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Thinking Outside the Incentive Box

I was just reading your editorial regarding the labor situation in San Francisco. Although we have different concerns here in the Midwest, I was reminded of an incentive program a former employer used when I was a line cook.

We worked at a very busy restaurant and were on a two-hour wait most nights. Although the line cooks would have to work harder to accommodate the busy season, we were not compensated for it like the servers. So our GM implemented a tip scale to be paid out to line cooks.

It amounted to one percent of the server sales, with two percent of sales going to the host and two percent going to the bar. This was the same amount coming out of the servers' wages, with one percent less going to the bartenders. These divided tips were based on hours and paid in cash every two weeks to the line cooks the day before payday. When it was busier, it could be up to $50 per person.

Most cooks live paycheck to paycheck, and getting a little extra bump before payday was a great thing to look forward to. It showed that the harder we worked, the more we could make. It also showed the servers' appreciation for the cooks (as many times tips can be based on how well the kitchen accommodates a special request).

Best of all, it didn't cost the servers a penny more than they were paying out before. From someone who now works for both the front of the house and the back, this is the best solution I have come across to help with the wage parity between front- and back-of-the-house employees.
Heidi Keller
Food and Beverage Director
Holiday Inn
Ann Arbor, MI

Historically, there has consistently been an excessively high (and expensive) employee turnover rate for kitchen line cooks. This is why I feel that restaurateurs should pay more attention to the more experienced, capable and productive line cooks (creating a senior line cook position) and plan to increase their income potential accordingly so they will feel more appreciated and will not be seeking employment elsewhere.

With regard to waitstaff turnover, I have observed in many restaurants that 50 percent of the waitstaff personnel are competent, relatively stable and somewhat permanent; 25 percent are also effective but, due to various intangibles and uncontrolled variables, do not stay employed very long; and the remaining 25 percent are temporary and relatively ineffective, and by constant training and turnover, the employer hopes that a few within this group can progress to a higher level. It seems as though “that's just the way it is.”
Vince Holland
Restaurant business consultant
Port St. Lucie, FL

I think the biggest thing that keeps line cooks around is morale. They all know everybody in the house makes more money than they do. But if you make their job more fun and rewarding with food, contests, music and other “perks,” they will forget the money when they know their job is more spiritually rewarding. I have 14 cooks on my staff, including a line cook who has been here for 10 years. We always laugh at how stressed out the front of the house staff is, and we know it's not worth the money if you're not having a good time.
Rob Hafer
Chef & Kitchen Manager
Lombardi's Neighborhood Italian Restaurants
Issaquah, WA