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How to keep workers off their phones

barista texting phone

Question:

How can I keep my employees from using their phones?????????

– Tim Shanahan, Chef/Owner, Shanahan’s, Forest Park, Ill.

Answer:

While my editors reserve the right to edit your question, I hope they leave in your nine question marks, as it both represents an Advice Guy record and underscores your exasperation. Fighting phone addiction is something I’m struggling with at school, work, and especially at home as the father of teenagers. And I know I’m an offender as well.

Your question also reminds me that, for the first time in my history, a friend and I left our neighborhood bar after only one round of drinks. It was not for lack of trying. It was a slow night and the two bartenders were both preoccupied with their devices and didn’t notice our empty glasses and thirsty glances. Sure, we could have gotten their attention, but to do so seems at odds with the very nature of hospitality. We left cash and walked out without so much as a thank you from them. A painful missed revenue opportunity.

When I addressed this problem in the past (in 2011), it was more about crafting a policy that can help you manage employees’ cellphone usage to an appropriate/responsible level, especially during service. Increasingly, my advice is a straight-up ban: no cellphones back of house, front of house, anywhere at work, except during official breaks. This will not be a popular policy: “What if my kid’s school calls?” “I’m expecting a call from my doctor.” I get it, but I also remember a time when people were unreachable during work hours, except in an emergency, in which case they could of course call the place of business and ask to speak with the employee. Your job is to make money providing great food and beverage to your guests and putting their experience at the fore. I don’t see how that is compatible with employee cellphone use.

Provide a secure place, even charging lockers, for employees to leave their devices. Some employees may argue that as long as they get their work done and guests don’t notice, they can keep up with texts and notifications. I think that’s the wrong way to look at it—if they can keep up in that way, they can be cleaning, helping co-workers, or taking on more responsibilities.

More on managing personal devices here.

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