The restaurant industry has earned a bit of a steamy reputation—and no, we’re not talking about the dish room. Some view the long, odd hours and tight quarters of the profession as a breeding ground for workplace romances.
In fact, both chefs and foodservice managers have earned a slot on PayScale’s lists of jobs with the most coworker canoodling. At Old Carolina Barbecue Company, Shirley Hug, vice president of human resources for the chain’s Midwest-based restaurant group, recalls three couples that have married, two that have been disciplined for making out in the back of house, and, just last month, a formal complaint that was lodged against an employee after a romantic relationship went sour.
People are going to date whom they want regardless of company policy, Hug says, but the restaurant group has a few safeguards to help brace for breakups and other relationship drama. Here’s some advice from Hug and other restaurant pros on making sure your restaurant doesn’t get tangled up in summertime flings.
1. Give them your blessing
Nonfraternization policies don’t necessarily work, Hug says. Instead, the Ichor Restaurant Group’s employee handbook spells out that the company understands employees will often form close relationships when working together, and even encourages bonding with teammates. However, the handbook warns that team dynamics can often change when co-workers start dating, and the restaurant might have to become involved if the cohesion is disrupted.
San Francisco-based Back of the House Inc. also embraces the social nature of its business. “We always make sure they understand that we condone their relationship, and we work to help them thrive,” says Ed Onas, director of operations for the group’s Super Duper Burgers.
2. Let them have some space
As soon as Hug spots signs of trouble in paradise impacting the work environment, she will move the employees around, transferring them out of the department or unit. Relationships that involve a manager and subordinate are always reassigned positions to avoid conflicts resulting from direct supervision.
At Super Duper Burgers, management recognized that one couple’s new relationship could be a conflict of interest, so it worked with the couple to come up with a solution. One person became general manager of a different concept within the group, and the discussion was a catalyst for the other half of the couple to take on a general manager position at another unit of the chain.
3. Communication is key
As a product of a restaurant love story herself, Loren Hannah, events manager for Michael’s on Naples Ristorante in Long Beach, Calif., says it helps to create an open dialogue with team members. “It’s good to know things about your staff to help prevent any surprises,” Hannah says. Talking about the relationship with employees also helps to set expectations that the two individuals will put their personal relationship aside to do their job, she says.