Never Say These 3 Things to Your Staff

Sometimes you literally need to do this before you say something you'll regret. Image: SIphotography / iStock / Getty Images Plus

We all get frustrated from time to time working in restaurants and bars. Emotions can run rampant and things can escalate fairly quickly. If you’ve been in the industry for any amount of time (a veteran), you have surely heard a few things that would make some people do a double take. I know I have.

Words have power. They can build a team or tear one apart. The sad thing is that sometimes damage happens so quickly it can have a ripple effect across your brand. Once those words leave your mouth and are spoken aloud they tend to become a self-fulfilling prophecy. So, watch what you say to your team because it tends to become a karma boomerang!

Here are three things you should never say to your team.

“I have to do it all myself.”

Really? You have to do it all? People tend to make big claims that border on extremes. You’ve probably used a few other phrases that fit into this category as well. You “always” are late or you “never” clean up your station. When you shame people, you break trust, and without trust you have no team.

If you keep telling your team that you have to do it all yourself, you will eventually make that prophecy come true. If you don’t trust them to make and learn from mistakes you have taken away a critical element of human nature—the ability to be fallible.

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We learn when we don’t get it right the first few times, and for some the learning curve is even longer. That’s the thing people forget: not everyone is a carbon copy of you, and that’s a good thing. There’s nothing scarier than everyone being exactly the same. Variety is the spice of life and the recipe for a dynamic team. It’s differences that build a high-performance team, not the similarities.

So, before you spew this saying out to your team, take a little reality check. You don’t have to do it all yourself, you choose to do it because you lack trust in your team. Get over it and give your team some room to grow.

Now, with that also comes some responsibility on your end to coach, train, and set clear, defined expectations that can be measured. Without crystal-clear expectations you will not get the results you are seeking and this statement of “I have to do it all myself” will resurface. Stop it by being a leader and not a whiner about the standards you failed to set for your team.

“How many times do I have to tell you?”

This one is usually accompanied with either an exhale of frustration or an eye roll (sometimes both). Maybe they just didn’t understand the task at hand. The real question here is: Did you explain it or assume they knew how to do it? Assumptions get us into trouble rather quickly.

How many times have you hired a bartender and assumed they knew how to make drinks correctly? You start them off on a busy night and you start getting complaints about some of the drinks. Yeah, they know how to make a Manhattan. They just don’t know your way for making one.

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All business problems are really people problems in disguise. Those people problems are 99% related to communication. It’s your duty as an owner or leader in your restaurant or bar to communicate your core values, standards, and expectations (yes, expectations are a big part of communication problems).

Sometimes this problematic statement is wrapped up in the generalization that your employees should just know what you expect. Well, if they are not doing it the exact way you want it to be done, then they don’t know! They don’t get it because you have not taken the time to explain it to them.

The results you experience in your restaurant or bar are in direct proportion to the quality of your communication skills. That is not an exaggeration, it’s the truth. If you want a better brand, become obsessed with communicating to your team better. No bullshit, it’s life changing.

“I bust my ass around here.” 

Do you want some cheese to go with your whine? Seriously, your team does not want to hear about how hard you think you work.

You might be there long hours, however many of those hours are most likely not as “back busting” as you claim. When you really have nothing left and you’ve truly pushed your body to the extreme, one of three things happens: you either pass out, you black out, or you die. If you do not experience one of those three, then you always have more to give.

People love to play the martyr and want sympathy from others. Here is an observation from 38 years in the industry: If you make it a point to tell others how hard you work, then chances are you are not really working that hard. It’s much like a magician who employs distraction: “Look over here so you don’t really see what I am doing.” You tell others you are so busy, yet the results speak for themselves. Stop lying to yourself (and others) and just do your job.

An adage of which you should be aware as an operator is Parkinson’s Law, which states that work expands or contracts to meet time obligated. That means if most people are given a few tasks and 8 hours to accomplish them, they’ll take the full 8 hours. If you give them the same tasks and only 6 hours to finish, they can usually get those things done in the time required. You’re just not managing your attention properly and getting pulled in so many directions that you don’t run your restaurant, it runs you.

Once again, your team doesn’t care how hard you think you work. They just want a leader who is going to be out front, leading and setting the example without the whiny martyr tone.

Awareness Precedes Choice

These statements are usually unleashed towards your team when your energy is low and emotions run high. Everyone has natural energy peaks and valleys throughout the day. You need to become aware of these times throughout the day so you can be on guard for those moments when your energy is low and the team comes around asking questions or venting about their day.

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Yes, your team will sometimes vent about things that frustrate them. This is not the time for one-upsmanship and launching into a rendition of, “You think that’s bad, let me tell you about _______ [fill in the blank]”. As a leader, your duty at times is to listen to your team and not always find an answer right then. A wise person once noticed that we have two ears and one mouth... There might be a reason for that.

Now, what do you do when you feel those emotions rising and you know you’re about to say something that you’ll regret later? Here are a couple solutions. 

Remember to Pause and Process

Before one of the three problem phrases above slips out, you have a brief window of opportunity to shut your mouth and say nothing. Use a trigger phrase like “pause and process.” This little safety net of a saying can help you avoid situations in which you will need to apologize.

If you can avoid a problem by not saying anything, you should give it a try. There’s nothing wrong with saying, “That’s interesting. Please allow me some time to pause and process what you said.”

Call a Time Out

When emotions are really running hot, it’s a good idea to hold your hands up and give the sign for a time out. Simply say, “Can we take five minutes and think about this? I just want to be able to give you my full attention.”

Now, if the person really is pushing you, call for a bathroom break! “Hey, can I use the restroom really quickly and then we can discuss?” Unless the person is Hannibal Lector they most likely will allow you time to hit the restroom. Use the time to either really use the restroom or just throw some water on your face, take a few deep breaths, and get a grip on your emotions.

You are human and human beings are emotional creatures. Make sure that as a leader you are constantly striving to be in control of your emotions. Robert Greene, in his legendary book The 48 Laws of Power, talks about controlling your emotions as a foundational element of power:

“The most important of these skills, and power’s crucial foundation, is the ability to master your emotions. An emotional response to a situation is the single greatest barrier to power, a mistake that will cost you a lot more than any temporary satisfaction you might gain by expressing your feelings. Emotions cloud reason, and if you cannot see the situation clearly, you cannot prepare for and respond to it with any degree of control.”

Get control of your emotions and your words before they cause havoc within your restaurant or bar. Avoid emotional reactions that cause you to lose credibility with your team. Lose that and it’s game over.