Our Relationships with Restaurant Personnel Hit a Turning Point

People eat to survive. But in modern times, we frequently take our consumption of food to another level. When dining out, the activity of eating becomes an experience, and that comes with certain expectations.

Having many food options can leave us spoilt for choice, but diversity can be taken for granted. So is the consistent taste of the food itself and the hospitality and convenience offered. In the age of social media, we expect presentation to be share-worthy and restaurants to live up to the online hype.

Behind the scenes, those expectations drive behavior along every step of the way. Staff take pains to go above and beyond to ‘wow’ each customer. Custom equipment made by suppliers like Lakeside Manufacturing ensures that each component is safely stored under ideal conditions.

Yet today’s expectations of the restaurant experience are unreasonable and unsustainable. Employees are suffering in the name of the customer, and that has to change.

How employees suffer

If you’ve never been behind the scenes in the restaurant business, you probably wouldn’t know that anything is amiss just by dining out. After all, food servers are unlikely to unload complaints to patrons or put up anything other than a positive front.

But those who’ve worked in a restaurant know that fair practices by employers are often the exception rather than the rule. And this, too, has come to be accepted in the industry.

Few employers elsewhere would get away with requiring 50-hour shifts before doling out overtime pay. Or telling workers to go home early, sometimes even before shift starts, because there aren’t many customers. Or failing to make them aware of OSHA guidelines for their rights and workplace safety.

And then there’s the problem of having to deal with customer entitlement daily.

This can be traced back to the misconception that ‘the customer is always right.’ This isn’t true. And though the idea is not isolated to the food industry, instances of a ‘yes culture’ are especially pervasive here.

Yet customers continue to behave in an entitled manner at restaurants, to the point of being abusive. Instead of backing up their people, employers often uphold a policy of appeasement that continues to reinforce and perpetuate this harmful relationship.

A crisis-induced shift

Because of these abusive relationships that restaurant workers frequently have with both management and customers, their well-being suffers. And that actually proves detrimental to the customer experience and business performance in the long run.

In so many ways, the pandemic has been a catalyst for change in our lives and occupations. It forces us to adjust the way we think to survive. For individuals and organizations alike, business as usual isn’t possible.

We’ve already seen how this has threatened restaurants and forced many to close their doors permanently. But even those that have managed to stay afloat must beware of the possibility that the pandemic could further entrench abusive practices towards employees.

Staff cuts will be made as operations scale back, increasing the demand for positions and giving the employer even more leverage. As the power gap grows, the remaining employees will hesitate to speak up, becoming even more willing to put up these unreasonable demands and practices. They will fear for their jobs too much.

Yet the pandemic doesn’t have to be a threat. It can be an opportunity to make wiser decisions and sustain long-term performance. And having a highly engaged team is one of the key drivers of success for restaurants in the future.

waiter taking orders

Improving the employee relationship

As businesses reinvent themselves for post-pandemic existence, refocus on core offerings, downsize their premises and kitchens, and incorporate contactless technologies, realizing the benefits of such changes still requires people.

You can’t go through a period of transition without the buy-in of workers. This shift’s net result will require the remaining employees to be cross-functional and more productive than before. They need to be empowered and motivated to get on board with that.

This can’t happen without a corresponding improvement in how employees are treated.

Ownership must take the lead in ensuring strict compliance with OSHA guidelines and fair labor practices. Management must take a stand and back their team when conflicts arise regarding entitled customers and abusive behavior.

Restaurant employees are engaged in a vital act of hospitality. How they do their jobs might change as the industry recovers from the pandemic.

But what definitely needs to be changed is how we treat them with respect and cover their own needs. This matters, both for the bottom line and for the simple morality of treating them as human beings.

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