By an Anonymous Former Server
With over ten years in the restaurant and hospitality business, I’ve seen it all – from gypsies attempting to pay their bill in fortune-telling to managers buying homeless men holiday meals. I’ve worked in small operations to large corporate companies and have experienced what it’s like to work in every FOH position. Not that I meant for it to happen, but this makes me an expert in the biz. I’m not part of the ‘big guys’ crew’ – those on top who make menu or pricing decisions. I’m an expert on the everyday happenings within the restaurant.
When ‘experts’ write advice on how to manage employees, I almost laugh because chances are they have never held a serving, bussing or host position in their lives. And yet there they are, offering advice on how to best manage employees. If you want to know what really matters to your employees, you need to ask a former server.
The ‘No Soda’ Rule
I once worked in a restaurant where servers were not allowed to have any soda. The reason was two-fold: 1) they didn’t want servers hanging out in the server station and 2) it would cut down bev costs. They were so strict on this, in fact, that they required all servers to retrieve sodas via the service bar. You can only imagine what this looked like on a Friday night at 9 o’clock – ten servers blocking the service bar, in the weeds and neglecting tables... not to mention the angry expo yelling “HANDS” and wondering where the hell everyone was. Efficiency times were way down, and, as you probably guessed, this caused so much trouble that management was eventually forced to get a soda machine for the servers.
The ‘Free Agent’ Mindset
Before I get into all the reasons why this sort of management tactic is no bueno, I want to take a moment to explain the server mindset. Servers are free agents; it’s one of those jobs that anyone can do anywhere. So when it comes to brand loyalty, they are not typically interested. They do not care if the company is making money or if the brand message is coming across. They care about the money they will walk out with at the end of the night.
All you restaurant managers are thinking, “Duh, we could have told you that!” It’s no secret that most servers are loyal only to themselves. That being said, it’s the little things that make us care – something as simple as a free shift meal, unlimited soup and bread, or free soda.
For a server to be continuously giving patrons delicious soda drinks, while being unable to enjoy one themselves, is almost like slapping someone in the face. It’s treating them as servants, as opposed to team members and valuable employees.
Give Love to Get Love
Servers are your biggest brand ambassadors and essentially the face of your restaurant. They are who the guest interacts with and who they will come back for. You could have the best restaurant concept in the world, but if your server is awful, chances are your guests won’t come back. Conversely, an awesome server can be the reason guests even go into a not-so-great restaurant. With that being said, KEEP YOUR TEAM HAPPY! Now, if you want mediocre servers, offer them mediocre perks, like free soda (which should be free anyway). But if you want great servers, ones that actually care and take an interest in the brand, you need to show them some love.
One way of doing this is to offer employees free stuff. Seriously, everyone loves free stuff. Especially a free shift-drink at the end of, what seemed like, a neverending shift in the worst section possible. If I made $10, I shouldn’t have to spend $7 of it on a (necessary) glass of Merlot.
Staff meals are always a good idea, as well. Serving hungry guests can make you hungry, too, and there is nothing worse than working a shift on an empty stomach. It’s also a bit of a blow to your spirit when you realize exactly how much you spend on food during the week. Feeding the staff before a shift ensures they will not be ordering food during the busy time of their shift or sneaking meals into the back corner of the patio so the manager doesn’t see you eating and write you up – or worse, throw it away.
Another way to keep staff involved is to hold contests. Something simple like BINGO can get employees excited about their shift and engaged. If done right, this could get servers to upsell more, sell more specials, and meet certain quotas. This can get tricky, however, because there will always be the few that, no matter how hard you try, will not want to participate. But that’s ok, these people will weed themselves out eventually and the purpose of a contest isn’t to discover your weakest players, but to get staff motivated.
Although running a restaurant is a numbers game, it is first and foremost a people game. You need to keep guests happy, and the only way to do that is to keep the staff happy. A happy server means a happy restaurant environment, and a happy restaurant environment means a good guest experience. Good guest experiences turn one-time guests into regulars. That means more money in your servers’ pockets, and, you guessed it – more money for your restaurant.