UnderCover Waitress: When Rule Enforcement Does Not Make Sense

Wednesday, June 20, 2012

When Rule Enforcement Does Not Make Sense

As I explained recently, some restaurants allow staff meals to be eaten on the premises. Employees may not take food home unless they pay for it. Eating the staff meal on the premises is allowed, taking the food home is considered stealing.

At first blush, this seems like a relatively reasonable attempt to control costs by ensuring that employees only take what they need to eat. For the corporate monkeys at Little Chef restaurants in the United Kingdom, it is an attempt to shoot themselves in the foot.

At 52 years of age, Lynn Smith had worked for twelve years as a waitress at a Little Chef restaurant in Staffordshire. According to the UK newsletter Mail Online, her record was unblemished. 

Ms. Smith took her lunch break as per her employer's policy. She asked if she could have a piece of apple pie with her lunch, and was told, "Yes." Ms. Smith was a responsible and dedicated member of the team at Little Chef, and the restaurant was busy; they may have been understaffed. She decided to cut her own lunch break short because she was needed on the floor. She boxed up the portion of her lunch that she did not have time to finish: half of the slice of apple pie. At the end of the shift, she took it home.

A few days later she gets called into the manager's office, and asked what was in the box she took home a few days ago. In her mind, she had done nothing wrong, and so she told the manager what was in the box. Long story short, she was fired for stealing. It is against company policy for employees to bring staff food home.

She should have been thanked for choosing to cut her personal time short because the restaurant was busy and short-handed. Maybe if they had more staff, Ms, Smith would not have "stolen" the uneaten portion of her lunch.

She should be commended for twelve years of good service. Instead, she is fired for technically breaking a rule. She was treated like a thief, but she was never a thief. I truly wonder at the logic here. It is costly and time consuming to look for people to hire, train them... and then replace them if they don't work out. They had this one waitress for twelve years, but they threw her away.

This smacks of corporate lunacy. Surprisingly, Little Chef is not a Darden concept.

It is also a reminder of the injustices and hunger that waitresses are subjected to. I doubt it would occur to office support staff to not finish their lunch. When people work through lunch, it is recognized and sometimes rewarded. They may earn overtime.

Unionized laborers do not have to bear the insult and injury of not finishing lunch, then being fired for bringing the remainder home. I'd love to see a waitress union. Even in states in which all workers, including restaurant staff, must be given paid breaks, waitresses know that fussing about no breaks means no more shifts.

Ms. Smith was fired for a technicality that, at worst, should have resulted in a reminder. Little Chef restaurants are attempting to recover; the bad feelings they just earned in the community will only make that goal harder to achieve.


  1. That's just bad management. The problem we have in this country is we promote people to one level above their competence. In this way, we can be incompetent while letting the people beneath us take the fall.

    A nice little pyramid scheme we have. Too many managers with no leadership skills. How do you train people to lead when the decisions you make are illogical? You don't, you just build a bunch of disgruntled people who work their way into management positions somewhere else and do the same darned thing. Enforce policy when it's someone you don't like, overlook policy when it's your buddy.

    It's crazy stupid to do business that way and managers who operate like that need not be in management!

    Very inspirational post to get my blood boiling. lol

  2. lol -- sorry about the blood boiling thing. I need to temper my serious posts with funny posts so people don't get too upset... but, also, I have no call to action on this. It is just so awful and this poor woman has now lost her job.

    Thanks for you insights!

  3. For cutting her break short she should have been able to take the entire pie home, so she could enjoy it on her own time and maybe spend time with her family. No good deed goes unpunished. So sit back and relax take your full break and enjoy your meal, & then you won't be a thief! Do these "managers" go to dumb dumb school? This is not how I would motivate my team, and what a reward..... your fired!

  4. Little Chef sounds like, to put it in an English way, a bunch of wankers and prats.


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