Conflict between departments exists in almost every food and beverage operation. In some, this kind of environment has existed for so long that it’s accepted. These restaurants and bars where staff are in a constant state of conflict can exist and sometimes even thrive. Mostly, however, this state of affairs leads to high levels of stress among employees that results in reduced productivity, diminished customer service and poor rates of employee retention.
Understanding why departments don’t get along is the first step. Coming up with actions to make it better is the second step. Let’s take on both.
The Why, Part I: Cooks are from Mars, Servers are from Venus
There is a natural difference in the personalities of front-of-house and back-of-house employees. To a very great extent, these differences led your employees to gravitate to positions in the kitchen or at the bar and in the dining room. They recognize what they like and don’t like and where their strengths and weaknesses lie. They recognize the nature of the work in front and back and effort to align their own preferences with this work. Behavioral science can help us to define and, therefore, understand the personalities of employees drawn to each operation, as well as their typical strengths and weaknesses, their likely reasons for conflict, and ultimately how to design strategies to help them to interact effectively.
Here’s a personality snapshot of each group.
Kitchen Staff: Employees drawn to the back of the house tend to be . . .
- Task oriented
- Results oriented
- Team-oriented and loyal
- NOT good with customers
Service Staff: Employees drawn to the front of the house are often . . .
- Ambiguous rewards oriented (“Big tables and bigger tips mean I am good at this.”)
- Relationship Oriented
- NOT Task Oriented, Results Oriented, or Detail Oriented
Bar Staff: Employees drawn to the bar are really a hybrid of the categories above but more like servers. They need all of the social skills required to effectively deal with customers on a personal basis. They are also in the production business and therefore must be organized and fastidious like their counterparts in the back. But let’s face it, the production part of the job isn’t as demanding as in the back and the customer contact part is just as demanding as on the floor. Bar staff are indeed a hybrid but are more like their counterparts in the front.
The Why, Part 2: Interdependent Operations Make Conflict Inevitable
In interdependent operations, employees in one unit rely on the employees from other units for the information and outputs they need to successfully complete their own work. Here are a couple of food-and-beverage-specific examples.
In order for the employees in the kitchen (one unit) to cook a steak, they need the employees from the floor (another unit) to include a cooking temperature for that steak (information).
In order for the employees on the floor (one unit) to serve drinks to their tables, they need the bar staff (another unit) to make them (outputs).
The bar, kitchen, and floor are all very clearly reliant upon each other for the information and goods necessary to do their jobs. There are levels of interdependence that are determined by the frequency and importance of interaction among units. The type of interdependence existent in a food-and-beverage operation is referred to as comprehensive interdependence, including the highest and most complete level of communication, interaction, and reliance. Because the interaction is so necessary and frequent, the potential for conflict is highest. Interestingly, when managed properly and populated by the right people, the potential for extraordinary production is also high.
The How: We Can All Get Along
In operations management, the ideal and recommended solution is to make the interdependent units more independent. In many businesses this is simply not feasible. In our business it is quite impossible. The solutions, then, need to focus on improving conditions among the units, making their interactions work better. This is possible with the right approach from managers.
- Focus on the overall goal of your operation and reiterate that goal whenever possible. That goal should be to provide a pleasant dining experience for the customer … period. Each employee must focus on the specific and unique role they play in achieving this goal while never losing sight of the fact, that regardless of how successfully they complete their task, a dissatisfied customer is a fail for the operation.
- Cross-train all of your employees in all of the other departments. Don’t put your cooks on the floor and your bartenders on the line. That’s not what I mean. What I do mean is explain the function of each department to every other department. Describe the information everyone needs and why they need it to achieve the ultimate goal.
- Create sympathy and understanding among staff and managers in one unit for the staff and managers in every other unit. Staff meetings are a great idea and should be held on a regular basis. Some of them should include everyone in the building.
- Establish mechanisms, policies, and procedures that help the departments coordinate with one another. Managers should evaluate their operation and identify those areas that mostly lead to conflict.
If the chef is repeatedly complaining about not getting the right information from servers, audit your POS system to require certain information be included in tickets before they are fired off to the kitchen. That’s a mechanism.
If your bar manager is complaining that servers are shouting out orders to bartenders before ringing them through the POS, reinforce the policy that drinks aren’t made unless a slip prints on the bar prep printer. That’s a policy.
If your servers complain that incomplete tickets are being ignored by the kitchen staff without the server being notified that this is the case, require your expeditor to inform your food runners that there is a problem. Require them to inform the server immediately. That’s a procedure.
Conflict in a food and beverage operation is a little like theft. The opportunities are inherent and so tempting, so minimizing the instances is best. Managers who commit to creating a better environment, who refuse to accept that the kitchen has to hate the waiters, can and will run better operations because of it.
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