One of my best servers gets complaints about body odor. I’ve casually mentioned it to him, and he says he uses deodorant, but it’s clearly not working. Any ideas on how to broach this without offending him? Or if he doesn’t fix it do I have cause to fire him? He definitely stinks especially later in the shift so it’s a real concern.
– Restaurant Manager, Philadelphia, PA
While it may sound funny, body odor can definitely ruin a dining experience since most flavor comes to us via the nose. There are a minority of people for whom even regular showering, using an antiperspirant and deodorant and not breaking a sweat can still produce body odor.
First, be clear in your employee manual that in addition to a professional appearance, being clean and free from strong odors (including body odor, perfumes and colognes which can interfere with taste, and bad breath) is an expectation for all employees, especially front-of-house employees and food handlers.
Second, I think at this point you are beyond casual mentions or hints. Sit the employee down and explain the nature and frequency of the guest complaints and that you feel they are founded. Be clear in your expectation. Suggest some clinical strength products and encourage your employee to seek medical attention. A doctor may prescribe a prescription deodorant, change in diet, or the odor may be indicative of a larger health concern.
You may have some hurt feelings at the end of the exchange, but given the alternative of lost revenue and disappointed guests, it’s the better option.
Given the possible medical nature of the problem, I would advise doing everything you can to solve this before resorting to terminating the employee, and then only in consultation with your attorney.
More on bromhidrosis (chronic body odor) here.