Trouble shooting your food service | What causes low employee morale in a restaurant?

Low employee morale is one of the most devasting issues any business can face. Unhappy employees steal, don’t show up for their shifts, don’t upsell your products, don’t clean and generally don’t care about your restaurant. They feel that if you don’t have their back, then why should they bust their humps for you.

Making your employees happy takes a lot more than paying them well. For a restaurant, there are some key questions I ask owners when I am trying to help them improve their employee morale. The answers to these questions alert me to possible issues a restaurant might have in keeping their employees happy. Some are “no brainers” but others may seem counter-intuitive at first or may not initially seem they would directly affect employee morale. After each of these questions, I am going to share with you some notes of things I look for in direct relation to the question asked. Even without my notes, simply asking these questions and answering them honestly and getting honest input from your employees could open your eyes to potential issues that may be causing low employee morale in your restaurant. The act of asking alone will let your employees know how much you value their attitudes.

If you have other questions you would like to add to the list, please leave us a comment. For our complete sixteen page list of trouble shooting questions for your entire restaurant, visit our webstore. Though the detailed explanations for each question, as provided below, are not included with the Trouble Shooting Questions, these sixteen pages of direct questions will help you uncover some major potential issues in the day to day operation of your restaurant or food service.

Do your restaurant employees have bad attitudes, and is it your fault?

