourself if this absence is a regular occurrence or if it seems odd that the employee is late because they usually have a good track record?
It’s possible that the employee got into an accident, had to drop off a child at daycare, or just lost track of time.
It’s okay to give the employee some leeway just as long as their tardiness does not become routine. Their guilt at saddling fellow workers with their workload might be all the prevention that’s required going forward.
However, if they have been late multiple times this week or month, it’s time to take some corrective action. If this is the case, though, it may be best to wait until the end of the night or the next day to address the issue – this will allow you to cool down and approach the situation with a level head.
Have You Been Clear About the Schedule?
Not all employee no-shows are planned or malicious in intent. Sometimes their phone is in a car or another room, and they haven’t gotten your calls or messages yet.
A recent change to the schedule or swapped shifts may also be the culprit, and if you have forgotten to update the employee about these changes, you can take some of the blame.
To avoid this situation, keep a schedule online that employees view anytime; specific web-enabled calendars can even interface with smartphones to send reminders before a shift.
Did an Employee Ignore Your Time-Off Denial?
If an employee asked for specific time off that you had to deny yet, they took off anyways, disciplinary action or even termination may be called for in this instance.
With an outbreak of employee “illness” hitting many restaurants just before vacation-friendly three-day weekends, this is unfortunately somewhat common.
If your employee had requested a holiday or specific day of the week off, got a denial, and decided not to show anyway, that’s clear insubordination. While punitive measures like cutting shifts might help bring the employee back into line if they’re willing to disregard your instruction, don’t be surprised if it happens again, or inspires other employees to act the same way.
Have They Communicated with You?
If you’ve received a call or text regarding looming employee issues – car malfunction, illness, family emergency – around the shift that’s been abandoned, the severity is a step down from a total no-show.
While signaling a problem isn’t the same as responsibly calling out, consider that the issue at hand may have demanded their attention and prevented them from calling in with an update before the shift picked up.
The Worst Case Scenario
So you’ve found out the worst – the employee purposely dodged their scheduled shift and failed to contact you, and now you need to do something about it.
In a scenario like this, it is an important and delicate time for restaurant managers to step up. You’ll need to make it clear that this behavior is unacceptable, but you don’t want to go overboard with repercussions either.
Employees should feel comfortable bringing scheduling issues to your table, and trust that you’ll try to work things out – dealing out a verbal beating and emotional threats of firing will only undermine your authority in the workplace.
Instead, try these approaches:
First, talk to your employee and find out their reason for being late. Even if you know that you will be firing them, this exit interview-esque question may help discover information that will help you improve relations with remaining employees.
If you intend to explain a firing to your other employees later, be sure to omit any personal details, such as a health problem the employee cited as a reason for their absence, to ensure you don’t run afoul of liability.
Layout consequences if they remain
Ideally, you already have these outlined in an employee handbook.
If you haven’t gotten around to that yet, however, use the employee as an example. Missing a shift means they automatically work (x) number of undesirable shifts, or are responsible for (x) amount more of the side work, or are on mop duty at closing for (x) nights, and so on.
Make termination an automatic consequence
If you can’t afford to lose staff readily, or onboarding would be a lot of effort, you can make it a multi-offense punishment.
If they are significantly late a handful of times or absent more than twice in 6 months, explain they’ll be instantly terminated with no appeal. (To be frank, if an employee no-shows on more than one shift in a relatively short period, you probably don’t want them working for your establishment anyway.)
Reward other employees for good behavior
Rewarding employees doesn’t have to be drawn out to a level that is insulting or offensive, but the disparity between on time employees and late/no-show employees can be reinforced with everything from better tables to preferential shifts or holidays off in the future.
Be cautious, however: going into granular “point” based punishment systems for late or no-show offenses can widen the rift for disgruntled employees.
Explain consequences beyond their position
In the often high-turnover sphere of food service, there’s a persistent idea of proverbially tossing one’s apron down and loudly announcing a permanent departure amid a disagreement with management.
Remind an employee (that you intend to keep) on how their no-show shifts put you in an awkward place, should an employer call for a reference in the future. This unspoken correction has more weight the longer an employee works at your establishment, as well – employment gaps don’t look good on resumes, after all.
Remember your next employee is always watching
In the reverse of the apron-tossing mental image, restaurant managers sometimes fantasize about booming a “You’re fired!” at a particularly troublesome employee.
The way you offboard your employees, however, can be just as crucial as onboarding; online company review sites like GlassDoor speak volumes about these terminations, and bad behavior won’t stay hidden for long. Good restaurant management approaches even the most trying situations as a learning and teaching experience.
Focus on Building a No-Show-Free Culture
Finally, always remember that food service is chaotic and prone to burning even the brightest and eager staff members out like a snuffed candle. Long shifts standing up, thankless patrons, and more can make time off essential for an employee’s well being.
If your employee typically gives your guests excellent service, works with their fellow team members, and at least tries to pitch in, don’t cut off your nose to spite your face if they pull a no-show for a shift. Instead, discipline routine offenders and employees who choose to ignore your leadership.
If your team knows that you’ll still support them – to a point – if they have an occasional lapse, they’re more likely to stay loyal to your restaurant and communicative when it comes to their time-off needs.