“The restaurant world can be seen as a class struggle between the neat, rushed and articulate charmers working in the dining room and the blistered, stained and profane grunts in the kitchen. – Pete Wells, NYT food critic
In 2015, a movement started making waves in the restaurant industry – an education movement about the class disparity that prevails in restaurants in our big cities. The first big splash came from famed New York restaurateur Danny Meyer, when he abolished tips at all of his restaurants and instituted flat service charges.
From there, longtime anti-tip advocates added their voices, highlighting class issues that remain invisible in the labor statistics department.
The Atlantic and the Washington Post both published extensively on the problem and potential solutions that year. The revolution was coming; we were all going to achieve decent wages and equality in our little part of the world. But, the revolution died out and for many of my fellow cooks at the time, their dreams of professionally cooking died with it. The talented individuals seemed to somehow lose interest in working in stuffy high-end kitchens for mere peanuts.
The aspirations of opening innovative bakeries and restaurants – concepts we enthusiastically shared with anyone who wanted to hear it – have now been replaced by the terrified silence of workers exhausted from multiple jobs and financially insecure.
This disparity stems from the different sources of income of front-of-house (FOH) and back-of-house (BOH) employees. The agreement dictates that the restaurant pays BOH employees hourly wages according to stagnant minimum wage standards.
Meanwhile, individual customers mainly pay FOH employees through the “tip pool” or similar system. These employees earn less than half of the local minimum wage before tips, leading to financial instability as the business fluctuates through seasons and even weeks. The company then becomes unable to pay for a quality workforce and will suffer from high turnover and training losses as the market continues to weaken. In other words, everyone loses.
The system I describe below offers a way to ensure a viable base rate of pay for all employees. In addition, it offers equal access to all employees to bonuses on a busy weekend or public holiday.
These revenues increase when restaurants retain the skilled workforce needed to take advantage of these peak periods. All facets of the operation improve individually and create a restaurant that is more successful overall.
A minor restructuring that combines the notions of salary and free service is the simplest solution. Rather than asking the company to pay the BOH and guests to pay the FOH, Vincent Bistro combined the two systems to give each the maximum net earnings from the bonus associated with the stability of standard payroll income. After reviewing our means and general expenses, we have decided that $ 20 / hr is a reasonable base rate of pay for ALL employees in our company, a fair wage that is often unattainable through traditional means.
To achieve this seemingly unrealistic level of compensation, we use the same strategies developed by predatory business owners who normally maximize profits for the company and its investors, and instead use them to redistribute value to workers.
The first step, unscrupulous as it may sound, is to legally define all gratuities collected by the company as donations, allowing our staff to share more fairly.
At the end of the night, FOH staff calculate the total of all collected bonuses and distribute them among all active employees. This amount is equivalent to an hourly rate of pay, typically $ 10 to $ 15 / hr. Payroll funds are then provided by the company to ensure that everyone earns at least $ 20 / hr for their time. If on busiest nights the tip exceeds $ 20 / hr for employees, the hourly rate of pay increases to reflect those gains. For example, on Saturday September 19, Vincent was able to pay all the employees, from the reception booth to the dish pit, barely $ 34 / hour for a standard 7-hour shift. That night our dishwasher made about $ 238 instead of the $ 105 he would have received at Chicago minimum wage for the exact same amount of work. On slower nights with less business and therefore less tips, we offer “shift cuts,” a common practice of eliminating work hours when less labor is required.
So far we’ve found that most of our employees are able to enjoy an extra day off rather than stressing out about missing a day of unnecessary income.
So we can clearly see the benefit from the BOH point of view, where I have spent most of my career. But let’s not forget our essential counterparts up front who take care of our guests and serve our food on the clean plates in the dish pit. Normally, a server at Vincent earns the minimum wage demanded by the city of $ 6.40 / h. That’s considerably higher than the federal minimum of $ 2.13 / hr, but it’s still a negligible rate compared to the cost of living, especially since much of it disappears in withholding taxes. payroll such as taxes.
In addition to this salary, FOH also accounts for an average of 20% of sales in the form of tips. Standard weekend nights will see approximately $ 5,000 in food and beverage sales, generating an additional $ 1,000 in tip shared by a team of five tip employees, each earning $ 200 in tip plus $ 44.80 salary for that busy shift, which is equivalent to the Saturday example above.
In the new system, waiters can still expect this type of pay on busier nights with an increased tip, but they can also be assured that all of their time on the clock is paid at a minimum rate of $ 20. $ / hr, even down business. This compensation system creates a sense of teamwork across the division of the house, increases the sense of income unity and instills pride in one’s place within the microeconomics.
By combining the sources of income for all employees, we have both stabilized and equalized the income of our employees. Sure, paying employees $ 20 / hr on down nights may seem risky, but according to our latest P&L analysis, over the past three months, direct payroll has averaged about 34% of business expenses, just 4 points above the 30% industry standard for labor expenses.
This percentage shows that while incomes have stabilized and increased for staff, salary costs have remained largely unchanged from more traditional models. From a worker perspective, BOH employees are able to earn their fair share of tips and FOH employees are able to plan their finances more reliably, making the best benefits of both systems available to everyone. employees with fewer potential pitfalls.
Our revenue stream integration system allows employees to choose, or even specialize, the tasks they enjoy doing rather than the ones that pay the most or the least. This system simultaneously motivates the individual to become a larger part of the community and to be more proud of their work. Clean dishes, great food and drink, and charming service are all equally important factors in a quality dining experience. And when every employee has their part in making every step of the experience a success, we all win. It’s time for restaurants to all pay reliable, livable wages to both ends of the house.
The author is a longtime restaurant cook.