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A few weeks ago I was sitting at the bar at Harry Caray’s in Chicago’s Midway airport. I was at a stool next to the server station and happened to overhear a conversation between the bartender and an off-duty waitress who came in to pick up her check. The waitress was complaining because she was turned down for a request to take a few days’ vacation, citing the loss of several staff members who had requested time off for the same period.

The conversation reminded me of similar ones I had while waiting tables and bartending in Philadelphia until I heard the woman say (and I’m paraphrasing): Well, my airline ticket is bought and there’s nothing management can do to stop me from going. Um, how about fire you, I thought. Losing her job seemed to be the least of her worries and her arrogance about the whole ordeal shocked me. I don’t think I ever had that attitude when it came to requesting time off. If I was told no, I simply worked to cover my shifts.

A few weeks later, I was talking to a friend of mine who owns a clothing store. It was a day before the Kentucky Derby and she expressed surprise at the level of irresponsibility her employees seemed to display about their schedules. Several of them had told her when they would and would not be working, rather than request off for their preferred days. The change in workforce mentality from her younger days as a retail associate disappointed and discouraged her.

I don’t have the answer to the dilemma, and didn’t have an answer for my friend. But as the second-largest employer in the United States, the restaurant industry has an opportunity to connect with this new workforce, both sharing and teaching a new ideal of work ethic developed around a series of feedback and rewards, and consequences. I thought the Harry Caray’s employee should have been fired for her actions, but it was clear she wasn’t going to be. Unfortunately, the lesson she learned will only fuel her right of privilege now and in the future.

Any thoughts?

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User Comments – Give us your opinion!
  • John Boatman
    Having been in the Food Biz in one way or another for over 35 years, I can personnely attest to the shift in attitudes of the work force. It all starts at home with kids being given everything they want weather they work for it or the parents can afford it or not. Then the parents have the attitude that whatever they want is more important than the job anyway(after all it's just a part time job) teaching thier kids that go to work don't go to work its not that important, not realizing that they are then teaching thier kids that what they want to do is more important than work and setting them up for a life time of failure. It is important to sit with your younger workers and explain to them what you expect as far as attendance and hold them to it. Yes I would have fired an employee that went on vacation without permission, did the facility have a system for employees to ask off and to know in a reasonible time if that had been approved or not. Too odten we do not know the whole story or do not take the time to listen to our employees. Maybe if the manager took the time to listen to this server that she had already booked a flight something could be worked out so that everyone felt valued and cared about.
  • Paul Gasior
    This poor attitude from our over privileged youth is present everywhere, not just the workplace. People under 40 tend to be very self absorbed and seldom think of what effect their actions have on others and so they simply don't care. I was in a doctor's office for an appt. and the doctor heard his phone go off with a text message alert. He actually left the room to see what it was. Unbelievable. He was 30 yrs old.
  • alan houser
    Employ your own kids in the business and teach them the value of a paycheck.
  • Colleen Mitchell
    Having seen it from a servers perspective, and now an owner, it is all too easy to get another serving job when you lose your current one. There is a revolving door in alot of restuarants around here - and I find it mind boggling. I expect a lot from my employees and I pay them well for their service. But disrepect the job and you will get shoved out the back door. Jobs like ours (good pay, good hours, emplyee perks like pedicures) are impossible to find elsewhere. It is the restaurant owner who will hire the revolving door emplyee who is as much to blame as the employee themselves.
  • Valerie Killifer
    Thanks for the great comments. I chuckled in regard to the doctor who left the room to check his text. I would have been equally speechless. It is up to restaurant operators to establish a strong set of guidelines when determining whom they should hire. Unfortunately, that doesn't always happen or desperation takes hold and the next employee was actually the first available. And, to John's point, an explanation of expectations and consequences is always good.
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Latest posts by Valerie Killifer
Valerie Killifer
As the founder of P-O-P Content & Communications, Valerie Killifer brings her passion for creative thinking and relationship development to the forefront of her business. She spent 15 years as a professional journalist and continues to write about the brands, people and trends impacting the restaurant industry.
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