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Are diners obsessed with your restaurant brand? They should be.

There are complicated ways to define “brand,” but here’s a simple way to think about it: Your restaurant brand is how you want your customers and your community to remember you, whether they’re searching for your restaurant online or walking through your doors.

A lot of different factors influence your restaurant brand, from menu design and social media presence to restaurant design and the employees you hire. Everything you do can impact customer perception, so brand building is something to consider.

Sound like a lot? Don’t worry, we’ve got you covered.

In a new webinar, Allie Tetreault, Content Marketing Manager at Toast, and Emma Vaughn, Local Outreach Manager at GoDaddy Social, present tips on how restaurants like yours can build an obsession-worthy brand that will keep people coming back for more.

For the full presentation, give the webinar recording a listen and check out the slides. Below, you’ll find a recap of what we covered.

First Thing's First: Define Your Restaurant Brand 

Before diving into the nitty gritty of building a successful restaurant brand, begin defining your brand by asking yourself a few questions:

  • WHY are you here?
  • WHO do you want to be – to your customers, employees, and community?
  • WHERE are you going to focus your efforts?
  • HOW are you going to accomplish your goals?
  • WHAT can you expect as a result?

Now that you’ve asked yourself these questions, it’s time to create a mission statement that can help you answer them. A mission statement is important because it’s the foundation for the positioning of your brand and lets people know what you’re all about in just a few sentences. Take a look at the mission statement for Butcher & Bee: “Butcher & Bee opened on King Street in 2011 with the simple mission of serving honest-to-goodness sandwiches made with flavor combinations and food quality usually reserved for fine dining.”

It’s short, specific, and clearly conveys what the people behind Butcher & Bee are trying to accomplish with their restaurant.

After you’ve created a strong mission statement, your positioning will come naturally. The positioning of your restaurant brand can essentially be boiled down to what you want your business to be known for.

Do you want to be known for providing an exceptional experience? Do you want to be known for your community involvement? Do you want to be known for having a really cool vibe? Whatever you decide, the positioning needs to stem from your identity and be conveyed in your restaurant.

Read More: Restaurant Marketing Plan Template

Now that you’ve begun defining your restaurant brand, here are five tips on how to make it obsession-worthy.

1. Make the Most of Your Website 

Your website is the virtual front door of your restaurant, so you need to make your first impression count.

The website for Etch Restaurant in Nashville, Tennessee does a great job of enticing customers. It’s well-designed, prominently features beautiful food photography, and clearly points visitors to any information they may need.

To build an excellent website without breaking the bank, check out low-cost website builders from GoDaddy, Squarespace, Wix, Let’s Eat, and BentoBox.

2. Use Instagram to Show Off Your Menu Items 

Given how visual Instagram is, it's practically made for the restaurant industry. Now with 1 billion active Instagram users worldwide, it’s important that you take advantage of its massive opportunities. Here are a few best practices to help you take great food photos on Instagram.

Focus on framing and cropping

Using framing and cropping, you can guide viewers’ eyes to the very best elements of your photos.

Use a nice backdrop, stick with light-colored surfaces, and avoid overpowering the food itself with any extraneous elements.

Have fun with it, too. Explore taking photos from different angles and incorporating details that will really bring the food to life.

Use the best lighting 

Stick with lighting that is consistent with your restaurant brand. You wouldn’t use neon lighting if you’re taking photos in your cozy cafe.

When in doubt, stick with one light source and use natural light when possible. Camera flash makes food look unnatural, and you want your food to look delicious, not artificial. Take a flash photo of a dish and then compare it with a photo of the same dish in natural light. Your photography skills will never be the same.

Use filters thoughtfully 

While everyone loves a good Instagram filter, trust your food to stand on its own. You don’t want to skew people’s perceptions of what your food and drinks actually look like.

Instead, try playing around with the photo’s contrast and saturation when editing. It might be all you need to amplify the image.

3. Make Your Facebook Page Appetizing 

According to Social Media Link, 55% of consumers consider Facebook the most common place to learn about new brands and products. That’s why it’s so important that you utilize your Facebook page to represent your restaurant brand. Here are some tips.

Share customer testimonials

Is there positive word of mouth buzzing about your restaurant? Share it for everyone to see.

By sharing this positive customer testimonial, Bunny’s Bar and Grill inspired other customers to share their experiences. One of the best ways people can learn about your restaurant is through existing customers.

Encourage feedback

Use your Facebook page to encourage customers to leave any thoughts and feedback on a review site such as Yelp.

Cross-promoting your review site listing will motivate customers to read existing reviews and leave reviews of their own.

Ask questions

You can easily engage your audience by posing questions via your Facebook page.

Posing a question like this will garner immediate customer reactions. Your loyal customers will likely feel compelled to respond.

Asking your customers questions will lead them to do the talking and bragging for you.

Show appreciation for your team

Sharing photos of the friendly faces of your restaurant team creates an instant connection between them and your community.

Shout out team members for their skills or wish them a happy birthday. Any way you can further build an emotional connection between your staff and your customers is great for community building.

Read More: 10 Examples of Awesome Restaurant Social Media Marketing4. Take Control of Your Restaurant Brand on Review Sites 

Review sites have become an invaluable piece of the puzzle when it comes to your restaurant brand. According to a Harvard Business School study, a restaurant that boosts its Yelp score by one full star can see revenues increase 5-9%.

Don’t let your reviews sit on the back burner. Here are a few ways you can take control of your restaurant brand on review sites.

Claim your listing

First things first: claim your restaurant listing on the big players like Yelp, TripAdvisor, and Google.

