Posted On: May 30, 2024

5 Signs of a Toxic Restaurant Workplace

The restaurant industry is notoriously fast-paced and demanding, but that doesn't mean it has to be toxic. Unfortunately, some kitchens and dining rooms cultivate unhealthy environments that can take a toll on your physical and mental well-being.

Knowing the red flags of a toxic restaurant workplace can empower you to make informed decisions about your career and protect yourself and your employees from unnecessary stress. In this blog, we’ll go over 5 key signs to watch out for and what you can do about them to foster a healthier work environment.


The truth is that it’s not just one person. If it were, it would be much easier to fix. Unfortunately, unhealthy restaurant cultures are a combination of many different factors, and everyone from general managers to dishwashers plays a role. Also, the problem typically takes hold over a period of time. Big and little things add up, which leads to unhappy employees who feel uncomfortable, unappreciated, or undervalued. Miserable employees are less productive, make more mistakes, and are more likely to find a new job somewhere else. Plus, they are more likely to cause lasting damage to your overall reputation—which impacts your bottom line. Here are some of the signs your culture is toxic and strategies for how you can start to fix it.


One glaring sign of a toxic workplace is a consistently high turnover rate. Frequent departures of employees can disrupt operations, lead to a lack of consistency, and cause stress for those who remain. High turnover often indicates that employees are dissatisfied, feel undervalued, or experience significant stress in the workplace.


Addressing high turnover rates in a restaurant requires a collaborative effort from both management and employees. As a manager, you can play a proactive role in contributing to a more positive and supportive work environment. Try offering assistance and guidance to new employees. Consider creating a mentorship program which can help newcomers acclimate faster, feel supported, and understand their roles more effectively.


A toxic workplace often fosters an environment where disrespectful behavior is tolerated or even normalized. This can manifest as bullying, harassment, discrimination, or any form of behavior that creates a hostile atmosphere. Such conduct not only affects individuals on a personal level but also erodes the overall culture of the organization.


Combating disrespectful behavior in a restaurant requires a collective effort from both employees and management. If you witness or experience disrespectful behavior, taking proactive steps can contribute to fostering a healthier and more respectful workplace culture. If you feel comfortable, address the disrespectful behavior directly with the person involved. Use assertive communication to express how the behavior is impacting you or others and request that it stop. You should also keep a record of any incidents of disrespectful behavior. Note the date, time, individuals involved, and a brief description of the behavior. This documentation can be useful if you need to escalate the issue to higher management or HR.


By now, we've all heard the saying that people don't leave companies; they leave bosses. This is especially true in any customer-facing industry. For example, if customers are allowed to yell at employees without any intervention from management, employees feel powerless. Additionally, if employees go to their supervisors with ideas on how to improve processes and they are continually ignored, they will eventually shut down. And this lack of support from upper management is a major sign of toxicity.


The biggest thing you can do is listen to your employees. Encourage them to come to you with anything from problems with customers to their ideas on how to improve processes. In most cases, people just want to feel heard, even if their ideas aren’t implemented. Dig in and find out why the customer was yelling, and if the employee didn’t do anything wrong, you need to stand up for them. You don’t need to yell or get nasty, but you do need to make it clear to the customer that this kind of conduct is not acceptable at your establishment. Taking action will go a long way toward making employees feel respected.


Are people constantly told what they are doing wrong? Does management then point it out in front of other employees, or even customers? When the restaurant has a bad night, is everyone, from bartenders to kitchen staff, blamed for it? But then, when things go well, does management take all the credit? Are employees recognized for their contributions? If you answered yes to these questions, then you have the problem of all stick and no carrot. In other words, you only critique employees when something goes wrong, but you don’t celebrate them when things go right. This leads to demoralized employees who feel nothing they do is good enough.


No one wants to hear constant critique, but people make mistakes that you will have to point out. But it’s all in how you present it. When an employee makes a mistake, take the time to have a conversation with them. Address the issue. Then, ask them what they would do next time to fix it or what they can do differently going forward to ensure it doesn’t happen again. Let them come up with a strategy for fixing their mistake. It will make them feel empowered and that you are working with them to improve their performance. At the same time, you also need to show employees appreciation when things go well. Nothing in your restaurant is solely the responsibility of one person. Everything is a team effort—and you need to recognize when the team does well. A simple thank you can go a very long way.


So far, we’ve covered how managers and supervisors can contribute to a toxic restaurant workplace, but they aren’t the only ones responsible. Employees contribute too. When an employee has a negative attitude about everything, such as schedule changes or their assigned tables, they are likely to start complaining to anyone who will listen. And many times, what happens is that other people will join in. And before you know it, employees are spending all of their time complaining about every little thing, which ultimately cultivates an unhealthy environment.


This is an area where it’s important to have policies in place that address this specific type of behavior. You also will need to proactively have conversations with employees about how they are feeling and why they are feeling this way. Empathize and acknowledge the problems and issues they are facing, but at the same time, you need to encourage them to find better ways to deal with their feelings. It’s also an area where you need to model the behavior you expect from your employees. As much as you might want to enter a complaining session, you can’t. You need to set an example that your employees can follow. If you recognize the signs of a toxic culture at your restaurant, don’t give up. While it’s not always easy to fix, if you take the right steps and show your commitment, you can create a healthy environment for your employees.

Invest in a Healthier Workplace With Learn2Serve

Recognizing the signs of a toxic restaurant workplace is crucial for the well-being of both individuals and the entire culinary operation. By staying vigilant and addressing these issues head-on, we can collectively strive for healthier and more positive work environments. As you navigate the restaurant industry, consider investing in your professional growth and well-being.

Our online Food Manager Certification Course not only equips you with essential knowledge for managing food safety but also empowers you to contribute to a safer and more supportive workplace. Head to our website to get started!

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