  • Are employees positive and upbeat?
  • You may have already determined you have a morale problem, but maybe you are just asking questions to see if you do. The first question to ask yourself is this one. Employees are either upbeat or their not. If their moods are not positive, it’s time to start searching for the cause.
  • Are there “problem employees” who reduce the morale of the remaining staff?
  • No problem originates with “everyone”. Most times, there are individual employees who other employees are drawing their negativity from. Often, these are employees who seem to be “leaders” of some sort. Not that they are your appointed leaders, but they may be leaders of different groups of friends within your restaurant who end up sharing the same negative attitude of this person.
  • Are there “sacred cow” employees who have been promoted past their ability?
  • One of the most frustrating situations for a good emnployee is to have to take direction from an employee who may not be as talented or knowledgeable as them. In operations who have been open for a long period of time or who may have inherited employees from a previous business they purchased, there are oftend “sacred cow” employees. These are emnployees who may have a lot of popularity or clout with customers who have been promoted beyond their ability due to their long tenure with the operation. Some owners feel these employees are more important to their customers than they are themselves, so they advance them into management positions when what they truly excel at is being an hourly employee. This creates a situation where the employee themselves feel insecure about their own role, are defensive and negative. Other good employees who may be more able to fill the position feel frustrated having to be subordinates to such an employee.
  • Are there job descriptions for every employee in your restaurant?
  • Job descriptions are the backbone of all communication and goal setting with your employee. They give the employee an overview of what it is you will be judging their performance on. Without job descriptions, you could set the employee up for a very frustrating cycle of focusing on the wrong skills and work traits then being judged poorly for it.
  • Do servers and other service staff feel they have been well trained?
  • Proper, structured training is the “foundation” of creating a happy workforce. Service staff must feel they know what your expectations of them are and be secure in knowing they are doing things in a way that will make them more valuable to you. They must know what your standards for service are and have a good feel of the quality of service you expect from them.
  • Do servers and other service staff feel they have all the tools necessary to perform the job expected of them?
  • Beyond training, service staff need to have the tools to do the job. This may include having enough serving trays to go around, enough pitchers to pour tea and water or might even be a point of sale system that helps make ordering, tracking charges and pricing tickets much easier. Everything a server needs to properly serve your guests is your job to provide them with. Short changing them on any one of these tools could be very frustrating to them.
  • Do kitchen employees feel they have been well trained?
  • Proper training of kitchen personnel is all-too-often and afterthought for restaurant owners. Just like servers, bartenders and bussers, you should have training manuals for all your kitchen positions.
  • Do kitchen employees feel they have all the tools necessary to perform the job expected of them?
  • Tools can be even more important in a kitchen than in the front of the house. Are you allowing your chef to buy the quality of product that allows him/her to meet your quality expectations for the food? Are there enough saute pans and do all the pieces of equipment in the kitchen operate as they should? Poor equipment and tools make kitchen personnel feel like you are setting them up for failure.
  • Do supervisors and managers feel they have been well trained?
  • Even moreso than with kitchen personnel, the training of managers and supervisors are constantly overlooked. It’s not enough to have a new supervisor or manager “shadow” an existing one to train them. Seeing their job is only one part of training. You should have training manuals for managers just as you do for service and kitchen staff.
  • Do supervisors and managers feel they have all the tools necessary to perform the job expected of them?
  • Beyond computers and clipboards, “tools” for managers means having the right “systems” for success. Just as hourly employees, managers need to know what the proper process is to achieve anything in your restaurant that you want them to. It’s not your manager’s job to figure out how to accomplish a task, it’s their job to carry out your system for accomplishing that task. Leaving managers to find their own way will only make them insecure and defensive when you need to make changes to the processes they put in place.
  • Does management properly convey goals and expectations to all staff members?
  • Every employee needs goals to strive for. Just as important as “having” goals is having a boss who accurately and regularly conveys those goals to you. There is little that is more frustrating for an employee than a manager or owner who is judging them based on benchmarks that have not been shared with them.
  • Are goals achievable?
  • Having goals are a waste of time if they can’t be achieved. 100% guest satisfaction, for example, is a goal that will not motivate your staff because it is impossible to achieve. Telling employees that you expect them to be perfect will only frustrate them because it is impossible for any employee to actually be perfect. Setting goals they can attain, and structuring rewards for achieving those goals, helps keep them motivated to reach for the next goal.
  • Are incentive programs simple and easy for employees to self-measure?
  • Not only do you need goals, but you need to provide an incentive to the employee to achieve those goals. When those incentives aren’t easy to measure however, it can be very frustrating for an emnployee. They may be under the impression they are meeting your expectations to receive some sort of payoff, only to find out in the end that they didn’t because they couldn’t accurately measure their achievement along the way.
  • Are monthly employee meetings held?
  • Monthly meetings are not only a great way to communicate goals to employees, but are also perfect for correcting mistakes, clarifying miscommunication and furthering training of employees. Without monthly meetings, employees may be left with not real training or communication between their hiring and their one year evaluation.
  • Is employee performance evaluated at a minimumm of once per year?
  • Employees need to know where they stand to be happy. Though I suggest meeting with every single employee one-on-one at least once per quarter, once per month ideally, a yearly employee performance review is the minimum effort you should make to communicate with and focus each of your employees on particular goals you have for them. To keep them secure and focus, I suggest providing them with 3 areas to improve and 3 areas they can help other employees improve in. For several Employee Performance Appraisal templates, you can visit our webstore.
  • Are shift meetings held in both the front and back of house religiously?
  • General communication can be effectively conveyed once per month, but many issues need to be addressed must sooner. Without meetings every shift, your staff can be left to feel that you are ignoring pressing issues in your restaurant or may be left feeling unprepared and untrained to sell your featured menu items and drink specials.
  • Is the kitchen a reasonable temperature for the kitchen staff during service?
  • Temperature affects attitude, plain and simple. Being hot makes cooks more irritable with each other, their bosses and their service staff team mates. Too hot of a working condition can not only put kitchen personnel in a bad mood and make them perform worse, but it can also be hazardous to their health. An employer who does not show concern for their employee’s health is one that isn’t likely to get the best out of that employee.
  • Are staff members allowed to purchase menu dishes at a discount?
  • Trying to describe food that you have never tasted to a table you are trying to sell that food to is incredibly frustrating for servers and bartenders. There should never be an item on your menu that your servers can’t tell a guest that they have tried. Guests expect your servers to be experts on your food and not having that expert knowledge of your food and know first had how your food tastes makes your service staff feel insecure and possibly dishonest when selling your food to guests. No employee wants to work under those conditions.
  • Is there an employee meal policy?
  • “Old school” thinking used to tell us that keeping your employees “hungry” made them try harder. Luckily for employees, decades of research has shown that premise to be completely misguided. Having a plan to keep your employees fed and fueled is a great tool for keeping them healthy and happy. Not every food service can afford to feed their employees for free, but any restaurant should be able to budget time for employees to eat and allow them to purchase their food at a discount.
  • Are proper break times allowed?
  • Some states regulate breaks and some don’t. Regardless of regulations, an emnployee’s productivity starts to fall off after a certain amount of time on the the job. Whether it is during a long shift or between shifts, not allowing your employees to recharge could make their actual problems at the job seem much larger than they really are.
  • Do employee benefits meet or exceed industry and geographic norms?
  • Your employees are going to compare their pay and benefits to those of other restaurants and food services in your area. There’s nothing you can do about that. To keep them happy, you have to make sure they are getting compensated at least at the industry norm within your geographic area. Don’t waste time researching what restaurants pay in other markets because your employees aren’t going to either. They are going to look in the paper and talk to their friends to see what everyone performing a similar job is making, and if you aren’t paying as much as they can make somewhere else, don’t expect to keep them for long. A simple Bonus Plan Example for employees is available for download in our webstore.
  • Are employees scheduled two or more days off per week?
  • The restaurant industry is one of the biggest offenders of overworking employees. Because many of us came through management and ownership positions where we worked 60 to 80 hours or more per week, we think that our employees and managers should just accept that working in the restaurant industry means you can’t have a life outside of it. Humans aren’t built to be productive 12 hours a day, 6-7 days a week. If you want to be a “preferred employer”, find a way to get your employees off at least two full days per week, even if it means working them longer hours on the days they are there.
  • Does management consistently and fairly enforce employee policies?
  • This is probably the most important key to keeping employees happy. Though it sounds a little counter-intuitive, reprimanding employees consistently and fairly will actually build a happier workforce. Your good employees aren’t likely to be the employees violating your policies on a regular basis. When they see other employees showing up late for work, no showing for shifts or not completing all their work according to your direction, then see that same employee get the same raise and enjoy the same job security they have, it’s offensive. Not consistently and fairly reprimanding employees who break your policies and don’t follow procedures will chase away your good employees who don’t feel you appreciate them following the rules, and will create an environment of comfort for bad employees who have no reason to leave a job they can keep on their own terms.
  • Are employee reprimands recorded and signed by employees?
  • Properly recording reprimands and requiring employees to sign them helps you best communicate exactly what it was an employee did that was against your policies. Along with recording the discretion, this also gives you an opportunity to record and communicate a remedy to the discretion. This type of communication and consequence puts employees on sure footing about your expectations of them.
  • Is management accessible and effective at solving employee problems?
  • Having managers that do not have the ability to correct the issues an employee has, or worse, don’t even care, is extremely frustrating for an employee. Read our Steps to Effective Problem Solving for a tutorial on using the Scientific Method to solve problems.
  • Is there a defined chain of command that all employees are made aware of?
  • He said, she said” is a situation that frustrates employees in any workplace. It’s created when there is no defined pecking order in your restaurant. Employees can be given conflicting direction by different managers and owners, then feel extremely frustrated when another manager or owner reprimands them for only doing what they were told by someone else.