Update your business information 

Fill in your business information to cover everything a guest would need to know like your restaurant’s address, business hours, and menu. Add any photos and videos of your restaurant, food, and staff. Update the crucial info if it changes, and be sure to update for holiday hours.

Include as much detail as possible to make people feel certain when making the decision to visit your restaurant. When people plan to drop money on a night out, they don’t want to gamble. They want a sure thing.

Respond to positive and negative reviews 

It’s not just how your customers engage with your brand on review sites but how you engage back.

Respond to every review, positive or negative. It can help existing customers reconsider and reassure new ones who may be skeptical because of a bad review.

This owner’s response to a negative Yelp review positively reflected her restaurant’s brand and values. She responded with her name, phone number, and an explanation as to how the restaurant’s kitchen operates. She also offered to have the item personally re-delivered to the customer’s office. By responding in this way, she was able to get ahead of the negative review.

Read More: Restaurant Review Response Templates5. Hire Employees That Will Let Your Brand Thrive  

Your employees are living, breathing embodiments of your restaurant brand, but how do you find the right people to help it thrive? Here are a few pointers.

Build a restaurant culture 

Successfully recruiting, hiring, and retaining employees that positively represent your brand all starts with building a great restaurant culture, which goes beyond your mission statement. The goal is to create an “organizational constitution” and align it with your plans, decisions, and actions.

Write a mission and vision statement, create core values, and then define those values with observable, tangible, and measurable behaviors. Let’s take a look at how The Cheesecake Factory does it.

The Cheesecake Factory's mission statement is: “We’re an upscale casual restaurant chain, known and loved for our extensive menu, generous portions and legendary desserts. We delight our guests with delicious, memorable food with warm and gracious service and hospitality.”

In line with that  mission statement are their core values:

  • Ooze warmth with hospitality
  • Radiate positive energy
  • Never compromise standards of excellence
  • Love to have fun and celebrate

These values are defined with observable, tangible, and measurable behaviors that their staff can emulate.

Market your restaurant culture 

Once you’ve established an awesome restaurant culture, you can begin actively marketing it to attract people who will thrive in a position at your restaurant.

There are a few ways you can go about finding people that are a great culture fit. Start with your personal connections. Ask other restaurant managers and non-industry friends, neighbors, and colleagues if they know of anyone who might be a good fit.

Another way is to use your current staff's personal network. If they’re awesome, chances are they know someone just as awesome. To incentivize your team, create a referral program that awards bonuses for referring potential candidates.

You can also find candidates by advertising on social media sites like Facebook, Twitter, Instagram, and LinkedIn.

Interview time

Now that you’ve recruited great talent, it’s time to interview them. You’ll want to ask questions that go beyond the basics. The average restaurant labor cost is between 30-35% of a restaurant's monthly revenue, so it’s important that you hire the right people. You’ll find that your money and time will be well spent when you can find candidates who will reflect the culture and values of your restaurant.

Use behavioral interviewing – interviewing that focuses on questions about how the candidate has behaved in past work situations – to identify strong customer service skills. This will help you determine if your candidate’s past performance aligns with your restaurant’s culture.

An important part of behavioral interviewing to remember is that previous restaurant experience shouldn’t be a determining factor in extending an offer of employment. It’s more about their people skills and consistency, longevity, and progression in previous roles.

Wondering which questions you should ask in the interview? Check out our post on 10 restaurant interview questions that industry professionals ask to hire the right people. Remember to treat the interview like a conversation so your candidate can learn more about your team and their values, too.

Read More: Hiring the Modern Workforce CourseKeep your culture alive and thriving 

Now that you’ve built an awesome team, continue to focus on ways you can work with them to strengthen your restaurant’s brand and culture. Keep people talking about it and what it means to them. It should be reflected at all levels of your restaurant, no matter the employee’s position.

After working so hard to build up your brand, you have to work on ensuring that your team properly represents that brand in everything they do. This will let you take the brand you’ve built and foster it to benefit your restaurant, customers, and community.

Download the webinar recording to see the presentation slides and hear what other restaurateurs had to say about building an unforgettable restaurant brand.

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American restaurateurs have often looked to the other side of the pond for culinary inspiration. But what if they adopted more than recipes from Europe?

Here are a three aspects of restaurant management that American restaurateurs can learn from Western European restaurant culture and business practices.

3 Restaurant Management Differences in America vs. Europe1. Slow Down – There’s No Rush

American travel writers from Ernest Hemingway to Rick Steves have commented on the way European restaurants let you linger at your table. 

In recent years,  American food critics and bloggers have begun to complain about the way American servers rush customers out the door by clearing plates before everyone at the table has finished eating. The Washington Post calls this “The Most Annoying Restaurant Trend Happening Today.” The Huffington Post agrees. The New York Times put it on their list of “100 things Restaurant Staffers should Never do.”

In Europe, slow meals aren’t a trend but a way of life: Europeans go home or to restaurants for long lunches.

Spaniards often don’t start dinner until 9 or 10 P.M, while Italians enjoy coffee followed by a digestivo after a three-course dinner.  Meals are experiences in Europe; going out to eat isn’t just about eating and heading out the door. In French, the verb for “enjoy” (profiter) doesn’t need an object. You can say, “let’s enjoy” and leave it at that. You don’t have to be enjoying something in particular. 

This easygoing pace comes from a better work/life balance in general. In several countries, the maximum 40-hour workweek is a right under the law. French workers have the “right to disconnect” from work email at the end of the day. Meanwhile, 62% of American office workers eat lunch at their desks

While a cultural shift away from working lunches and in favor of leisurely lunches may not come about anytime soon, American restaurants could definitely be better about providing a space for people to get together and enjoy each other’s company on their own schedule without feeling rushed.

