How many times have you watched your best server walk out of your restaurant in search of greener pastures and bigger tips?
Being a server can be grueling and rewarding, in equal measure. Servers walk miles every shift while balancing trays, connecting with guests, delivering food, cleaning up spills, placating screaming babies, remembering allergies, rolling silverware, shining wine glasses, and keeping the manager in the loop about major issues – all while keeping a smile on.
Servers, like the rest of the restaurant industry, have a high turnover rate for many reasons. Even minimally experienced servers know they can get another job elsewhere, no problem, maybe even the day after leaving a job. If they’re not getting along with a manager or are sick of serving a particular clientele, they can find another job that may be more lucrative without much effort.
“If I do a better job, I'll make more money. If I try a little bit harder, there’s no ceiling for me. I can find a better restaurant to work at and keep moving up as much as I want to,” says Gabrielle Grant, who worked in the restaurant industry, both front and back of house, for over 10 years. “As a server, I'm in control of that. When you’re doing well, it’s really awesome.”
For over a century, restaurants have relied on the tipping system and a hierarchical employee structure to keep the doors open and the food on customers’ tables. It’s one of the only industries where employers rely almost entirely on guests to pay half their staff’s wages.
With such thin profits in such a precarious industry, many restaurateurs have been too scared to try out alternative ways of running a restaurant. Diners have also expressed that although they support restaurant staff getting paid more, they still struggle with higher menu prices, which is one of the most common ways for restaurants to increase wages.
But there’s a lot that can be done to make your restaurant a rewarding, engaging place to work. Some restaurant management models require an overhaul of the books, but others can be tried and tested before taking the plunge.
Try Open-Book Management and Share Your Finances
Mei Mei, a Chinese-American restaurant in Boston, runs on the open-book management model, meaning that managers and owners share the details of the restaurant’s finances – like profit and loss statements – with their whole staff. The theory is that doing so empowers staff to realize that their actions, and their choice to work as efficiently as possible, have an impact on the business. Like many other open-book management operations, Mei Mei also has a revenue- or profit-sharing program as a way to incentivize employees to make changes to increase profit for the business.
Aidan Dunbar, a server at Mei Mei, said in a blog post on Mei Mei’s website that he appreciates how management is “open and transparent about how things are done, and showing me the whole picture, which makes everything just much clearer.” He also likes working “at the kind of place that would invest in its employees.”
In Somerville, MA’s Union Square, Juliet Restaurant also runs on a profit-sharing, gratuity-free, open-book management model. Server Sam Mangino says that it’s empowering “to talk about periods and overhead and cost of goods and labor costs.” She added that “to know not only what those numbers are but what they mean is really huge.”
“We have a lot of people who are working at Juliet who don't necessarily want to work in restaurants long-term, but they're there because they can learn about the numbers, they can learn about our business model and they can learn how to run a business,” she continued.