This list is a long one, but all these questions are important to ask if you are truly interested in having high employee morale and fostering a great attitude in your food service establishment.

If you would like to see our complete list of Trouble Shooting Questions we ask restaurateurs to trouble shoot their restaurants, it’s available for download in our webstore, or you can get it directly by clicking the “Buy Now” button below. The download does not contain the same in-depth explanation on every question as this article does, but you can keep your eyes peeled for more Trouble shooting your food service articles on this blog that will. What is does contain is sixteen pages of questions you should be asking yourself about your own operation, separated into different areas of restaurant operation. Use these questions to trouble shoot your own restaurant and give us a call if you need to know why any of these questions are important or if you need assistance in repairing what you discover about your restaurant or food service.

Trouble Shooting Questions

Trouble Shooting Questions

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Download this sixteen page list of Trouble Shooting Questions that O’Dell Restaurant Consulting uses to trouble shoot our client’s restaurants and food services. The questions are separated into 22 different categories, each dealing with a different part of your operation such as Cost Control, Employee Hiring & Training, and Marketing. These insightful and detailed questions to ask yourself and your employees are the key to helping you or us pinpoint what area of your restaurant needs the most attention.

If you need help finding solutions to the issues you uncover by answering these questions, contact Brandon O’Dell of O’Dell Restaurant Consulting to take advantage of our offer for a free 30-minute consultation to evaluate our services.

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