Vester is a fast casual restaurant in Boston’s Kenmore Square that has managed to strike a balance with a model inspired by Copenhagen cafes. The owner, Nicole Liu, explains, “There’s no pressure. You can hang out and have wine with lunch or get your food to go. If lunch is the one time to breathe in your day, the café can be a place to regroup.” She says that any restaurant has to “cater to the culture.” In Boston, that culture is always on the go. Vester makes calm an option in the midst of the hustle and bustle without sacrificing speedy service.   

Vester was inspired by a trip to Europe; so was Starbucks. Food has always been about cultural exchange. As Americans travel more and restaurant culture becomes more global, many of us wish restaurants at home would adopt some of the customs as well as the cuisine we experience overseas.

American restaurants can’t just upend a business model based on turning over tables, but it is possible to follow basic etiquette so customers don’t feel like you’re shooing them out.

For a server who survives on tips, the rush is understandable. Turning over tables quickly can mean taking home more money at the end of the night. Slow tables—or “campers”—as servers call them, are a source of anxiety and annoyance. In some restaurants, campers get the polite hint from a server circling back to ask “can I get you anything else,” while in high volume restaurants, they might get more of a nudge out the door. 

Turning over tables might come as a culture shock to Europeans, but it makes sense when you realize that American staff need those tables to turn because their paychecks are based on tips. European staff work for a flat wage so turning tables isn't a priority. 

Read More: How to Improve Your Restaurant's Table Turnover RateHow Can You Incorporate This European Approach? 
  • Don’t rush campers out the door – no matter how badly you may want to. As we’ve said before on the blog: handling campers is a fine art. Your staff run the risk of putting an entire meal’s worth of warmth and hospitality down the gutter by shooing campers out the door the minute they’ve signed the bill. 

  • Don’t bring the check unless it’s requested – nothing says “okay, now get out” quite like dropping the check before a guest has explicitly requested it. Not only are your staff missing out on the opportunity to deliver delight until the very end and ensure a second visit is in this guest’s future, but they’re also missing out on the opportunity to sell an additional drink or dessert. Make sure every server and bartender on staff asks their guests if they’d like anything else. Who knows? This could plant the seed in their head and encourage them to order another menu item when they may not have considered it previously. 

2. Treat Your Staff Like Hospitality Professionals 

The best way to take care of your customers is to take care of the people who take care of them. No place does this flawlessly, but Europe gets a few important things right.

While American servers often fight for the best shifts and best sections, their European counterparts focus on professional development. Moving up in the European restaurant scene requires experience, knowledge, and worldliness. The best servers often master multiple languages, travel broadly, and study wine and gastronomy.  

French servers can sign open or “lifetime” contracts, much like tenure in a university. A waiter on an open contract is “part of the house” and can’t be let go easily. A waiter named Sheppard who has worked in restaurants at all price points on both sides of the Atlantic describes this contract culture vs. a tipping culture as a choice between job security and fast but unpredictable money. 

Not surprisingly, turnover among servers is substantially lower on the other side of the pond. One 2010 study found Irish restaurant turnover to be 30%, and while that’s high compared to other industries, it’s less than half of the American restaurant industry’s shocking 73% annual employee turnover rate.

Lowering your turnover rate starts with addressing the reasons employees move on in the first place. One of the top reasons restaurant staff quit is to seek career advancement and training, so try to find ways to offer those opportunities to your employees before they quit. Think of how you can make their job as much about learning as earning. 

Read More: 7 Solutions on How to Battle Restaurant Turnover

Over the past few years, some American restaurants have experimented with no-tipping or “hospitality-included” pricing. They pay staff more and raise prices by up to 20%.

Danny Meyer’s Union Square Hospitality Group has been an industry leader in this change, eliminating tipping from all of their restaurants. In a public statement, Meyer talks about fairness between the kitchen and the front of the house and professionalization of serving as reasons for this change.

The results have been mixed. Many of Meyer’s servers quit initially after USHG went hospitality-included, according to Grub Street. Other restaurants have tried doing away with gratuity only to bring it back. That’s what happened at Claus Meyer’s Agern. David Chang tried at Momofuku in January of 2016 and brought tipping back by that summer. Danny Meyer acknowledges that it takes a while for any restaurant to “get the math right.” 

Tipping is ingrained in the way American restaurants are run, and the way Americans budget a night out. From the customer’s perspective, studies have shown that customers perceive tip-included prices to be higher even if the actual cost is the same as what they would have paid anyway.

Ultimately, neither side of the Atlantic has the perfect business model that pleases managers, customers, and staff alike. What works for one restaurant or type of service might not work for another. The value of looking to how things are done elsewhere is that it allows you to consider that alternatives exist. 

Hospitality-included pricing is just one way of doing things. Other alternatives to the traditional tipping model include service charges, tip sharing, and hybrids that include things like “kitchen appreciation” charges. 

Read More: How to Be a Good Server: Tips for Servers to Up Their Game and Make More MoneyHow Can You Incorporate This European Approach? 
  • Stop treating working in a restaurant as ‘just a job’ - Sadly, in American culture we view working in a restaurant as just a job, a way to make money until a more promising career option comes along. This philosophy is not only perpetuated by the public, but by restaurant owners, operators, and managers as well, which trickles down into their staff. This is disrespectful to  hardworking restaurant employees who are turning their passion for hospitality and food into a career, and it also dissuades existing and would-be restaurant staff from pursuing a future in our industry.  We’re scaring off the next generation of cooks who could be the next Jose Andres or Leah Chase before they even have a chance to shine. To encourage restaurant staff to both stick with your restaurant and with the industry in general, you need to give them reasons to stay, mainly in the form of professional training, career advancement opportunities, and meaningful employee benefits. Check out our employee retention playbook for additional ideas. 

