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The problem with cleaning as punishment

cleaning restaurant

Question:

I’d like to know your thoughts on a “team close,” where the manager does not let any of the servers leave until the restaurant is closed and all cleaning is complete. This is a result of team punishment because of one person’s mistake.

– Server, Louisville, Ky.

Answer:

There are two types of team closes that I know about. The first is a (typically weekly) deep clean where all staff stay behind after closing and scrub down the entire operation. I am, in general, in favor of this type of closing. It emphasizes that sanitation is everyone’s responsibility (provided that management also rolls up their sleeves), builds teamwork, and can be lightened with music, snacks, and so on to be made bearable if not fun. With all hands working, it can be completed quickly. The argument against this type of team close is that because you have people of varying job descriptions devoted to cleaning, at full minimum wage or higher, it is not a particularly efficient way to get a restaurant clean and arguably not the best use of peoples' time.

The second type of team close, the one you mention, where the entire staff is punished by being told to clean, I find problematic for a few reasons:

  1. Cleaning is a necessary part of restaurant life. By making it a punishment, management implies that is something an employee should not want to do or can avoid.
  2. Similarly, cleaning should not be done with resentment and animosity, the types of feelings an employee has when punished. This will make the results less satisfactory.
  3. While the message that the entire unit is in this together may be clear from the punishment, holding everyone accountable for one person’s actions may build further dysfunction among the team, pitting employees against both the employee who erred and management, the opposite of the intended result.
  4. Because the entire staff would need to be paid, and are cleaning unexpectedly after their shift and presumably unhappily, this is an expensive punishment for the restaurant to implement.


Lately, the “bro culture” of restaurants has come under scrutiny, and for good reason. To me, the type of punishment you describe is more like an outdated coaching practice for a football team than a technique for restaurant management. If an employee makes a mistake, that employee should be coached (privately) as outlined in the employee manual. The restaurant should be cleaned. My advice is that those two concepts should not be connected.

More on managing employee errors here.

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