Owning and operating a successful restaurant requires attention to many things – and food is just one of them. Your restaurant’s staff is a key component of your success; their job satisfaction should be a top priority. Nonetheless, not everything that passes for absolute truth is accurate and reliable information. In the restaurant industry, myths abound, particularly when it comes to employment.
Myth #1: Working in a Restaurant is Not a Full-Time Career
Although many people view a part-time job in a restaurant – as kitchen staff or as a member of the wait staff – as a temporary step along the path to another career, it can actually be a stepping stone to a fulfilling career in the restaurant industry itself. According to the Bureau of Labor Statistics, it is quite possible for restaurant employees with ambition and smarts to work their way up the employment ladder. As proof of this, many current restaurant managers were once cooks and front-of-the-house employees, such as hosts and servers. Gaining experience in the less-glamorous roles in a restaurant is the best way to end up in management – or even as a restaurant owner. Due to this myth-busting reality, restaurant owners are seeing more low-level employees with their eye on the next rung of the ladder, who believe that the way up is to be immersed in the restaurant business – from the bottom up. For every wannabe actor or student fill-in, there is someone else who views work in a restaurant as a career.
As a restaurant owner, you should be on the lookout for people with a passion for the business and a willingness to start small in order to work their way up to something much bigger. Have an open mind when interviewing applicants and don’t rule out people with diverse backgrounds and experience in different fields. For example, many success stories began with candidates who had a background in customer service in a different industry, but displayed the right skill set to go on to a successful career in the restaurant industry when they were given the chance.
Myth #2: The Main Source of Income for Wait Staff is Tips
Before beginning a job as a waiter, an employee might imagine that generous customers will grace them with abundant tips that will outstrip their salary. If this is what they believe, they may be in for a rude awakening. According to the website PayScale, which polled more than 15,000 restaurant workers, the average hourly haul in tips is a meager $3.40. Doing the math, the article goes on to say, “The average restaurant worker earns a base salary of $9.90 an hour, plus $3.40 per hour in tips, giving them a median total salary of $13.30 per hour. That means that [only] 25 percent of their total incomes come from tips.” While the numbers vary according to locale, gender, and the type of restaurant a waiter is serving in, the statistics are not heartwarming even when these factors are taken into consideration.
Nonetheless, tipping is still a hot-button issue that relates to the disparity between front of house and back-of-the-house workers, which is to say between the servers and the kitchen staff. While a waiter has the potential to make extra money in tips, a cook may receive a slightly higher base salary, but he or she does not receive any gratuities. Due to this inequity, some restaurants are doing away with tipping altogether, opting instead to pay their workers more – and charge their customers more – to make up the difference. If this practice becomes widespread, tips will become an even more-negligible part of the reason people become waiters and waitresses.
Myth # 3: To Succeed in a Restaurant You Need to Be a People Person
Although many low-level restaurant jobs do require the ability to interact with customers in a pleasant and welcoming way, other entry-level positions place less of an emphasis on customer service. True, if you’re greeting people at the door, taking their orders, or serving them food, being a people person is an asset, as customer service – or lack thereof – can make or break a restaurant’s reputation. But not everyone who yearns for a future in the restaurant industry has the knack for dealing with people; fortunately, for less outgoing people, there are loads of jobs that don’t require contact with guests. These positions include working in the kitchen, bussing tables, handling training, managing public relations, etc. So the good news is that although the restaurant industry is widely described as a food service industry, if you’re not attracted to the customer interaction side of the business, you can still find a few viable employment options and make it in the restaurant business.
Myth # 4: Skill and Experience are All that Matter
As a restaurant owner, you want to put together a team of champions and so you invest in advertising, interviewing, and training to build that team. The trick, however, is to know what to look for in a potential team player, and skills and experience are not the only qualities that matter. As hard as they are to assess and gauge, passion and character count for just as much, if not more. That’s why an application and resume is only part of the hiring process; a one-on-one interview where you have a chance to ask incisive questions is an even more crucial part of recruitment. The strength of your team will depend on the individuals – your team is only as strong as its weakest member.
Hiring mistakes happen most frequently when desperation sets in, such as when a few staff members depart at the same time, leaving you short-handed. In a case like this, panic can cause you to hire just about anyone who applies for the job, which is basically a formula for disaster. Indiscriminate hiring and faulty recruitment practices will cause more disruption to your restaurant – and to your vision and bottom line – than you can imagine, and you may not realize it until it’s too late. Taking the time to find people who are the right fit for your restaurant – and looking beyond skills and experience – is a key to your restaurant’s success.
Myth # 5: Money is All that Matters to Employees
When it comes to staff retention and employee loyalty, it isn’t all about the money. In a recent survey of restaurant staff, which focused on the reasons that workers may or may not go from job to job, and from restaurant to restaurant, the results were surprising. More than 78% of the respondents said that they would quit a job because they had “reached their learning potential.” In other words, the reason that restaurants were unable to retain staff had less to do with competitive salary and more to do with the lack of job advancement and the ability to realize one’s potential.
Even low-level employees want to feel fulfilled and are looking to be appreciated – money is only one (small) part of job satisfaction. The investment in employees goes beyond salary. It includes the opportunity to learn and grow, and a smart restaurant owner will nurture employees and help them develop and branch out. On-the-job-training is a key way to retain loyal staff. In addition, you should encourage open communication among the various levels of management and encourage a sense of ownership and belonging. Talk to employees about the restaurant’s performance to make them feel responsible for what goes on. If you realize that there is so much more than just money involved in staff loyalty, it will boost your success.
Myth Busting in the Restaurant Business
So what have we learned? When it comes to the restaurant industry, we’ve learned that working in a restaurant can lead to a full-time career; that wait staff shouldn’t expect to make big money just from tips; that one need not be a people person to make it in the business; that teamwork is essential; and that money is not the only thing that matters to staff. Adhering to common myths that proliferate in the restaurant industry can lead you down the wrong path. Instead, take our advice, bust those myths, and follow the road to success.