  •  Change up your employment model –  As Danny Meyer and other restaurant industry innovators have proven, a gratuity-based model is not the only way to run a restaurant. From open-book management to hospitality-included, there are a number of ways to successfully run a restaurant, pay staff higher than minimum-wages, while putting no additional responsibility on the customer.  If you’re interested in learning about gratuity free business models, here are some additional resources from Toast: 

3. Whatever You Are - Be A Real One

European restaurants excel at being themselves. It might sound obvious that Italian restaurants in Italy feel authentic, but that feeling is more than just a matter of geography.

Anyone who’s traveled in Europe knows the food is pretty great across the board, from Michelin Star restaurants to family dinner tables.

One Swiss chef I pressed on the matter put it like this, “Overall, the standard of cooking (in Europe) is high. It doesn’t matter where you are, at restaurants, or at your grandmother’s house. Quality and authenticity are part of the culture.”

But, at the end of the day, this comes down to a mindset and a way of approaching food and service by maintaining a keen focus on quality and authenticity. Anyone anywhere can adopt this mindset.

Consider your relationship to your ingredients and your process. Think about how you tell that story to your customers and what kind of experience you create for them.

At Tortoise Supper Club in Chicago, IL, management views visiting their restaurant as an experience; some say it’s like taking a walk back in time. As such, they train each and every front of house staff member to enhance that experience through storytelling. Whether it’s the steak or the 1950’s Chicago artifacts on the walls, staff are encouraged to connect with guests and share the stories behind the dishes and decor; management has found that guests are much more interested in knowing how and why a menu item made the cut, rather than its price or what it pairs best with. 

“Your job isn’t to sell a product; it's to tell the story, create an experience, and make sure they come see us again," says Shelby, the Marketing Coordinator at Tortoise Supper Club

This emphasis on authenticity and connecting over stories has established Tortoise Supper Club as a preeminent steakhouse in Chicago, and one of the top Yelp listings in the windy city.

French, Italian, and German all have specific words for different types of restaurants – bistros and brasseries in France, trattorias and ristorantes in Italy. Just by the name, patrons have some idea about the price, what’s on the menu, and the level of formality. 

It pays to make deliberate choices about what your restaurant is and what it isn’t. This is not to say you have to follow tradition. American food culture is eclectic, as big on originality as portions. The lesson from the bistro vs. brasserie example is that customers should pick up on your overall vibe before they sit down to eat. 

Being authentic in your ambiance starts with being genuine in your interactions with customers. One thing European customers notice in American restaurants is the way American servers introduce themselves by name – a habit that also appeared on the NYT’s 100 don’ts: “Do not announce your name. No jokes, no flirting, no cuteness.” 

If you do encourage your staff to introduce themselves to guests, make sure they’re doing it as they would if they were introducing themselves to a friend of a friend. That is the type of relationship your staff should be trying to build with guests. 

In Europe, if you know the server, the chef, or the owner’s name, it’s usually because you’ve built up a personal bond.  These bonds have a tremendous return on investment (if you want to think about it that way). It costs nothing to have a genuinely friendly attitude, and it can be the foundation of repeat business and customer loyalty.

As one Irish expat I met living in the south of France put it, “I’d rather eat at a place where the food is just okay but the staff is warm and welcoming and not all stuffy and full of their fluff.”

Read More: How to Measure the Effectiveness of Your Restaurant Branding StrategyHow Can You Incorporate This European Approach? 
  • Don’t be sales-y - The hospitality industry has earned that name for good reason: we’re in the business of showing warmth and hospitality to our guests for the short while they’ve decided to visit. They’re not customers paying a business for a good or product and we shouldn’t treat them as such. During the hustle and bustle of meal service, it’s all too easy to revert to the car salesman approach – where you ask guests what they want or and try to upsell them to something more expensive, you get it for them, and then you collect payment – because it’s quick and easy and you have a million things on your plate. This is killing your chances at building connections and turning these one-time guests into regular patrons, and hurting your bottom line; it’s also devoid of any hospitality. Incorporate regular hospitality skills training in your restaurant: Every staff member should be focused on helping guests enjoy the most connected, warm experience possible. Upselling should be regarded as a way to enhance the dining experience with something better, not just a way to pad the check. If you were to host a dinner party at your home, how would you treat the friends and family you invite? Extend the same treatment to every guest.

  • Stay True to Your Mission, Vision, and Purpose – You’re not going to be  everyone’s cup of tea nor should you try to be. Stay true to your restaurant’s mission, vision, and purpose and you’ll find more guests will come and support you than if you tried to make a broad, all-encompassing menu that aims to please everyone and every palate. Authenticity is paramount to Millennial and Gen Z consumers across all industries, this is especially true in restaurants.  From the way we pay our employees to what we put in the dishes we serve, we’re seeing an increased demand for transparency, sustainability, and ethical business practices from restaurant guests. Be genuine, be authentic, be you: again, you may not be everyone’s cup of tea, but you may just be someone’s glass of whiskey and that packs one hell of a punch. 

Bon Appetit

Not everything that works in Europe is going to work over here. Our restaurant culture has a lot going for it, and different doesn’t mean better or worse.

 I asked one restaurant owner what Americans could learn from European restaurants. He turned the question on its head and said he wished France had the kind of innovative trend-embracing food culture that America has. “We’re also less friendly,” he added. 

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New hospitality, technology, and economic factors are changing the landscape for today’s restaurant employees. Innovations in robotics and software are streamlining labor and simplifying staff management, yet the age-old struggle for workforce equality among ethnic minorities and women continues as our nation’s middle class has been shrinking.

