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.
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.