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Although making people feel like they belong to a community is important, another key to deterring poor employee behavior is by taking the full force of action against anybody who doesn’t comply, Chester said.

Consistent, meaningful actions against those who break the employee code will drive home the point that you’re serious about your brand’s reputation, he noted.

“Let your employees know that [unprofessional behavior] isn’t going to be tolerated,” he said. “You want them to pause and think about their actions and know that this could come back to them.”

Cornell University professor Alex Susskind, who specializes in food and beverage management, added that it’s often important to drive the point that food safety isn’t something to joke about — even if you’re an 18-year-old college student. “It gets down to getting your employees to understand [that this is serious], ” he said. “’Hey, this is a job, and if you don’t follow these procedures, none of us will have a job.’”

This language should be in training materials, Susskind said, especially because if an event like this does occur, the company is then able to take swift action, discipline the employee, and show the public that this was never part of the company’s internal culture.

“The more information employees have about what’s good and bad behavior, the better,” Susskind said.

Meghan Griffiths, an HR generalist at Restaurant HR Group, said all of these rules fall under a basic code of conduct. “It would be combined between the safety and security policies,” she said. “It’s just about holding people consistently accountable.”

Of course, she added, it also helps to hire the right people in the first place.

“We always advise managers to take their time and check references,” she said. “I think a lot of times in the restaurant industry employees are hired on the spot. Even though we know restaurant operators are very busy, it’s worth the extra time.”

Planning for crisis management

“There are going to be bad employees. Even the best manager in the world can’t control every little thing, ” said Susskind.

In other words: This stuff will happen to some restaurateurs, no matter what policies are in place. So it’s best to be prepared to handle a public relations crisis.

Susskind said that the public isn’t always very forgiving. However, if a restaurateur is vocal about the problem, why it’s a problem and then apologizes, the damage can be mitigated.

Taking quick action to avoid a prolonged public relations debacle is crucial, Luxem said.  Referring to the Taco Bell shell-licking photo, she said: “I can’t imagine any reasonable person who would say this wouldn’t be grounds for immediate termination.”

That’s why it’s important to have clear rules in the training manual, Luxem said. There’s no question about what to do—just take care of it.

“You’re never going to put in a policy that says ‘don’t lick the tacos,’” she said. “But you take very swift and consistent action, depending on how severe the circumstance is.”

Contact Erin Dostal at erin.dostal@penton.com.
Follow her on Twitter: @ErinDostal