No matter who we hire or how well our operations are run, there comes a time when an employee may fall behind. For one reason or another, this individual no longer – or never did – adhere to the standards that we expect from our staff.

For example, we may have a bartender overpouring drinks or a server skipping out on their side duties before the end of their shift.

The last thing we want is a Us vs. Them environment between management and staff. If we handle these situations the right way, we can get the commitment we need from our employees as well as the respect to go with it. Going at these problems the wrong way, however, will only make difficult employees even more difficult and lead to resentment from our staff.

Here are five factors to consider for the next time we sit down with an employee to reset expectations.

Were Expectations Set Beforehand?

We must remember that common sense may not be so common. The server may not even know they are making a mistake.

On the other hand, perhaps our bartender who is overpouring drinks knows full well he’s in the wrong but thinks he can get away with it since the managers don’t care that much about an extra half ounce here or there.

Is it fair for us to come down on him when we never set those expectations in the first place? Whether this logic makes sense or not, it’s our duty to make sure all expectations are set beforehand.

Wait Until After the Rush

As much as we may want to set an employee straight, doing so during the busy hours of business is just not the time.

The servers have five things to do at any given time, which means the last thing they need is to be taken aside for a lecture. This is also a time when they are more susceptible to stress. If she is fighting to keep up with her tables, what kind of reply do we expect to get?

The key is to make note of the situation and deal with it when the restaurant slows down. Perhaps the conversation can wait until the end of the employee’s shift. By this point, we’ve had time to dwell on the problem and can discuss it without emotion, and our employee is no longer in the thick of the rush.

Avoid Attacks and Accusations

Suppose one of our servers left at the end of her shift without telling us. Not only that, but one of her tables wasn’t set and she skipped out on her side duties.

Here’s how we don’t want to deal with the situation:

“You left yesterday without clearing your table, you didn’t do your side duties, and you even left without telling me! What’s the deal?”

Notice the accusatory tone in how the manager is speaking – It comes across as a personal attack.

Sure enough, the employee is going to raise their defenses right away, making them less likely to listen to anything we have to say. Not only that, but it’s going to upset them or stress them out.

We must put our ego aside. Is an upset employee who feels personally attacked going to perform her job well and connect with her guests?

More than that, is she going to learn anything from this interaction or commit to our expectations?

Here’s another approach:

“Hey, can we sit down for a moment? I noticed that some of the side duties assigned to your name weren’t completed yesterday and I don’t recall being notified that you had signed out.”

Notice there is no underlying accusation here; we are simply curious and ready to have a calm discussion. The employee is much more likely to explain him or herself in a conducted manner.

Validate Excuses but Stick to the Issue

As an inexperienced manager, I always found that my conversations were going sideways and that I was never getting my point across. Every time I discussed a problem with an employee, I would accept the reasons for why the task didn’t get done.

“I had my phone out because I’m expecting an important call from my mother.”

“I had to leave early because I had a doctor’s appointment I couldn’t miss.”

“I asked the table if there were any allergies and they said no.”

I learned quickly that, while some excuses may even have merit, the key is getting back to the expectation at hand. No matter what the problem might be, there is always a better way it could have been handled.

Get Some Sort of Commitment

Let’s say one of our waiters served a cocktail but the guest didn’t like it. As it turns out, not only did the server not let the guest know what was in the drink or what the taste profile of the drink was, the server didn’t know himself.

What we want to do is reset the expectation that all servers should know their drinks so that they can explain them to the guests accordingly. But more than that, we want some sort of commitment from the employee as well.

“John, the expectation is that all servers know the ingredients in our cocktails and that they let the guests know of any red flags before serving them. That is the standard for all servers in this restaurant. What kind of commitment can I expect from you to ensure this happens from now on?”

Whatever their commitment may be, provided we are satisfied with it, we can simply follow up with that server the next time we see them.

We must remember that there’s a right way and a wrong way to deal with servers who don’t adhere to our standards.

By following this approach, we can reset expectations with our employees in a way that not only gets better results but leads to respect from our staff as well.