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How can restaurants fairly compensate kitchen staff?

How can restaurants fairly compensate kitchen staff?

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The following is a letter from a reader who is in a quandary over how to compensate his kitchen staff, which is disgruntled over the inequity between the front and back of the house. He’d like to include them in the tip pool, but does not want to create any more problems or possible lawsuits. So, if you’ve got a good solution, please weigh in. Surely, there are more people than Mr. Dysinger who are faced with his problem. I’ll share the best responses in next month’s issue and online.

—Editor Michael Sanson
[email protected]

I have a problem at my breakfast/lunch cafe that perhaps readers have a solution for. Since the dawn of time, there has been a schism between the front and the back of the house. I understand that you can’t have one without the other. However, I have to sympathize with the kitchen staff. Life in the kitchen is actually harder work with longer hours and less pay. In our case, it’s a lot less pay.  

Don’t get me wrong. Our servers work very hard. But they make out pretty well. Understand that it’s not just a matter of paying our kitchen staff more. Labor costs are a function of sales and we fall right in line with industry standards. But it doesn’t take long for the kitchen staff to become aware of this colossal inequity in pay. It makes trouble. When a server position opens up, I get kitchen staff asking for it. But the kitchen staff is far less replaceable.  

So, my question is, how can we include the kitchen staff in the tip pool?  I know there has been a lot of scuttlebutt lately about the subject, including a few lawsuits. I know high-profile places like Charlie Trotter’s had their waitstaff on salary and any tips left over at the end of the year were distributed as bonuses—to the waitstaff only.

If we create a culture where every employee, whether it be a waiter, line cook or dishwasher, is vital to ultimate customer service, and all employees are paid a minimum livable wage or better, couldn’t we then pool the tips and distribute them to the entire staff? I know it sounds socialist. But consider the incentive for teamwork and pursuit of customer satisfaction. I would love to know how others handle this situation.

—Marc Dysinger, Owner, Sneakers Bistro, Winooski, VT

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