Today, I want to share a feat that I quite frankly feel is remarkable. I don’t want to sound as if I am bragging, but this is something that might be worth it. I work for a corporately owned restaurant and have for nearly four years. This means that I have an employee file in the manager’s office. In that employee file you will find a great number of signed policy changes and reviews. What you will not find is a single write-up.
Let me take a moment to go knock on every piece of wood in my house before continuing.
It is pretty easy to avoid the write-ups for breaking the rules. I show up on time and pay attention to my schedule. If I am running late, I call and let them know. I try to follow the procedures and policies. When I disagree with them, I try to pick my battles. I have been the unemployed martyr before and have no desire to repeat that fate. I wouldn’t consider myself the ideal employee, but I do make an effort to follow the rules.
Most of you who work for corporate restaurants know that this is not always enough to avoid the write-up. Inevitably there will be a table that refuses to be happy. Whether they arrived in a bad mood or simply dislike the cut of your jib, the complaint seems unavoidable. It happens even at the finest of restaurants. It can happen when you are following company rules to the letter. Sometimes that can even be the cause of it. Unfortunately, that may not even be enough to avoid the write-up.
Guests have learned (especially those with a predisposition to complain) that a letter to the corporate office will produce greater results than complaining to the manager on duty. I’ve never worked in a corporate office, but I envision the reaction to these letters something akin to the reaction in Havana during the Bay of Pigs. I’ve seen the emails where they cc: the VP of operations, the area director, the regional manager, the general manager, your childhood priest, and your future in-laws. Each of these people wants an explanation of why this terrible thing occurred and what will be done to the server to punish them. This far too often leads to a logical explanation from the server and a manager completing the write-up just to document the event. While this write-up might be presented as just a formality, it is the first step in a very short dance that can end in your termination.
While you cannot stop every complaint letter from being sent in, you can take some actions to prevent it from turning into a write-up. I have received a few of these complaint letters. They are rare because I am very good at spotting the complaint, responding to it, and diffusing angry guests. Even this is not enough to prevent every complaint. For those times when these skills don’t work, there is one very important step that can prevent a complaint from turning into a write-up: getting your manager involved.
Getting your manager involved does two very important things. The first is it allows the table to get some sense of satisfaction out of complaining to your boss. This might just allow them to let off enough steam to prevent them from writing the letter. It also allows your manager to use a much larger arsenal of weapons that are available to them to combat the complaint. The second benefit is that it puts the manager on your team if the letter does get written. You now have a person who has much more credibility with the entire list of people who received the email, stating that they could not resolve the complaint either. This is incredibly beneficial because it takes a pretty big hypocrite to not defend you for failing to fix a problem they could not fix either. They will often verify your recollection of the events and justify skipping the write-up.
I said earlier that I was not the ideal employee. One of the primary reasons for this is because I let the managers know if I have a table with any sort of issue. They know this and do not tend to overreact. They have all visited tables that I said this about, only to have the table tell them they were happy and the service was great. Once I let them know of a potential problem, I update them if it gets any worse. Keeping them in the loop allows them to give me a second opinion on the situation. All of the complaint letters I have received (and I could count them on one hand) have been from tables that I had been updating the managers on. Each of them was dismissed after consulting the manager who I had gotten involved.
You can’t stop every complaint. For whatever reason, some individuals seem to take joy in being dissatisfied. What you can do is enlist the help of you managers early to prevent these complaints from turning into a write-up. It is far easier to defend yourself from these complaints when a manager can confirm that you both did everything possible to please the guest. This will keep your job far more secure and allow you to focus on providing your guests the service they deserve.
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