Canadian Pizza Magazine

Marketing Insights: November 2016

By Michelle Brisebois   

Features Business and Operations Staffing

Pushing boundaries

If you’re like most managers in the hospitality industry, your job description can seem eclectic. You’ve likely spent the day running interference between back and front of house, counselled a young employee who was sobbing because a customer yelled at them and received numerous text messages from staff at all hours of the day and night.

These messages might simply say, “Don’t feel well…can’t come in for my shift,” or “My world has ended. My boyfriend/girlfriend just broke up with me.” Of course, said boyfriend/girlfriend is also an employee and now they don’t want to be scheduled together because the pain is just too much. The drama can leave you wondering if perhaps you should change your title to “social worker.”

Those in the industry understand and accept that employees in a restaurant will socialize with each other outside of work more than most other employees. This is the first step in blurring the line between work and personal space and it creates a dynamic that can be tricky to manage.

To manage it, you have to understand why it happens. People who are attracted to careers in hospitality are social by nature; otherwise, they’d be lighthouse keepers and welders. Next, they work odd hours, meaning the only people available to socialize when they are off are others in the same industry. They tend to develop personal relationships . . . sometimes very personal relationships. When they get together at the watering hole down the street after service, they rehash the day, their lives and the things they don’t like about work. Going over it and over it makes it seem bigger and tends to encourage “group think” and leads to them having a similar perspective on various topics. You can often end up feeling as though you’re dealing with a collective bargaining unit.


In addition to your workforce being socially focused, they’re also often young and used to constant and immediate communication. If they wake up at 5 a.m. and don’t feel well, they text you to say they’re not coming in. If their relationship breaks up at two in the morning, they might text you for advice. You probably already work incredibly long, hard hours and your time away from work is increasingly consumed by scheduling hiccups and shop talk. With all of these HR issues to juggle, you may wonder where running the business falls on the priority list. If these examples describe your typical day, it’s time for some healthy boundaries.

You may not be able to control whether or not they gossip, date each other, drop a shift or text at every opportunity, but you can set expectations around this behaviour. Develop a code of conduct and attach it to every offer letter you give new employees when they are hired. Make it clear that the focus for everyone on the team is to be the customers and the business. Be empathetic but avoid playing guidance counsellor or psychologist. If “life happens,” as it does to all of us at some point, support employees with an appropriate offer of time off or work accommodations. If Sally and Joe demand to work opposite shifts because they have just broken up, be firm in expressing that you expect them to be professional and keep their personal feelings at the door. If you start juggling for every youthful drama, you’ll spend more time accommodating and less time growing the business. If you keep the team fresh by adding new members regularly, it might combat the overfamiliarity that established teams tend to develop.

Recognize that you will be at your best for the team if you get a break to take care of yourself. Set expectations clearly around time-off requests and how and when staff can text you. Remind them you need sleep and down time too and suggest they be mindful of the time of day or night when they text. Tell them to use email for things that aren’t emergencies and texting for things that are. Then define what you consider an emergency. Matters of urgency might include the need to miss a shift within two hours of when it begins, a major event related to the business, or the zombie apocalypse. Make sure you honour their personal time and contact your team for urgent matters only as well. Respect works both ways.

Above all, hire good people and empower them to make decisions. Micromanagers rarely get any down time because they have to do it all themselves to feel comfortable. Let go, believe in your team and they will become more engaged in the business and less engaged in negative behaviour.

Boundaries draw a line and create a transition that’s worth defending. As William Paul Young said, “Even in our material creations, boundaries mark the most beautiful of places, between the ocean and the shore, between the mountains and the plains, where the canyon meets the river.”

Michelle Brisebois is a marketing professional with experience in the food, pharmaceutical and financial services industries. She specializes in brand strategies.

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