Running a Food Truck For Dummies
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People are human. Mistakes happen. No matter how skilled or well-intentioned they are, your food truck staff is bound to slip up from time to time and violate policies in your employee handbook. In those instances, you need to consider taking disciplinary measures.

Feeling uncomfortable with disciplinary situations is normal, and most people aren’t trained to deal with unacceptable employee behavior. Most people try to avoid conflict; however, an employee’s actions aren’t going to get better unless he’s aware of a need to improve. The situations won’t disappear if you ignore them, even if a problem employee leaves. You may face feelings of distrust, frustration, and a lack of commitment from other employees if you don’t take a stand and properly discipline problem employees.

Just as children test their parents, every one of your staff members is watching you to determine what your boundaries are. If you ignore unacceptable employee behavior, you’re indicating to your staff that that behavior is okay, which can lead to more problems down the road.

Inconsistent disciplinary practices can lead to problems. Charges of favoritism or discrimination, for example, can come from inconsistent discipline. Make sure the actions you take are predictable based on your policies set forth in your employee handbook.

Figuring out whether discipline is needed

Before taking any actions against a staff member, ask yourself the following questions:
  • Am I providing a good example? Discipline isn’t effective if you appear to be a hypocrite (for example, trying to discipline an employee on attendance issues when you regularly arrive late). Good leaders lead by example.
  • Do I know all the facts? Take the time to investigate when the situation warrants it.
  • What is the employee’s performance record? If you have an employee with a consistent record of outstanding performance, consider whether the fault outweighs his past performance.
  • What level of severity does this warrant? Traditionally, the disciplinary process begins with a verbal warning as part of a progressive discipline system. If the behavior continues, a written warning should follow. If these warnings don’t correct the situation, another written warning or suspension to provide time to investigate the circumstances is usually appropriate. Finally, if the behavior continues, you may decide to terminate the staff member.
These actions can warrant immediate dismissal:
  • Possession of or use of drugs or alcohol on company property
  • Sexual harassment
  • Threatening employees or customers with violence
  • Theft
  • Sleeping on the job
  • Insubordination

Holding a disciplinary discussion

If you’ve determined that discipline is required, make sure you’re prepared for a discussion with the employee. You should have written documentation that includes date and place of infraction, factual details, specific rules that have been violated, steps to be taken, and a disciplinary form requiring signatures from you and the employee.

If an employee refuses to sign a disciplinary form (indicating he has read and understood the document), note this non-action on the signature line.

Disciplinary action usually starts with a verbal warning. When giving a verbal warning, be sure to put it in writing, even if just as a personal note. Administer the verbal warning in a private environment — not in front of customers or other employees — and do so after you’ve documented the warning in the employee’s file. Doing so keeps you from forgetting to document it later.

Also, having that written documentation is important in the case of a terminated employee who brings a legal suit against you — the more documentation you have, the better.

Here are a few steps that can help make your disciplinary discussions with employees more effective:

  1. Describe the issue or offense.

    Refer the employee to the appropriate policy that he failed to uphold so he understands why his actions are being disciplined.

  2. Ask for the employee’s reasons behind the offense (and listen to his response).

    Knowing why the employee did what he’s being accused of is important. In some cases, extenuating circumstances may have triggered the offense, and you may want to take those into consideration as you determine what actions to take.

  3. Describe the action you’re taking and explain why.

    Let the employee know what you plan to do and give him the specific reason behind your decision. Doing so helps the employee understand why he’s being disciplined in the way you chose.

  4. Indicate follow-up action and set a follow-up date.

    Don’t let a lot of time pass before you follow up with the employee; usually, just a few days will suffice.

  5. End the discussion on a positive note, indicating confidence in the ability of the person to change his faulty behavior.

    Don’t let this discipline become an issue between yourself and the employee. After you’ve disciplined the employee, make an effort to move on and leave the issue in the past.

Note: If the offense warrants terminating the employee, you may skip the last two steps because they’re no longer applicable.

Discussions revolving around disciplinary actions are difficult and unpleasant. However, putting off these discussions can undermine your entire business, including your staff. Try to have these discussions before the end of the shift the offense took place or at the beginning of the next shift the employee is scheduled for.

About This Article

This article is from the book:

About the book author:

Richard Myrick is editor-in- chief and founder of Mobile Cuisine Magazine (, a central source for mobile street food information. Since its inception, Mobile Cuisine has been teaching aspiring culinary professionals how to create successful food truck businesses by providing valuable information that can help anyone build a food truck business.

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