The Staff Is Always Right at These Restaurants

Eateries are beginning to implement staff-first cultures to help with recruitment and retention.

September 19, 2022

ALEXANDRIA, Va.—Restaurants are beginning to the change the working conditions for their teams after the pandemic shed a light on the thanklessness of restaurant workers and the stressful environment of a job that works directly with customers, reports Bon Appétit.

These restaurants are of the mentality that the staff comes first, in contrast to the traditional adage service jobs where the customer is always right. They are shortening hours, cutting down on menu items, increasing pay and attempting to shift the transactional nature of customer-staff relationships.

Pay is the foundation of a staff-focused restaurant, according to the owners of Oakland’s Daytrip. The restaurant opened with an equal tip pool based on a 20% service fee, starting pay at $25 an hour and health-care benefits. These offerings were funded through a 5% increase in menu prices.

There’s this extraordinary lack of fundamental dignity to the way work is treated in this industry,” Justine Hwang, a server at Daytrip, told the San Francisco Chronicle in 2021. “We have to live in the world that we live in, and I think the service fee and being transparent is the best we can do.”

Daytrip had an influx of job applicants in late 2021 amid a nationwide labor shortage.

“You have to start from a point of paying people enough,” one of the owners told Bon Appétit. “Decisions like that are what grounded us before we opened. We knew if we couldn’t make a restaurant work with these things in place, it wasn’t worth it.”

The owners are also flexible with hours of operation at Daytrip. The restaurant was originally open until 10 p.m. on weekend nights, but the staff said the six-hour service shifts was taxing, so the owners shifted closing to 9:30 p.m. The restaurant also gives its employees two weeklong vacations each year—one between Christmas and New Year’s and the other during the summer.

“It’s not just better for them. It’s also better for us,” the owner told Bon Appétit. “We’ll have greater longevity if people are getting what they need—we’ve had extremely little turnover.”

Some restaurants are shortening their menu to decrease the workload on staff. At Bird Pizzeria in Charlotte, North Carolina, the menu is limited to three types of pizza with an array of toppings, and the restaurant is open from 4 to 8 p.m., but by 5:30 p.m., it’s not uncommon for the restaurant to be out of pies. The husband-and-wife owners understand that more pizza means more money and more customers served, but they chose to keep the workload low enough for their four-person staff (including themselves) and their 500-square-foot location.

Also, QR codes have helped ease the workload on restaurant staff, though the evolution of the codes since the pandemic may not be the most well-liked by customers. At Yangban Society in Los Angeles, customers order at the counter, but then they can add to their order after they sit down at a table using a QR code, avoiding repeat trips to the counter. At Los Angeles’ Good Good Culture Club, ordering via QR codes help staff interact more with customers, and there are less menu mistakes, as the tickets go directly to the kitchen.

“Servers can actually be more in contact with the table and guide them along,” Good Good Culture Club co-owner Jeff Hanak told Bon Appétit.

The Good Good Culture Club says QR code ordering goes along with its shortened dinner service, which is four hours long. The staff-first mentality at the restaurant has paid off. There are often long lines for reservations for a table. At Lasita, another Los Angeles restaurant that has implemented a staff-first culture, also has a long queue for reservations. Same situation at Her Place, a Philadelphia restaurant, that is closed on the weekends, and where the staff helps write the schedule for the location.

Two education sessions at the 2022 NACS Show in Las Vegas explore HR issues: Make Your Employer Brand Stand Out and Winning the War for Talent. Both are set for the morning of October 3. In addition, the NACS Show lineup includes four education sessions on foodservice: Menu Optimization: Think Like a RestaurantGlobal Foodservice Trends & MenusFoodservice Analytics: The Recipe for Success and Gulp! Reinvigorated Dispensed BeveragesRegister now to attend the NACS Show, October 1-4 at the Las Vegas Convention Center.