In an ever-evolving industry, how can restaurant owners make restaurant work an enticing option for job seekers and create a safe, supportive workplace environment for their staff, all while striving for success in a hyper-competitive industry? 

To understand how to attract and retain the restaurant people of today and tomorrow, let's first take a look back at how we got here. 

Free Interactive Course: Hiring the Modern Restaurant WorkforceThe History of the Restaurant WorkforcePart I: The Past. Immigrants are the Backbone of the American Restaurant Industry.

Early in American history, our first restaurants generally existed in pubs and guest houses. Sometimes these establishments would pop up out of necessity in frontier towns where migrant workers or bachelor prospectors congregated, needing a place to stay and food to eat. Guest house kitchens would serve limited menus — often whatever the woman of the house decided to cook that day — and were typically staffed by family members. Some of the first female business owners in the U.S. were the proprietors of pubs and guest house restaurants.

Fine dining restaurants arrived in the U.S. in the late 19th century as an imported trend from France. Aristocratic households that dissolved during the French Revolution brought fancy china, white tablecloths, and tuxedoed wait staff with them. These fine dining restaurants had people of many races and genders working in their kitchens, but the front-of-house staff and the restaurant’s guests were typically men, according to author and historian Jan Witaker. During this time period, unaccompanied women were unwelcome or relegated to separate dining rooms. Delmonico’s, which opened in 1837 in New York City, is considered to be the first fine dining restaurant in the country and set the mold for the modern American restaurant.

Lunch counters in the late 19th and early 20th centuries began to employ more women, and female dishwashers became common during wartime as women sought to fill vacant jobs while men were deployed. 

The early 20th century also saw the birth of one of America's first multi-cultural food trends, as “Chop Suey Palaces” introduced Chinese-American cuisine to the market. 

The reason for this particular trend, however, was not our nation’s adventurous appetites: It was rooted in stringent U.S. immigration laws that sought to discourage Chinese immigration after the railroad boom had subsided and, with it, the need for cheap, foreign labor. A loophole in immigration policy at the time allowed for particular businesses — including “high grade” restaurants — to obtain “merchant status,” enabling them to enter the United States and sponsor their relatives for immigration. The Chinese restaurant became a common pathway for legal U.S. immigration, but the journey was fraught with exploitation. As this report from Scholars.org explains, 

“For the sake of family, Chinese restaurant employees were expected to work for low wages and perform physically demanding labor without complaint. Consequently, the average employee in such restaurants earned 1/3 less wages than the national average for food service employees.”

On top of that, many were sending a portion of their wages back home to family in China, leaving those working within American restaurant kitchens with little to support themselves.  

Mexican cuisine was introduced to the American stage at a similar time, mainly as a result of the Mexican Revolution , starting in 1910. Mexican refugees opened up our country’s first tortillerias and taquerias selling tacos, enchiladas, and other southern and central Mexico dishes that are now mainstays on today’s Mexican American menus.

In the early 20th century, approximately 3 million poverty-stricken Italian immigrants came to the United States and with them introduced a lasting impact on American restaurant culture, though at the time their businesses initially only served their own people, catering mainly to working class Italian enclaves. It wasn’t until Italian Americans became more integrated into mainstream society during World War II, as they joined the military and moved into the suburbs, that modern Italian American cuisine was established and widely embraced.

US restaurants underwent a seismic shift in the mid-20th century as factory assembly line technology was introduced to food service and with it the concept of fast-food. Assembly line-style food prep made it possible to quickly train any worker to prepare a basic meal at lightning speed. The low skills required plus the demand for labor opened up employment opportunities for teenagers and workers of color who were previously excluded from most customer-facing food service positions. The economy of scale that came with assembly line food also led to the proliferation of restaurant franchises like McDonald’s and Denny’s that thrive across America, and the globe, to this day.

Part II: The Present. The Challenges Today’s Restaurant Workers Face.

In many ways, today’s restaurant workforce hasn’t changed much since the mid-20th century. It remains one of the most diverse industries — you’ll find people of every color, origin, and gender working in a restaurant and across food service in general. Immigrants still make up a large proportion of our food service workers, especially in our big cities: In New York City, roughly 70% of cooks and food preparation workers were born in another country, per a report from The New Food Economy

And yet, even with its diverse makeup, the industry is still segregated and unequal in many ways. In a 2015 interview with the New York Times, famed restaurateur Danny Meyer said, “The gap between what the kitchen and dining room workers make has grown by leaps and bounds.” He said that during his 30 years in the business, “kitchen income has gone up no more than 25%. Meanwhile, dining room pay has gone up 200%.” 

To help address the gap, Meyer decided to pioneer a practice of eliminating tipping at his restaurants, raising the hourly pay of his workers across the board and baking the cost into the price of his menu items.

Podcast: Danny Meyer on the Value of Emotional Intelligence in Restaurants

These kinds of moves to address the wage gap between front-of-house and back-of-house workers are important, especially when white employees still predominantly fill the roles with the higher wages and salaries, while people of color and other underrepresented or marginalized groups largely work in lower paying positions. That includes the 22% of food service jobs in the United States that are held by immigrants, almost half of which are not authorized to work in this country, according to the Pew Research Center. The income divide is gender based, too, reports NPR:

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New hospitality, technology, and economic factors are changing the landscape for today’s restaurant employees. Innovations in robotics and software are streamlining labor and simplifying staff management, yet the age-old struggle for workforce equality among ethnic minorities and women continues as our nation’s middle class has been shrinking.

In an ever evolving industry, how can restaurant owners make working in a restaurant an enticing option for job seekers, create a safe, supportive workplace environment for their staff, all while striving for success in a hyper-competitive industry? 

