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How to deal with smartwatches during service

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Question:

I told a cook not to use his smartphone during service. Now he’s on that smartwatch. What should I tell him now?

– Restaurant Owner, Philadelphia

Answer:

Managing employees can be very rewarding. There’s nothing more gratifying than developing someone who comes to you needing work and seeing him or her emerge as a leader. Unfortunately, the pain of management too often overshadows the rewards. Without knowing this employee, I can imagine the same smirk I get from my kids when they think they are outsmarting me—a face that says, “See? Now I’m not on my phone. I’m just on my watch.”

You are right for so many reasons to prohibit the use of phones during service, and I would extend that to ban cellphones from use in the kitchen at any time. Using a personal phone should be treated like a cigarette break—only on the employee’s time, outside of the establishment, and only when washing hands thoroughly before returning to work. Phones are typically the dirtiest piece of equipment in your kitchen. They spend time in pockets adjacent to unsavory body parts, and frequently touch the hair, face and mouth, where they become covered in spittle. And I have heard too many restroom phone conversations and text notifications to think that people aren’t using phones in their most compromising moments. They are difficult to clean thoroughly.  Moreover, phones are fragile—I’ve seen them fall out of chef coats into pot sinks and be kicked under equipment. Anything distracting employees from serving the guest or safely navigating the slippery, greasy, hot, sharp kitchen environment should be minimized. Put simply, personal phones—and by extension other personal electronic devices like tablets and smartwatches—have no place in the kitchen.

Erica Hope, general manager of the emerging Philadelphia-based QSR group Wishbone, says, “I just dealt with something like this. An employee was talking on the phone to a friend between serving customers. She had her phone secured inconspicuously under her bra strap and was speaking softly. My question to her was, ‘How can you provide memorable and incredible customer service, while talking to someone else?’ The answer is that you can’t. They can’t, so stop trying. Focus. Focus takes us far.”

Like a lot of kitchen and employee problems, communication is key. Specify the policies in your employee manual and extend them to all electronic devices. More on cellphone policies here

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