Managing Part-time Employees

While this industry has always been built on the backs of part-time employees, recent changes to the hospitality landscape have placed renewed emphasis on managing part-time employees. More corporate platforms than ever are relying on part-time employees in order to avoid additional health care costs. In addition, the competitive nature of this business and the struggling economy have forced managers to look to part-time, unskilled labor to get important jobs done.

It doesn’t take long in this business to have success stories and abject failures when dealing with part-time employees. These are often young, undereducated people who may not be career-oriented. There will be some new hires who instantly buy into the challenges and mission of the business. This can embolden the management team to find more low-cost, highly motivated and competent employees. After all, if you’ve been able to find one or two model part-time employees at low wages, there must be more out there.

Unfortunately, the result is often plenty of trial and error that leads to the opposite end of the spectrum – employees who could care less about the business and are present simply to take advantage of the situation. This leads managers to quickly realize the reality of managing part-time employees: it’s a crapshoot.

The only way to endure and thrive in this environment is to create a systematic plan for managing the part-timers. This is a critical element of finding success in most restaurants in this economic climate.

Get Managers on the Same Page

Most managers have an independent management style, and this can work well in many restaurants. However, managers have to be clear about what they expect out of their part-time employees and how they’re going to realize these expectations. This means constant communication about employee issues and challenges.

Specifically, managers have to know:

  • Employee standards
  • Current performance levels
  • Specific challenges
  • Employees who are underperforming
  • What issues have been addressed in the past

This communication has to occur in formal and informal ways – both around the manager meeting and in passing between managers. When changes happen, all managers need to know about it immediately. This has to be priority number 1 when dealing with a staff that largely consists of part-timers.

Build Employee Buy-in

There are many ways to build buy-in, more than a few of which appear elsewhere on this site. What matters most is that there is a culture in place that values employee buy-in. This allows new hires to see employees who take ownership of their workspace, and be rewarded for developing this habit. This starts from the top, and is executed in several ways. However, it takes a store-wide commitment to value employee buy-in. This is time and money that is well-spent, in part because it saves hiring and training costs, and lost revenue from dissatisfied customers, in the long run.

Use the Internet

The Internet is an effective tool for posting resources and answering questions for part-time employees that most management teams don’t use. It is pretty simple to find a site to post online threads between employees, or create a page on Google docs or another free hosting site. This might be a great tool for posting any of the following:

  • Employee schedules
  • Menus and wine lists
  • Additional info on entrees/wines
  • Recent employee reviews
  • Updated info for upcoming parties/events

This is helpful for part-time employees, who might go a few days without entering the building. Many employees need a refresher on their duties or expectations, and receiving this at home is a great tool for eliminating mistakes and getting employees on the same page.

Assess Regularly

Employees have to be assessed on a regular basis. This is especially true for part-time employees, whose performance can oscillate based on external demands or distractions. This means that it is important for managers to assess part-timers as often as possible and share their findings with fellow managers.

While this is time-consuming in an environment in which managers are often short on time, there are a few strategies that make it easier. The best tool I’ve seen is a brief checklist that allows managers to compile standards and jot down comments. Another tool is guest comment cards. Collecting these regularly make it easier to be aware of trends and make the whole process of evaluation more systematic.

Keep Hiring and Training

Managers with many part-time employees should never stop hiring and training. This means interviewing candidates even when the staff is full, and finding time to re-train employees who have fallen behind. This requires a commitment from the management team, and it isn’t easy. However, this is a necessary byproduct in many restaurants that have a staff consisting mostly of part-time employees.