Shift Break Troubles


Shift breaks are the law here in California.  It is a trouble that most restaurant managers hate to deal with.  It is the policy that most servers fail to adhere to.  Those mandatory breaks that each employee must take are not just a burden on the server and the restaurant managers, it is frustrating to your customers as well.

While eating at the restaurant of a very exquisite and expensive hotel the other day, we had a disappointing experience.  Our service could have been described as good and terrible.  How?  Well, the service and friendliness from our server and bartender was excellent and would have rated a 5 of 5… when they were around.

Let me explain.  We had dinner in the restaurant first and then some drinks at the bar.  Throughout the visit, it seemed as if we were following the associates’ break schedule.  First, in the restaurant, after the check was dropped off, our server disappeared.  We overheard another server mention that our server was on a break.  He neglected to inform us and also did not send another server to check on us.  It took us 15 minutes after receiving the check to find someone to take our payment and make change.

Though we had plans later on that night, we decided to stop by at the bar after dinner to relax and have some drinks before leaving the hotel.  We sat down at the bar and waited, and waited, and waited some more.  After 15 minutes, with no associates in the lounge, a cocktail server shows up with food from the kitchen.  She then proceeded to take her time for about 5 more minutes before asking us, “Have you been helped?”  Obviously, the actual bartender had gone on break and failed to inform the cocktail server about what was happening.  If he had told her, she would have known that we were new guests and would have come to serve us immediately.  Needless to say, we were about 30 minutes late to our event that night.

Despite all this, as I mentioned above, the service was excellent.  The server and bartender were both friendly, cordial, and very professional throughout the visit.  They were just not there when we needed them.  This made the visit extremely disappointing and caused us to spend much longer than we had anticipated in the restaurant and bar.

Restaurant managers and servers should take away a lesson from this.  Make sure that your restaurant has a break handling procedure.  Tell your guests that you are on break and introduce the server that will be covering that section.  Most importantly, make sure that the other server covers that section!  Many restaurants do the first part well, but the new server just continues to monitor their own section, still leaving the customers to fend for themselves.  Also, have a break timetable in place.  Take breaks at the proper intervals and at the least busy times.  Try not to have more than one server on break at once if you can help it.  Lastly, train servers to just be aware of all customers, not just the ones in their section.  Even if it is not a break problem, other servers should be able to spot neglected customers and offer them assistance.

Remember, it does not matter how good your customer service is if your servers are not around to deliver it.