No one ever said that running a business would be easy, especially a restaurant. I was well warned that staffing would always be a challenge, though I’d had experience managing staff that went back a decade+ in both food service and technology. In the nearly one year that we’ve been open I’ve had some great employees, I’ve had employees that were very good but hated what they were doing, and I’ve had people simply stop showing up for work, despite living less than 2 blocks away. In the past month I’ve had 2 of my kitchen staff give fair and reasonable notice that they were moving on and I began the process of replacing valued, trained staff. This is some of my experience.
First I placed a couple ads on Craigslist each one listed an e-mail address with instructions to put specific words in the subject line of the e-mail, in part to weed through spam filters, but also to determine how well people follow simple, direct instructions. If someone can’t make a first impression that demonstrates the ability to follow written directions I have doubts about their ability to follow a written recipe with many lines of instructions that must be done in order.
I also have a dishwasher on staff who has been unavailable much of the summer, he returned to work after miscommunicating his availability and sat down for a chat. When I pointed out his frequent lateness, (more than half of his shifts, though rarely more than 15 minutes late) including one morning where I went to his home because I couldn’t get anyone to answer the phone, along with some of his unimpressive work habits, his reply was “gosh, none of that stuff seems so bad, but when you put it all together like that, I don’t look very good” right… but at least he came in, and has self-awareness, and an interest in improving. I think he’s a real good guy and will work with him toward developing better work-habits that he can carry with him for the rest of his life.
Another dishwasher was referred to me by friends; on Saturday 8/16 he was an hour late for work. He misread/misunderstood the schedule. OK, I can give a pass on that, don’t let it happen again. The next day he came in and explained that he’d been at Hempfest all day. I can’t prove that he was wasted, but another employee and I watched him chop the same small piece of onion a couple dozen times, and then attempt and fail to make the same recipe 3 times because he couldn’t seem to follow the recipe in order.(Note, he wasn’t recruited from Craigslist, so he didn’t have to pass the “subject line” test.) He just seemed to be in another world for most of the day. Well, even if his mind was elsewhere, at least his body was at work. Well, the following Saturday he showed up around 45 minutes late, at which point I told him to go home, and if he wanted to keep his job, he should return the following day, on time, for his shift. I’ve never seen him again. The friends who recommended him let me know that they dropped him off on time for his shift, and they haven’t seen him since then either.
When I interview people for kitchen positions I spend a LOT of time explaining that working in kitchens is hard, doesn’t pay well, etc… as I have blogged about before. I hired a young woman with industry experience who expressed significant interest in this restaurant, our style of cooking, and many other elements of the business. We had the “you’ll never make enough money” talk, but she remained interested and worked a few test shifts. Toward the end of her first week as a regular employee she told me about her financial needs, and though they were beyond what I ordinarily can meet, I promised her that I’d try to work something out and to try and find a way to help meet her needs. I followed up the following day with an e-mail confirming her availability to work the next week’s schedule, and looked forward to meeting her for work on her next shift. A couple hours before she came in, I got an e-mail confirming her availability to work the following week. When she arrived I was ready to sit with her and talk about how we could, together, meet her financial needs. She had other ideas. She told me that in the interim she had found another job, which she was going to start there before the week was out, and that she didn’t expect to work the shifts she had agreed to. The inconvenience to me, this business, and her co-workers just wasn’t enough of a factor to figure in her decision. I sent her an e-mail explaining that I’d mail her final paycheck to the address I had on file, and that I’d subtract a uniform fee for the Cantina shirts she took with her. The following day I got a phone call from her mother. Yes, HER MOTHER called to ask why I wasn’t going to pay her daughter for the work she’d done. I was so astonished, first because I’d never said any such thing, second because when someone craps on me and my team the way she had, I’m surprised that they would have the audacity to make demands on me, and third, it was HER MOTHER! In 14+ years of managing people ranging in age from about 17 to over 50, with compensation packages from barely above minimum wage to over $80k/year, I’ve never had a call from someone’s mother about a labor/payroll dispute. Does it show that I’m just stunned by this? When Mom told me that her main concern was that her daughter gets paid for the work she did, I let her know that a bigger concern might be what type of employment habits her kid was developing, and what sort of references she might get in this small industry. I’ve already had one of my flake/no-show employees apply for a job in a kitchen run by another former employee of mine and get turned down cold because his less than savory work habits are no secret. Why don’t people understand that this is a small, small industry and that maybe years down the line, someone from this business could be in a position to impact their prospects in a significant way, and that it doesn’t take a lot to be polite, to tell a new employer “hey, I have another position where I have already committed to a schedule, can I start the following week?”, but that NOT doing so can (and sometimes does) follow a person for years, especially if that is a habit and they do it to several successive employers.
I have a few other stories along the same lines, but this is turning into a fairly long rant. I just wanted to point out 2 articles that I found while reading Frantic Foodie
WHEN Linda Lipsky taught a course called “So You Want to Open a Restaurant” at Temple University in Philadelphia, she deliberately made the business sound like a minefield. She warned her students that it is possible to lose their homes, their life savings, and even the rights to their own names. Her goal, she said, was “to get two-thirds of them to quit.”