5 Dangerous Phrases Great Restaurant Leaders Never Say

Avoid these damaging phrases in your restaurant.
Avoid these damaging phrases in your restaurant. Thinkstock

These phrases can damage your team and your reputation

Saying that succeeding in the hospitality industry is difficult is an understatement; it’s one of the most high stress work environments a person can choose. As a manager there are plenty of resources to educate yourself further on how to manage your daily operations. If you’re short on time, hospitality online courses are an option, or if you have some cash to spend, consultants offering their hospitality management services can be helpful here as well.

Both of these choices can assist in running a more streamlined and cost effective restaurant; however, neither would be able to closely monitor communication with your employees on a consistent basis. Only a great manager knows to keep him or herself in check when speaking to staff. With that being said, there are times when even the best managers might say something regrettable to their employees. Even if you think you are generally good at communicating with your team, you might be unknowingly saying some phrases that discourage your employees. Here are five dangerous phrases to watch out for:

“I Don’t Know, You Tell Me”

Danger Level: 1-3 (depends on tone)

While this phrase can sometimes be a gentle “push” to some restaurant managers to help staff be more independent problem solvers, it really depends on your tone. If said in frustration, the underlying context is, “Why are you asking me this?” or “Why don’t you know the answer?” This tone makes this phrase a 3/5 on “Danger Level” scale. This undermines the intelligence of the employee coming to you for advice.

Say you’re in the middle of a busy happy hour, a green server asks you if there’s cilantro in the complementary mango salsa for a guest with allergies; it’s unfair if you to bark “I don’t know, you tell me!” Even if a bartender is running late so you’re behind, at least be able to direct your new employee to someone who might know the answer, like a tenured server or your chef. As stressed as you might be, you should still provide them guidance, or, in other words, manage.

Then there are those circumstances where a kindly mentioned “I don’t know, you tell me” can provide some gentle pressure on staff. If a server, who has had been there for six months, cannot tell a guest if there’s cilantro in the mango salsa, then the phrase is appropriate to mention in a polite manner. This may also be a sign that you need to give your tenured employees a refresher quiz on menu ingredients.  

“That’s Your Job, Not Mine”

Danger Level: 3.5

This is probably the most passive-aggressive phrase in the list. Working in hospitality services is not a solo project; this is a team sport. As a manager, you’re the quarterback, and every shift is game time. This phrase implies that you would leave your employee your stranded when they clearly approached you for a reason. Being dismissive about your subordinate staff’s needs is a reckless and inefficient management style. It is also a reflection on how little consideration you have for others around you.

Nothing would get done in the restaurant if every person had this attitude. This is a “no job is too small” industry, and there’s no room for people who are not team players. It’s well-known that truly great managers are always willing to go above and beyond for their staff, even if it’s not in their job description. So, if you ever have the urge to say this phrase, then you might want to consider changing professions.

“You Figure It Out”

Danger Level: 4

While more aggressive than “I Don’t Know, You Tell Me,” the context is very similar. This phrase is indicative of a completely hands-off management style. A manager who uses this phrase is asleep at the wheel, and he or she is cruising down the path to nowhere and bringing their staff down with them.

The underlying tone of this phrase is “Do what you want, just get out of my face,” and a less than positive way to communicate to staff. It will always be counterproductive to have this attitude, as it trickles down to your employees. Tenured staff members will label you as a “lame duck” or a “dud” of a manager, and will tell newer employees in training to stay away. If you want people to leave you alone, then consider your goal accomplished with this phrase. Just remember that a manager is not a leader with no employees to follow him or her.

“It Doesn’t Matter, Just Get It Done.”

Danger Level: 2-3 (depends on tone)

Working 15-hour days and doubles can get the best of anyone, but especially restaurant managers. Sometimes this phrase can be one of exhaustion, but the context of the phrase is often  “I’m too burnt out to care, please complete this task before I fall over.”  While it may not offend your employee, the outcome of the project or task at hand could be less than great. However, at a 3/5, when it is said in haste or anger there is always a chance an employee will rush to accomplish the job at hand and do it 100 percent incorrectly.

This is especially true if they come to you with a question about how to execute the task. In this scenario you’re a kitchen manager, and a new prep cook asks you if the carrots for your seasonal soup are brunoise or small dice. If your answer is “it doesn’t matter, just get it done,” you’re flipping a coin on either raw or mushy carrots, resulting in a subpar soup and displeased guests. This phrase puts your name at risk by telling your employee to possibly do a poor job in haste by completing a task improperly on your behalf.

“You’re Lucky, You Even Have a Job Here”

Danger Level: 5+

Not only is this phrase snarky, but it’s also a blunt threat to someone’s job. Contextually, you’re putting down the person on the receiving end and implying that he or she is not good enough to be working in your restaurant. While some managers see results from this tactic, it is only because fear is a serious motivator. Chances are if this phrase is used often, the rest of the work culture is probably a negative one, so employees are looking to leave your restaurant for their next gig. Not even the best restaurant in the world should say this to their staff. Good talent is precious and having a hostile work environment does not help keep it.

To put this in perspective, you might run a store in very well-known restaurant brand. A shift leader, with a year under her belt, tells you that she accidently allowed a trail to speak to a guest, and the guest left because the trail told him you 86’d your best selling sandwich. If your response is “You’re lucky, you even have a job here”, this disgruntled shift leader can walk out the door mid-shift, and work at any other restaurant she wants.

Just remember, to be considered a great restaurant leader, you have to treat your people with respect. Overall, watch you say or your words can cost you valuable employees.  

Maria Gee

Maria Gee is a digital marketing manager for Harri.com. A restaurant worker turned blog-writing-video-directing machine, she aims to educate and entertain those in the hospitality field. She spends the majority of her spare time posting food pics on Snapchat and Instagram at @mariaalexag, and frequenting as many hospitality focused networking events as she can fit into her calendar.


Many tks for your kind guidance and advise-spot on. He who listen to advise travels far.... Your article is precise.

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