This article stems from a recent experience in a hotel where I was staying. The power went out for a few hours, but when it returned I stopped into the bar for a drink. The bar was fully set, there were two employees on duty, the ice was in the bin, and the cocktail napkins were fanned on the bar top. When I asked for a drink, the bartender told me that she couldn’t serve me because the computer system was down. Now, think about this – when did we become so attached to technology that a bartender couldn’t work out of a cash drawer, or simply have me sign a bill to my room knowing that it could be charged to my account at a later date? After a few moments of silence I walked her through the process of overcoming the fear of making a decision and presented her with a way to be a customer hero in the moment. Thus the following article:

There is a slow moving virus that has been creeping through the workforce for some time now. It’s a virus that shows no mercy, doesn’t attack just one type of people, is not related to any particular industry; cares little about age, size, ethnicity, or socio-economic background. It began as a harmless cold, but has now grown into a full-blown epidemic that will be hard to overcome. This is a manmade disease without a vaccine, but a disease, none-the-less that can be reversed if we first recognize it and then put a plan of attack into action.

The virus, the disease is a combination of apathy, a lack of trust, and an acceptance of mediocrity. The virus is prevalent in the hospitality business, retail, government, and education, just to name a few industries. We throw up our hands as managers and blame everyone but ourselves, and scratch our heads as consumers and wonder why the virus is allowed to spread.

Let’s take a look at the signs of this viral infection and then some thoughts on how to stop the spread through prevention.


  1. Employees are unable or unwilling to vary from the steps in execution of their jobs, even when a curve ball speeds across their strike zone.

             The likely cause is one of the following: they are uncomfortable with their own abilities, they don’t care, management has made it difficult for employees to audible on the line, and/or they fear for their jobs if they make the wrong decision.

  1. Employees are unwilling to execute obvious solutions to problems, even when the solution is within their grasp.

The likely cause is one of the following: They have tried in the past and been   burned by management, they don’t care, they have never been trained   properly, they are told to never make decisions on their own.

  1. Employees fully believe that anything beyond what is in their job description is not their responsibility.

They are lazy and don’t care, the culture of the operation is such that             employees feel that they can decide what they will and will not do, and/or management relies on job descriptions that never cover all of the opportunities to do what is right.

  1. Employees are reluctant to make even the simplest decision on their own – they defer to the manager on all decision-making.

Likely reasons: they have been burned before, the manager lives by the       autocratic rule of “do as I say – I don’t pay you to make decisions”, the manager has chastised the employee before for making an independent decision.

  1. Employees are reluctant to ask for help for fear of being frowned upon or disregarded.

The culture of the operation is based on autocratic management that shuns ideas from others and reprimands those who ask for help or require assistance in any way shape or form.

  1. Employees fail to understand that building their skills is their responsibility as much as it is the company they work for.

Employees are not encouraged or mentored through the process of self-        improvement. When employees do try to improve – management fails to recognize their efforts, and there is no apparent benefit to self-improvement in the organization.

  1. Employees are willing to perform poorly even when they know how to do a job better, because they see no reason to question a manager’s decision and would rather fail than take a risk associated with offering a better idea.

The employee has little respect for the operation where he or she works and            they are not proud of their involvement. They are never recognized for putting for the extra effort and when they do make suggestions they are ignored. So, in the employees mind – their extra effort is not worth it.


  1. First we must all begin by accepting the idea that everyone wants to do a good job, serve a customer well, and demonstrate their personal greatness.   Let’s invest seriously in training, training, and training.

The average restaurant spends less than 1% of their sales on training staff –            yet their staff is the most important asset in the operation.

  1. Spend adequate time with scenario planning – walk through everything that could go wrong and brainstorm solutions.

Invest adequate time in planning for the unexpected. When you scenario plan you uncover your Achilles heal and set in place a bank of solutions that can be tapped if and when necessary. Remember Murphy’s Law – if something can go wrong – it will.

  1. Empowering your trained employees to make decisions.

Empowerment only works if training takes place fits, but if you invest the time and energy in training and validating skills then it is essential that you TRUST your employees to take the reins and make decisions in the best interest of the guest and the property. With the right support – your employees will likely impress and amaze you.

  1. Recognize decision-makers for their efforts and focus even if they make an occasional wrong decision.

The best way to encourage your employees to make pro-active decisions is to            take away much of the fear associated with making those decisions. Even if they make an occasional wrong decision, make sure you applaud their efforts and then show them a better way next time. Always make sure you give them the decision-making tools and support.

  1. Make it your goal to help create problem solvers, not problem slackers.

When your staff members know that their responsibility and their opportunity lies with making decisions and building the skill set that will allow them to “win” with decision-making, then that is what will happen.


Harvest America Ventures, LLC

Restaurant Consulting and Training BLOG


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About Me

PAUL SORGULE is a seasoned chef, culinary educator, established author, and industry consultant. These are his stories of cooks, chefs, and the environment of the professional kitchen.


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