How to Terminate Restaurant Employees

The best advice Iíve ever heard on how to fire employees is to have the goal of them thanking you at the end of the conversation. This is much easier said than done, and a little bit of a reach in most cases. But the point resonates for anyone who has had the task of terminating an employee. The conversation should be gracious and subdued, and the only way to achieve this is to follow a few important rules:

  • Have a company handbook: A good handbook can lay out acceptable behavior, and is an easy reference when the employee has looked over and signed a copy upon being hired. The handbook should be as thorough as possible.
  • Always be fair: Never single out an employee or leave an employee feeling victimized. A termination should be about the actions of the employee and have nothing to do with the employer.
  • Do it at the beginning of the shift: Donít wait and let an employee settle into work before firing him or her. Arrange to have alternate staff ready and bring the employee in immediately after arrival.
  • Be aware of the law: Avoid equal opportunity employment issues, and have a clear reason for the dismissal. The goal should be to win unemployment benefits cases should they arise.

Lay the Groundwork

Ideally, a performance review precedes the firing. This should be a one-on-one conversation regarding standards and job expectations for how to be a great server, or it should cover unacceptable behavior in relation to company handbook policy or a previous conversation. A lay-the-groundwork conversation clarifies goals that are difficult for the employee to meet, or which he or she has consistently failed to meet in the past. An employee write-up provides helpful evidence for the termination.

By laying the groundwork for the termination in advance, the conversation is about the employeeís actions and not at all about the employer. The employer is merely following the rules/standards set up for the employee, and an employer will be able to say, ďitís out of my hands.Ē

The Conversation

The conversation is never easy, no matter how many times youíve had it. Thereís only one way to go about firing someoneódirectly, in person, and with the bad news up front. Donít give the employee an opportunity to explain his side of the story, or to fight for his job. Get the bad news out of the way, explain the reasons, and offer any help you can (i.e. job reference, advice).

Know that terminated employees always fall into two categories: those who have been fired in the past and those who havenít. The ones who havenít will respond with total shock, while those who have wonít be too surprised. This should guide the conversation, with shocked employees often needing more time to absorb the news.

The Importance of a Good Firing

Itís important to remember that a good firing can change the culture of a restaurant, and keep the business pointed in the right direction. On the other hand, keeping around an employee who should be fired lowers expectations and reduces morale. It lets everyone know that there are exceptions, and teaches employees to find ways to get around the rules.

Letting an employee go can set an example and serve as a way to motivate employees. Shock waves can be felt by everyone, especially when the terminated employee is someone who has skated for a long time, or had a habit of engaging in inappropriate behavior. Employees will make these types of terminations a big deal on their own.

Advice for the Restaurant Manager

A few pieces of advice can keep termination conversations free of conflict and keep the business running smoothly.

  • Avoid knee-jerk reactions: Donít fire someone on the spot for inappropriate behavior. Follow company protocol and be aware of the law. Belittling or embarrassing an employee makes the termination about you, and not about the transgression.
  • The devil you donít know: Keep in mind the potential of the replacement employee to have similar drawbacks, or worse. Always ask yourself if the devil you know is truly worse than the devil you donít.
  • Have a witness: It isnít always possible, but have a witness when you fear that the employee is potentially aggressive or that the conversation could go poorly. A silent third-party makes the conversation seem more officious, and can alleviate well-founded concerns.
  • Avoid confrontation: This is includes confrontational tone or language that could be misconstrued. Your tone and language have to remain professional, making the termination one based on logic and not emotion.

Following procedure on all employee terminations makes the conversation easier for both parties. You may not get a thank you at the end, but youíll likely keep the business on course by cutting bait in a professional, procedural manner.