Dealing with Employees/understaffing


Hi, this is a bit of a reverse question about employees. We don't have staff meetings but i'm hoping to encourage them and would like a bit of advice before hand. We are incredibly understaffed (and demoralised) and I'm wondering about staff to customer ratios. I've heard theres an average of around 1:15 but I don't know how well that applies to this situation. It is a cafe serving fresh hot food and seating a maximum of around 30 people, with 2 indoor areas and a garden. There is usually just one of us working so we are required to take the orders, make the drinks, deliver to tables, make all the hot food, order extra produce as needed, answer the phone and take messages. We have a menu that goes on for nearly 8 pages and are usually out of stock of nearly everything as management wants to cut back the food budget. This ofcourse leads to angry customers and with such slow service times they rarely come back. Regulars often say they wont come in when there is just one member of staff because they can see we are run off our feet. Every single member of staff is desperate to get a new job. I would like to get this sorted as I see the business failing very soon due to this and so many other issues, all of which our boss is very well aware of. To name a few we recieve no holiday pay or sick pay, it takes months for machines to be fixed, and have to fight for leave as there are only 3 members of staff. The boss works 3 hours a week at the cafe. If I could get some facts about the way other businesses run when they are run well that would really help. Any advice would be very gratefully recieved

Hi Aurelia,

I'm not an expert when it comes to food service.  However, I can see why you are concerned and why this business might not survive.

I would suggest you three employees get together without management and work out a less stressful work schedule.  See if there is a way to double up at peak times.  Perhaps one person could come in an hour before opening and start preparing some of the food so that when the second person comes in, it's not so hectic.  That early person could put pitchers of water on each table perhaps with a stack of paper cups to eliminate the need for wait staff to do that.  

Outline what tasks you are doing; which are the most hectic and lead to customer dissatisfaction and brainstorm what you can do to make it less so.  When you've got some issues ironed out with workable ideas, request a staff meeting with management or have one of you meet with management to go over the suggestions.

A few other suggestions:  (1) Update the menus.  Replace the current one with a one-page menu of popular food items that are usually on hand and take less time to prepare.  If other offerings not on the basic menu become available, they can be verbally told to customers as "today's specials."  A basic menu will cut down on cook time for hot food and eliminate customers ordering something that is not available.  (2)  I am not sure what state or country you are in, but employees who work holidays should be compensated extra. I also don't know labor laws that would apply to you regarding holidays or sick leave. Those are things you need to find out based on where you are.  Once you know what the labor laws are, you can decide what your options are.

I don't know how amenable your boss is to changes.  If you present workable solutions and he vetoes them or he refuses to meet with you, opting to maintain the status quo, start looking for another job.  A good deal of our time is spent at work.  It should offer some rewards and satisfaction, and it doesn't sound like this job is doing that for any of you.

Take care.  I wish you well.

Alice J. Bogert  

Dealing with Employees

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Alice Bogert


Today's workplace is filled with many issues that impact employee performance and add to workplace stress. I have many years experience supervising employees and can field questions for both management staff and non-management staff related to employee conflicts, employee-boss issues, time management, negotiation skills, preparing employee performance evaluations, developing resources, generation X and Y issues, and cultural diversity.


I am a retired law enforcement officer, and I teach training classes around the country for law enforcement. I am also a consultant/trainer to private industry teaching numerous management development and supervisory courses. I teach report writing at a local junior college where I am an adjunct faculty member. I've also worked as a substitute teacher for grades K-12 and private tutor. I've been a facilitator for Volunteers in Victim Assistance, helping citizens/employees deal with community or work related traumas, and I've worked with abused and neglected children.

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