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By: Dr. John T. Self

Workplace Pressure

Some pressure is good for us. Pressure makes us try harder, keep an edge, and improve. But too much pressure, especially when it is constant, is detrimental. Few businesses have the potential to cause excess pressure like the restaurant business. However, I believe that people who like the restaurant business, and I count myself in that category, thrive on this kind of pressure. This kind of inherent, background pressure energizes us, makes us look forward to getting into work so that we can slay the dragons, and fulfills us. All very positive.

But there are two kinds of pressure that cause irreparable harm to managers and, I believe, are the major reasons for manager burnout. These kinds of pressure can cause managers to feel powerless, sick, and overwhelmed.

The first is when your restaurant just explodes with problems. It can be too much when you find your restaurant understaffed, customer complaints seem never-ending, and every employee needs something from you at the same time.

Another type of pressure comes when a boss is never satisfied. This type of boss seems stuck in negative gear, never finding any good that you ever do. He or she seems to find great sport in making you look bad, even twisting positive acts into negative.

There are a few things that you can do when you find yourself in these situations.

In the first instance, when you walk in the door and find yourself face to face with crises until you leave, you must slow the restaurant down to give you time to plan and execute the plan. You have got to get yourself out from under the day to day or minute by minute crises to have a chance to get better long term and relieve the unrelenting pressure. This type of pressure most frequently comes from lack of training and/or being short staffed. It is time to not be too proud to ask for advice and get short term reinforcements if possible. Talk to your supervisor, your assistants, and to your key employees. Ask your employees to work some extra shifts so that you can hire more employees and be able to train them. Do not skimp on the training even though it will be tempting because you need them desperately. This just causes more turnover and will only add to your problems. Train new employees well and give them time to mature and season. Do not fall into the trap of giving them too many tables along with too many shifts. It is always better to close off stations rather than overload servers when short staffed. Most servers will say they love extra tables and look forward to increased tips. The reality is different because extra tables will cause bad service and lousy tips and increase customer complaints even more. It will also only place way too much stress on your servers which will burn them out. Not what you need.

The other form of bad pressure is the boss who believes he cannot be doing his job well unless he can make his managers look bad. This is a bad situation. The first recommendation is to approach him formally to have a meeting. Go over several situations in which you came away feeling attacked. Explain that you are serious about your career and that you want to learn from your mistakes. Explain to him or her that you would like your actions, both good and bad, to be pointed out so that you can be developed. Say that you appreciate his experience and want the reasons why decisions were bad, not just that they were bad. Try this. You just may be surprised at how effective it is, but if this fails and he continues to attack, I would think seriously about asking for a transfer because staying and "taking it" will not get you developed, it will only get you beaten down.

About the author:  John T. Self is a lecturer at The Collins School of Hospitality Management at California State Polytechnic University (Cal Poly Pomona). Prior to entering academe, Dr. Self spent fifteen years in the restaurant industry. While in the corporate world, he worked for several chains including overseeing six restaurants with sales of over twenty million dollars. He has also owned three independent restaurants. While at Golden Gate University, he started the partnership with Dalian University of Technology in Dalian, China and is continuing in that involvement at Cal Poly.

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