The best and worst time of the year for restaurant owners and managers might be the holidays. Restaurant leaders and managers who are eager to please, who make decisions based on fear and wish to be liked more than respected will respond with "Sure, you can have the holidays off".
A simple "yes" can be a shortcut to disaster and will doom a restaurant for months
Those who pay the price when restaurant employees and managers wishes for holidays off are granted:
- The team - who don't feel as much like a team anymore.
- The best employees who are highly committed and aware of "unfair".
- The guests (customers) who are especially aware and in need of special experiences as they gather families and friends to celebrate and connect.
- The managers who believe the best way to make up for gaps is to work over time and do more than ever.
- Those who rely on gratuities (tips) as the less than excellent service will see a little less.
- The people who search online for "the best". They see one bad review of "slow service" or "tired staff" and make a decision to go elsewhere for their holiday celebration.
- The profit & loss statement and balance sheet. More discounts, refunds, higher food costs, more waste will happen as the restaurant team makes attempt... and fails to execute with a limited team.
- Those in a rush who try to take a shortcut with a process, slip and fall, slice a finger, bump and spill.
- The person who requested holidays off (whose wish was granted) lose their reputation and are singled out and "blackballed" by other staff.
What appears to be kindness from a manager or restaurant owner, can in fact do harm to everyone. The harm done is not very obvious but a veteran restaurateur with many years of experience can see the ripple effect. A less experienced leader will view the results and symptoms as "coincidences" or "fate" when in reality, most of the issues could have been easily avoided. The difference in conversations usually goes something like this:
A pro-active experienced restaurateur anticipates:
We anticipate requests and have created policies and processes to let the team know how to proceed. We also have increased interviewing during September and October to ensure good staffing."
The less experienced or marginal restaurateur reports:
We did poorly because we did not have enough staff. People called in sick and quit during the holidays. We couldn't do anything about it. It was fate."
What can exasperate the issues is when larger organizations with "corporate offices" take plenty of time off during the holidays and yet demand more from those in the trenches of operations. This is where an understanding of how to lead and develop a team company culture of "service and celebration" can overcome the holiday glums.
Hopefully you have already planned on what should not be unexpected requests with a recruiting plan that includes increasing staff during the holidays. If someone requests time off and remains on the schedule, there is a possible sudden "sickness" that hits the homes of your staff. You may end up short staffed regardless.
(Warning: The old "bring me a note" system that you learned in school is not a helfpul solution.)
I would like to hear how you have already embraced the mindset of "firm, fair and consistent" within your operation at every level. Leading with "firm, fair and consistent" principles throughout the year, the holidays are just one more opportunity to make the right decisions. While you can antcipate every situation in advance, good principles empowers your team to make the right decision.
At some point an experienced (and wise) restaurateur will have excellent (and fair) scheduling guidelines with a commitment from the management team to empower employees and processes to follow --- regardless of the time of year. There is nothing more damaging than those making schedules acting god-like.
There are two things we don't want to mess with. Staff schedules and their money.
If you are "new" to the restaurant business or about to buy a restaurant, you may decide to take the easy way out and just say "yes" to those with requests. If that is the case, pay close attention to the ripples your decision makes. There are restaurant consultants who understand the potential problems and solutions related to holidays, hiring, development, scheduling, leadership and what is most important to success.
Early November is not too late to think pro-actively and make a plan. The restaurant business is one that brings joy to guests with experiences that last a lifetime. By thinking ahead and considering the bigger picture, it is possible to prepare and ensure the employees and managers also experience a similar joy.
It makes sense that people who bring joy to others.... experience the same.