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Hiring & Retaining Single Parents In A Restaurant

The Work Force No One Wants

Today, there are many parents raising their kids without a partner.  The process of raising a child under the best of circumstances is monumental, but doing it solo can be scary, stressful and expensive to say the least.

Some employers actively discriminate against single parents applying for new jobs.  We've all heard the reasons:  bad work attendance, always "an emergency" and impossible schedule juggling.    But what we don't hear often is why single parents can be the BEST employees for a restaurant:  they've got kids to feed!

Understanding The Challenges

Most people never think about the events that single parents deal with every day.

  • Custody disputes

  • The legal process of divorce

  • Power struggles with an X

  • One income instead of two

  • Late/Unreliable child support payments

  • Lack of personal time

  • No backup system when a child gets sick or needs special attention

  • Scheduling visitation with an X

Once you, as an employer, understand these challenges you can take steps to recruit and retain single parent employees.  Every restaurant in the country has problems with staffing... why not find a new hiring pool?

Creating Single Parent Friendly Work Environments

Some of the ways that employers can help make their work environments better for single parents are listed below.

  1. Help your employees succeed by establishing schedules that lead to success rather than failure.   If an employee wants to work 8 hours per day but in reality can only work 6 hours, don't over-schedule that employee.  Instead, make the schedule for 6 hours with 2 hours of flex time.   The flex time can be a back of house job that gives the employee the ability to leave any time (i.e.  dishwasher, swabber or busser)

    • Bad Employer

      "You were scheduled to work from 4:00p to Midnite.  Here it is not even 10:00p and you want to leave.  If you can't handle this job, you won't be able to work anywhere!"


    • Good Employer

      "I understand that your son has a fever and that you need to be with him.   Will you stay at work for 35 more minutes which will give me time to resolve some scheduling issues?  I appreciate you and I want to help you, however, I need you to understand my predicament also."

  2. Make a deal:  Your employee can have a "take home dinner" in return for working an extra hour off the clock.   You win because you get an hour of free labor and the employee wins because they save the time of preparing dinner at home.

  3. Treat events & happenings with a level head:  If an employee needs to leave work for a legitimate reason (medical emergency, family issue or illness) be sympathetic and supportive.   If the employee begins abusing your good will, respond with a three step course of action.

    • Step 1:  Tell the employee that you feel taken advantage of in this instance.  Ask the employee what course of action they would take if they were the employer.  Issue a warning in a polite but affirmative manner.

    • Step 2:  Warn the employee that repeated abuse has left a bitter taste in your mouth and that if a problem arises again, there may be no other solution than to find a replacement.

    • Step 3:  Summarize the dates, times & events from steps 1 & 2 above and terminate the employee without guilt.   As an employer, you have been fair and consistent.

  4. For every disciplinary action that occurs, tell the employee one thing they did well for each thing you tell them to correct.  For example, "(A) Amanda, you have done a great job with your customers.  All of them have told us you are likable and lovely.  (B) However, those of us in the back of the house need you to remember to buss your tables.  (C) If you do not improve this aspect of your performance, we will not be able to keep you on as a server."

    • (A) Explained what Amanda did well

    • (B) Explained the problem

    • (C) Clearly outlined a consequence

As Kermit The Frog once said, "It's not easy being green."   And single parents feel alone and misunderstood a lot of the time.  

Building good will and becoming a part of the solution is what every employer should try to do.  Don't forget, people work harder for a boss they respect and care about.