To understand how to attract and retain the restaurant people of today and tomorrow, let's first take a look back at how we got here. 

Free Interactive Course: Hiring the Modern Restaurant WorkforceThe History of the Restaurant WorkforcePart I: The Past – Immigrants: The Backbone of The American Restaurant Industry

Early in American history, our first restaurants generally existed in pubs and guest houses. Sometimes these establishments would pop up out of necessity in frontier towns where migrant workers or bachelor prospectors congregated, needing a place to stay and food to eat. Guest house kitchens would serve limited menus — often whatever the woman of the house decided to cook that day — and were typically staffed by family members. Some of the first female business owners in the U.S. were the proprietors of pubs and guest house restaurants.

Fine dining restaurants arrived in the U.S. in the late 19th century as an imported trend from France. Aristocratic households that dissolved during the French Revolution brought fancy china, white tablecloths, and tuxedoed wait staff with them. These fine dining restaurants had people of many races and genders working in their kitchens, but the front-of-house staff and the restaurant’s guests were typically men, according to author and historian Jan Witaker. During this time period, unaccompanied females were unwelcome or relegated to separate dining rooms. Delmonico’s, opened in 1837 in New York City, is considered to be the first fine dining restaurant in the country and set the mold for the modern American restaurant.

Lunch counters in the late 19th and early 20th centuries began to employ more women and female dishwashers became common during wartime as women sought to fill vacant jobs while men were deployed. 

The early 20th century also saw the birth of one of America's first multi-cultural food trends as “Chop Suey Palaces” introduced Chinese-American cuisine to the market. 

The reason for this particular trend, however, was not our nation’s adventurous appetites: It was rooted in stringent U.S. immigration laws that sought to discourage Chinese immigration after the railroad boom had subsided and with it  the need for cheap foreign labor. A loophole in immigration policy at the time allowed for particular businesses – including “high grade” restaurants – to obtain “merchant status,” enabling them to enter the United States and sponsor their relatives for immigration. The Chinese restaurant became a common pathway for legal U.S. immigration, but the journey was fraught with exploitation. As this report from Scholars.org explains, 

“For the sake of family, Chinese restaurant employees were expected to work for low wages and perform physically demanding labor without complaint. Consequently, the average employee in such restaurants earned 1/3 less wages than the national average for food service employees.”

On top of that, many were sending a portion of their wages back home to family in China, leaving those working within American restaurant kitchens with little to support themselves.  

Mexican cuisine was introduced to the American stage at a similar time, mainly as a result of the Mexican Revolution , starting in 1910. Mexican refugees opened up our country’s first tortillerias and taquerias selling tacos, enchiladas, and other southern and central Mexico dishes that are now mainstays on today’s Mexican American menus.

In the early 20th century, approximately 3 million poverty-stricken Italian immigrants came to the United States and with them introduced a lasting impact on American restaurant culture, though at the time their businesses initially only served their own people, catering mainly to working class Italian enclaves. It wasn’t until Italian Americans became more integrated into mainstream society during World War II, as they joined the military and moved into the suburbs, that modern Italian American cuisine was established and widely embraced.

US restaurants underwent a seismic shift in the mid-20th century as factory assembly line technology was introduced to food service and with it the concept of fast-food. Assembly line-style food prep made it possible to quickly train any worker to prepare a basic meal at lightning speed. The low skills required plus the demand for labor opened up employment opportunities for teenagers and workers of color who were previously excluded from most customer-facing food service positions. The economy of scale that came with assembly line food also led to the proliferation of restaurant franchises like McDonald’s and Denny’s that thrive across America, and the globe, to this day.

Part II: The Present – Challenges Today’s Restaurant Workers Face

In many ways, today’s restaurant workforce hasn’t changed much since the mid-20th century. It remains one of the most diverse industries — you’ll find people of every color, origin, and gender working in a restaurant and across food service in general. Immigrants still make up a large proportion of our food service workers, especially in our big cities: In New York City, roughly 70% of cooks and food preparation workers were born in another country, per a report from The New Food Economy

And yet, even with its diverse makeup, the industry is still segregated and unequal in many ways. In a 2015 interview with the New York Times, famed restaurateur Danny Meyer said,  “The gap between what the kitchen and dining room workers make has grown by leaps and bounds.” He said that during his 30 years in the business, “kitchen income has gone up no more than 25%. Meanwhile, dining room pay has gone up 200%.” 

To help address the gap, Meyer decided to pioneer a practice of eliminating tipping at his restaurants, raising the hourly pay of his workers across the board and baking the cost into the price of his menu items.

Podcast: Danny Meyer on the Value of Emotional Intelligence in Restaurants

These kinds of moves to address the wage gap between front-of-house and back-of-house workers are important, especially when white employees still predominantly fill the roles with the higher wages and salaries, while people of color and other underrepresented or marginalized groups largely work in lower paying positions. That includes the 22% of food service jobs in the United States that are held by immigrants, almost half of which are not authorized to work in this country, according to the Pew Research Center. The income divide is gender based, too, reports NPR:

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Creating a business plan for a restaurant is the most important step of planning your new venture. You can spend years dreaming up your concept, your menu, your vibe, how you’ll want to behave as an owner, how you’ll want your customers to feel – but without a business plan, you won’t be able to bring your dream restaurant to life. 

The business plan is essentially a blueprint that outlines an aspiring restaurateur’s entire vision for their new venture. It explains in detail how the new business will take shape and operate once the doors are open.

Download Your Free Restaurant Business Plan Template NowWhat's the Purpose of a Business Plan?

