Life of a Restaurant Manager: Fair vs. Consistent


“That’s not fair!”

Parents hear this all the time when they don’t do the exact same thing for each for their children.  I think that I didn’t hear it from my son largely because he is an only child.  Where I often heard it was at work as a restaurant manager.  But people don’t realize that there is a difference between “Fair” and “Consistent”.

As an example: Lisa* is 10 minutes late for her shift because she overslept.  I talk to her and remind her that it is important for her to be on time and let her know that I am making a note in her file about the incident.  She goes back out and starts complaining to her fellow employees: “It’s not fair!  I got written up for being late!  Why didn’t Janet get written up for being 20 minutes late on Monday?  Management is picking on me!”  A couple different things have gone through my head. How do you know I didn’t?  We don’t discipline people out in the dining room where everyone can see.  Maybe Janet is just a little more discreet and maybe she just accepted the fact that she screwed up and doesn’t plan on doing it again.  Alternately, maybe Janet was 20 minutes late on Monday because she had to wait for the landlord to change the locks on her apartment because she finally kicked out her abusive boyfriend.  If Janet didn’t share that with anyone, is it really my place to share it just to make Lisa less upset about getting told she did something wrong?  True, two people might be getting treated differently in similar looking situations, but aren’t I actually being Fair by taking into account extenuating circumstances and showing some compassion instead of just being Consistent?

Another example: Two employees, Alex and Brian.  They both miss their shift on Friday night.  I try to get hold of them and can’t.  The restaurant’s standard procedure is to fire someone who doesn’t show up.  Saturday morning they both come in.  I sit down with Alex and ask him why he wasn’t here the night before.  His answer is “I just had something better to do.”  (Yes, I really have been given that exact answer in a situation like this.)  Of course I tell Alex that he is fired and no longer works here.  Now I sit down with Brian.  If I am going to be Consistent, this conversation will end with him fired also.  Brian tells me that shortly before his shift, his 2-year-old son suddenly started throwing up all over the place and had a fever of 105 .  His wife is out of town and he had to take his son to the Emergency Room.  They got him stabilized and he is going to be OK, but the doctors want to keep him at the hospital for observation.  8 o’clock this morning he finally got a hold of his mother to come to the hospital to sit with his son.  Brian even has brought in the admission papers from the hospital.  Am I still supposed to fire him?  Would that really be Fair?

When my staff would complain that we weren’t being Fair I would tell them, “I can be Fair or I can be Consistent, but I can’t always be both.”  I would present them with a scenario like these and ask them “Now you tell me, which should I be?”  Every time I was told I should show the compassion and be Fair.  Then I would tell them, “Well, since it is not my place to share other people’s personal details with everyone, you just have to trust me that I am doing exactly that.”

Unspoken was, “Anyone who can’t trust me to do that should find someone else to work for.”

* Note to anyone who knows me or has worked with me: If I used your name it DOES NOT mean I am actually referring to you.  I attached random names to scenarios which are SIMILAR TO but not PRECISELY situations I have encountered.


2 Responses to “Life of a Restaurant Manager: Fair vs. Consistent”

  1. A very deep concept that comes naturally all the time. Consistent is mechanical, fair is human. I hope people understand how important it is to be human – especially in the hospitality business.

  2. 2 Lanie

    I am considering going into the restaurant manager career and was wondering your thoughts on the career. Any pro/con? Lifestyle? How you got into the industry/career?

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