Most restaurant managers and leaders know they could be doing a better job holding their people accountable. Yet, few take action to change. Fear often gets in the way, especially the fear of turnover, and rightfully so. But it doesn’t have to be this way. If you find yourself in this position, here’s how you can navigate this part of the restaurant leadership landscape. 

First, establish the right mindset. Accountability isn’t a punishment process, it’s a shaping process. You provide feedback in order to influence others’ behavior. If you care for them, you will want the best for them. Allowing them to give less than their best is actually a form of disrespect. They cannot feel proud of their performance and their work with you if they are slacking off. You help them be the best they can be by holding them accountable to high standards. So, cultivate the mindset that accountability brings out the best in the team and the best for your store. 

Second, ensure that your policies and processes are well documented and well communicated. It is not fair, nor good practice, to hold someone accountable to a standard of which they weren’t aware. If your policies, processes, recipes, and operating standards are not documented, or the documentation is out of date, bring them up to date and teach (reteach in some cases) them to everyone. 

Third, one of these processes should be your accountability process. Whether you use a 3-strike process, or a points process, including the verbal and written methods you choose, follow a standard process every time. If you don’t have a standard process or are looking to upgrade yours, here are 10 accountability best practices: 

  1. Start with the belief that their behavior is leadership’s fault. Ask why they thought what they did was the right thing to do. You may find out your expectations were not clear, or the person hadn’t been trained, or some other factor under management control. If it is, you’ve learned something valuable, fix it. If it isn’t, help them fix their behavior. 
  2. Act as immediately as you can, don’t wait. Sometimes that’s difficult to do during a rush. But the longer you wait, the less impactful it will be. Often in restaurants, if you decide to wait until the end of the shift, you miss the person and may not see them again for a few days, at which point it’s difficult to go back and have a meaningful discussion. 
  3. Coach their behavior, not them. You are trying to close the gap between what they did and what they should have done. You are not critiquing or judging them as a person. 
  4. Ensure you hold everyone equally accountable. If not, you will set yourself up for claims of favoritism or discrimination. This includes holding yourself accountable to the same standards as everyone else on the team. This also includes granting exceptions for extenuating circumstances. Your standards shouldn’t change based on someone’s “special” circumstances. Find common sense ways to deal with extenuating circumstances that don’t require you to violate your standards. 
  5. Find the balance between positive and corrective discussions. A good balance between positive and corrective discussions imparts credibility to every discussion. In restaurants, start at 2 or 3 positives to every corrective then vary that until you find the mix that works for you. 
  6. Be sincere. Nothing kills a productive discussion worse than insincerity. It is easily detected, and the comments easily ignored. 
  7. Be specific. The more specific you are with your accountability discussion, the more likely you are to see the specific behavior change in that person.  
  8. Be consistent. Hold everyone to the same standards no matter the shift, day part, front of house, or back of house. This means you have to hold all of your managers accountable to following the process consistently. 
  9. Document, document, document. Keep a record of all accountability discussions and actions. Without it, you could end up in a no-win he-said-she-said situation. A good way to think about this is: if it isn’t written down, it didn’t happen. 
  10. Follow-up. Lack of follow-up signals lack of importance. Following up also lets the manager know if the behavior change is ongoing. And it gives the manager an opportunity to provide positive feedback if the change is ongoing. 

Pro tip: Don’t punish your superstars. Don’t allow substandard work to slide then ask your high performer to pick up the slack. That’s not the way to recognize and reward your superstars. Show respect for your superstars. They will not stay long in an environment where your worst performers are tolerated. If you have someone not carrying their weight, coach them up or coach them out. Don’t make someone else do their work. 

The bottom line is behavior is a function of consequences. If there are no consequences, people will behave however they wish. Set them up for success by clearly defining what they should be doing and how they should be doing it. Then hold them accountable to it. 

David Jones

President, The Excellence Advisory

The Excellence Advisory

David Jones President, The Excellence Advisory

David Jones President, The Excellence Advisory


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