A business plan provides business owners, stakeholders, investors, and leaders with an organized plan for how you will make your vision for your new restaurant a reality, making sure that nothing is overlooked as you grow your business. When you're in the weeds with construction, licensing, staffing and other operational stressors, your business plan will act as a roadmap and help you stay focused. Going forward without one can make the messy world of restaurant opening much tougher to navigate.

Restaurant business plans are also crucial for securing potential investors. In most cases, opening a new restaurant requires attracting some outside capital from hospitality investors or people who want to be your silent partners. Before they invest in your dream, they need to buy into your vision. The business plan shows them that you’ve thought through every expense and every possible scenario: It provides them with a complete description of your plan – and why and how it will succeed.

Key Elements of a Restaurant Business PlanExecutive Summary

The executive summary is the first section included in any business plan. It both introduces and summarizes your entire idea. This section should introduce the key elements of what will be discussed throughout the business plan. It should catch the reader's attention and entice them to explore the rest of the plan. 

An executive summary includes things like a mission statement, proposed concept, how you will execute on the plan, overview of potential costs, and the anticipated return on investment. This is also a great place to discuss your business’s core values.

Company Overview

In this section, begin to explain the high-level elements of the proposed business. The company overview introduces information about the ownership structure, location, and business concept. Outline the vision for the customer's experience. Describe the brand. Identify the service style, design, layout, theme, and all the unique aspects of your restaurant.

Industry Analysis

Describe the existing conditions in the market sector that your restaurant will exist in, as well as in the specific location or area that you plan to open the restaurant. 

This section should cover things like the growth of the local economy and industry, existing restaurants in the area, ongoing or upcoming infrastructure projects, nearby business and residential areas, and average foot and car traffic counts in the area.

1. Target Market

The restaurant industry is an extremely competitive landscape and finding your niche is crucial. What will make your restaurant stand out?

You should have a strong idea of who your restaurant will attract and who you hope will become your repeat customers. Describe the target market and how it compares to the restaurant industry as a whole in terms of diner demographics, characteristics, and behaviors.

2. Location Analysis

In most cases, aspiring restaurant owners don’t have a specific location selected before they create and pitch the business plan, so focus on the general area or city you plan to open the restaurant and why you chose that specific area

Be sure to include things like growth of the local economy, major citywide events, and infrastructure projects nearby. Compare the existing market conditions to your intended target market. Potential restaurant investors will look at this section of the business plan carefully to make sure that the market in the proposed location aligns with the ideal customer profile.

3. Competitive Analysis

What other businesses are in the proposed area? 

This section should explain the existing competitive landscape: Share the number of other restaurants in the area, paying particular attention to restaurants with similar concepts. Investors will want to understand what can make customers choose your restaurant over your competitors.

Marketing Plan

The marketing section explains your marketing strategy and how you plan to promote the restaurant both before and after opening. 

Identify specific tactics you will rely on before and after the restaurant is operational. Perhaps you will rely more on public relations and advertising before the restaurant opens and then pivot to social media, loyalty programs, building a customer database, and four-wall restaurant marketing once the business is operational.

Download A Free, Customizable Restaurant Marketing Plan NowOperations Plan

In this section, you should paint a picture of how the restaurant will operate day-to-day once it’s open. Include in this section:

  • Staffing: What positions will you need and how many people do you expect in each of the different roles? How will you set yourself apart as a great employer? What will the approximate pay be for each position? How do you plan to recruit staff and what are the hiring criteria for each role? 

  • Customer service policies and procedures: How do you expect to provide an excellent and consistent guest experience? What are the specific service values, policies, and procedures you will put in place and how will they be enforced or encouraged?

  • Restaurant point of sale and other systemsHow will you track sales and inventory, manage labor, control cash, process payroll, and accept various tender types?

Financial Analysis

The financial analysis is often one of the last parts of a business plan. Investors expect to see a breakdown of how you plan to spend their money in the first year, as well as a comparison of the anticipated costs and projected revenue. There are a few major elements you should be sure to include in this section.

1. Investment Plan

In this section, you explain the initial investment you’re hoping to receive and how you plan to spend the money in the first year. This will usually include kitchen equipment, furniture, payroll, legal fees, marketing, and some working capital.

2. Projected Profit and Loss (P&L) Statement 

The business plan is created long before the restaurant actually opens, so creating this profit and loss statement will require you to make some educated guesses. You’ll have to estimate the various costs and sales numbers included in a P&L based on the size of the restaurant, your target market, and the existing market in the area you’ve selected. You can use this interactive P&L template and guide to learn more about profit and loss statements and to create one for your future restaurant.

3. Break-Even Analysis

This one is pretty straightforward. Investors will want to know how much revenue you will need to bring in each month in order to break even once all of the various overhead and operational costs are factored into the equation. There are always going to be some variable costs, so make a note of what you expect those to be in your analysis.

4. Expected Cash Flow

Your expected cash flow will depend on how often you expect to purchase inventory, the size of your staff and payroll, and the payroll schedule. Once your restaurant is operational, some months will be better than others. The cash flow analysis should help investors understand that, based on your expectations, your restaurant will be able to support itself even in the less fruitful months without requiring additional investments.

If all of this sounds a little overwhelming, don't worry – check out our free restaurant business plan template below.

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Human error is part of the restaurant business. You can avoid some errors by thoroughly and frequently training your staff, developing best-in-class processes and systems, and by leveling up your restaurant tech, but there are some blunders that will happen occasionally no matter what. Say, for example, you’re short-staffed so service is slow, or the kitchen ran out of a crucial ingredient, or a server spilled wine all over a patron, or a cook got some tickets mixed up, or a food runner dropped a tray full of food. How do you make it up to your guests and increase the chances of them coming back to try again?

