Motivating servers is a tricky business. Without question servers crave autonomy and tend to resist being told what to do. At the same time, managers in general are given very little guidance on what is perhaps the most important part of their jobs. Two similar restaurants in the same company with the same menu and with the same amount of sales can produce radically different results. The difference generally boils down to leadership.
Managing a restaurant is a great career to get into because it will always be around. A BS in organizational management will prepare you how to run and manage a business properly. Not every manager starts with a degree and will need some on the job training. Restaurants go to tremendous lengths to train managers on how to control costs, increase profits, and manage the balance sheets. Very little time is spent on developing skills for leading a staff. Recruiters look for management skills, but seldom can assess accurately the leadership traits that are effective in a restaurant. To make matters worse, a manager starting out with the best attitude can lose it after months of the daily rigors of the job wearing them down. To prevent this it is vital to keep a continuous focus on training for leadership and monitoring the methods a manager is using.
These three management methods are often a response to being burned out on the job. Most companies would not hire anyone who openly advocated these management methods. The problem is that motivation has a trickle down effect. As a manager resorts to this, the motivation of the staff follows suit in a predictable manner.
“This Is A Dictatorship, Not A Democracy”: No one disputes the validity of this statement. The manager is there to make decisions and run the show. A restaurant should not be a democracy. At the same time, there are more appropriate ways to express it than to state this to your staff. Most dictatorships end in revolutions or coups with the dictator facing a firing squad. If you refuse to give your staff a voice, they will still speak out behind your back. This is devastating for morale and can spread rapidly. Dictators must live in a state of paranoia, as everyone under their rule is looking for a chance to put the knife in their back.
“It’s Not My Decision”: This is the converse of the mentality above. Rather than ruling with an iron fist, this sort of manager avoids any responsibility. They are content to blame their boss, the company, etc to avoid upsetting their staff. The most immediate consequence is for the staff to continue complaining about the decision. Whatever hostility was generated by the decision is made worse because now not even the manager can support it. When a manager denies accountability in this way, it becomes tougher for them to enforce accountability of their staff. While this is generally done to maintain the staff, it usually has the opposite effect. Managers who cannot stand up for a decision actually marginalizes themselves by sending the message they are not really in charge.
“Do As I Say, Not As I Do”: This is by far the most damaging of the three. You will notice each of these statements are slightly patronizing. All are things you would say to a petulant child. This one makes it clear that a double standard exists. Managers who use this management method will make it clear to their staff that they are superior to them. The same rules do not apply because they are in charge. This first calls the validity of the rule into question and then forces the staff to respond in kind. If a staff is treated like children, they will respond in childish ways. When a manager consistently engages in activities that they discipline hourly employees for doing, they are creating an atmosphere that kills morale.
I will never say that it is easy to motivate servers. I will also never underestimate how quickly the mentalities above can kill motivation and breed revolution. So much of a manager’s success is based upon the work of their staff. No manager can do everything it takes to run a successful restaurant on his or her own. It takes a team for a restaurant to succeed. A manager’s job is to inspire the best performance they can out of their team. When they fail to do so the results can range from failure to sabotage to a coup. Leading a staff with motivation is not easy, but it is vital.
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