It’s the Foodie Friday before the Labor Day weekend so what better topic than those who labor in the food business? We talk a lot here on the screed about cooks and cooking. Today we’re going front of house to talk about servers.
When you think about it, being a server is one of those jobs that many people don’t want. It’s what some people fall in to while they’re trying to do something else – be an actor, finish school, etc. While many high-end restaurants train and keep their wait staff for a long time (I’ve seen some pretty old guys schlepping trays at a few fancy steakhouses), much of the industry is people in transition. It’s hard work, demanding both physically and psychologically (you try dealing with a demanding drunk jerk who is showing off for his equally drunk friends).
Some of the challenges restaurant managers face with servers are instructive for other businesses. Training is the first. Once a server is trained they become very attractive to other businesses. Obviously not training the staff isn’t an option since you want customers to have the best experience possible. How, then, do you retain employees? Having trained many junior people in my day, that problem applies everywhere. We can’t usually match the extra money a new job will offer. Why, then, would they stay?
In any industry, I think that’s done by sharing the vision of where the business is heading along with a value statement you live by and use to make decisions. Letting the staff in on your goals in a specific fashion (grow revenues 10% without raising prices, turn 5 more tables an extra time each night) gives them ownership of where the business is heading and why. The next step – execution – is all on the manager’s shoulders. They need to manage the staff and the business towards the goals.
I know that servers have a reputation for behaving in ways that rarely happen outside of the restaurant world more than once. Showing up drunk or stoned or calling in sick at the last-minute are symptoms of what I wrote about above. When your job is just a step to someplace else you tend not to treat it seriously, which is especially dangerous when that job is the primary point of contact with the customer. Paying well, training well, being demanding but fair, and sharing the goals and visions of the business can help every employee take the business as seriously as you do, whether they’re servers, accountants, marketers, or sales reps.