The Dos & Don'ts of Restaurant Staff Behavior Contracts

The restaurant industry needs good leadership ideas when it comes to managing and motivating employees.

Recently, an operator in Lakeland Florida decided to set us back a few years with this absurd contract she introduced to her staff right after Christmas. Not only was it insulting, it was really strange in its form.

However, that doesn’t mean she was totally off the mark in trying to convey her values to staff members. Leadership comes in many types and we should all take the best of what we see to improve our own. That’s why we’re offering a little analysis of what she got right and wrong with this “attempt” at human resources management.

Leadership Rights

To start, we’ll leave aside the weirdness/legality of the contract from Saigon Bistro for the moment and focus on the idea of a contract to effect behavior.

I coached high school football for many years and the program I participate with implemented a student/parent contract. This was a productive document that outlined exactly what behavior is expected of a player and their parents. We included what good behavior looked like. We held everyone accountable. The Saigon Bistro owner was clearly offering a definitive message about what specific behaviors were important to her by demanding a penalty for any abrogation of her rules. By connecting behavior to consequences the student-athlete contract delivered better outcomes.

While we are not advocating a formal contract, it’s useful for your staff to know the do’s and don’ts of your business.

The best time to do this is during an orientation where you are already conveying the same type of insight. By taking a moment and providing them with a list of best practices and asking them to formally acknowledge them, you give them a direct framework for your values. That’s just good leadership and ensures your team understands and accepts your expectations.

Leadership Wrongs

This is, of course, the only element the owner got right in this transaction.

The most offensive aspect of her contract was the dollar penalties for failure to comply. Every state has different rules for this sort of discipline, but generally it’s a bad idea to take money away from people -- even if it’s in the interest of a greater good.

The tone of this contract was so negative that it invited negative reactions from the staff. If only she had framed her directives as affirming good behavior instead of prohibiting bad.

Let’s take her contract and re-write it so it’s a winner

My name is __________________ and I agree to give my best effort with regard to the following behaviors

1.     A cellphone is distraction my primary task of serving guests. I commit to leaving my phone in my car or locker so that I can focus on caring for guests.

2.     In order to ensure I am the best teammates I can be, I commit to having my sidework checked daily by one of my co-workers. This way I won’t miss anything and leave the next person in my station at a disadvantage.

3.     Operating supplies are expensive, but they can be controlled. I commit to be thoughtful regarding delivering straws and napkins to guests in appropriate amounts. I will ask if they want more when I deliver, but will not place excess without that request.

4.     Guest service is always best when it’s personal.  I commit to saying “Hi” and “Bye” to any guest that leaves or enters the restaurant, even if they aren’t in my section.

Now as you can see, we had to be creative with number three only because the original version was quirky and may have been a cultural misunderstanding. Otherwise, the new version challenges staff to be the professionals you expect without being regressive with your discipline. If a staff member further ignores your efforts to set performance expectations then you can implement progressive discipline to encourage them on to the best path.

Leadership is an art and we should all strive to be better at it every day. If this story tells us anything, when we get it wrong, we can really damage our standing with staff members and potentially lose them. It helps to think in terms of how you would like to be lead and go from there. Either way, this was a great chance to review how to (and not to) move the dial on staff performance.