It’s not always easy to know what to do when something goes wrong in your restaurant because customers don’t all react the same way to mistakes or missteps, and different customers will seek different types of apologies. Every situation and every customer is unique, but the number one thing to always do is make sure a customer feels heard. The most common way restaurateurs use to try to turn around a bad customer experience is comping. 

What is a Comped Meal?

Comping a meal is an action, taken by restaurant owners, operators, and managers, to pay for a guest’s meal usually as a gesture of hospitality toward a guest; comping is oftentimes – but not always – a result of something going wrong in the dining experience. Basically, a comped meal is a free meal at a restaurant. The word “comped” or “comping” comes from the word “complimentary.” Single food items or drinks can also be comped. 

Comping is by no means always the answer to solving a sticky situation with a customer – you’ll watch your profits plummet if you comp too frequently – but when used sparingly and mindfully, it can make all the difference. 

Why Comp? 

The most common reason to comp is very simple: to create returning customers out of unsatisfied ones. However, comping is not always done in response to a negative dining experience. Restaurant managers comp meals for all sorts of reasons, whether it be to delight a loyal customer or maybe even to make friends with fellow restaurant owners or restaurant industry professionals.

If something goes awry and a guest feels they will have wasted money at your restaurant, they will not likely return, and worse, they will probably spread the word to their friends or in an online review. Did you know that 65% of bad online reviews are posted within 24 hours of a poor dining experience taking place, and 85% of consumers trust online reviews as much as one from a friend or family member? 

If a manager decides to not charge the guests for a problematic food item or for their whole bill (in more extreme cases), they will, at minimum, no longer feel their money was wasted on a bad experience – and in the best cases, they’ll feel heard and understood and be more likely to return in the future.

A great way to avoid having to comp at all is to make sure a manager or server is actively checking in throughout the meal asking if everything is to the customer’s liking. That way, if there’s something that needs to be fixed, it can be addressed in the moment. Getting guest feedback at various times throughout the guest’s dining experience allows staff and management to nip issues in the bud. Did they not like the wine? Bring a new glass. Did a hot appetizer arrive cold? Bring over a new one. If a guest’s concern is addressed quickly, you are able to salvage their whole impression of your restaurant. 

Another big reason to comp is to make happy, very loyal customers even happier and more loyal. Every customer that walks into your restaurant has a customer lifetime value. If one or two well-timed comped meals – like to honor a wedding anniversary, a job promotion, or a birthday – will keep them coming back week after week, their customer lifetime value will skyrocket, and you’ll only have lost the cost of two meals – which is well offset by the customer coming back dozens of times. They’ll likely become brand advocates for you, too, raving about your restaurants to their friends.

So, when should you comp and when should you not?

When You Should Comp 
  1. Huge Delays 

If there’s a massive wait time – we’re talking over an hour from order taken to plates on table – due to very extenuating circumstances. 

  1. Anything Gross

If there’s a bug in the food a rogue hair from the kitchen, or something else of that nature, in the food. You’re obviously already doing everything you can to prevent any kitchen grossness, but if it happens, definitely comp the whole meal. 

  1. Major Kitchen Errors

If a dish was prepared completely incorrectly, have the cook remake the dish and comp that item. 

  1. Rude Service 

If there was a serious problem with a server, it might be worth it to comp a meal. Ideally, you won’t have anyone on staff that would be rude to a customer, but again, it happens. Comp the meal or the drinks, and come up with an improvement plan for the server. 

  1. For Celebrations 

People love a free slice of cake for a birthday or an anniversary. It’s a nice gesture that doesn’t cost you much, and the whole table will remember your restaurant as somewhere to come celebrate – which bodes very well for your bottom line, because guests spend more when they’re celebrating, according to a research project by OpenTable.

  1. For Your Best Regulars and Brand Advocates 

As mentioned above, comping the occasional meal, food item, or drink for a loyal guest or ‘regular’ can be a great way to cement your place in their minds as a restaurant that cares about them as people, not just customers. 

When Not to Comp 
  1. Big Names

Don’t comp meals for celebrity guests. If you feel that you must give some kind of freebie to a high-profile guest to increase the likelihood they’ll return, consider giving a drink or an extra appetizer or dessert – don’t comp their whole bill. It’s probably a larger than average, and they can most likely afford to pay for it. If your restaurant runs on a gratuity-based model, comping a large check could also jeopardize the server’s paycheck. 

  1. Picky or Unsatisfied Guests 

If a guest ordered wrong and didn’t like a dish (even though it was prepared correctly), or they just don’t like anything you bring them, don’t comp. It’s impossible to wow every single guest, and if you start giving away food and drinks to people who just didn’t love a dish, your profits will take a big hit. 

  1. Small Complaints

If something in the restaurant isnt to a guest’s liking – like they found it too cold or hot, or if the wait time was a little longer than they expected – you don’t have to comp a meal. See below for other ways to turn a complaining guest into an advocate without giving away product. 

  1. If Someone Asks Without a Good Reason

As much as it’s an unfortunate reality, some people will try to take advantage of your good service. If someone asks for free food or drinks because of a small complaint, consider strongly whether or not you want to set the precedent by conceding.

  1. For Critics

If you recognize a critic in your restaurant, do not comp their meal – it can be seen as a bribe, and in very poor taste. Obviously you’ll want to take extra care preparing their food and ensuring your best server is at their table, but don’t send them free food. Besides, their employer will be paying for the meal, anyway, so it’s not a personal favor. 

Other Ways to Apologize

If a guest is unhappy with something but you don’t feel that a comp is appropriate, there are other ways to show that you’re sorry things weren’t perfect for their visit. 

  • Future Discounts & Gift Cards

Comping a meal doesn’t guarantee that a guest will return, but by giving a future discount, they are way more incentivized to try again, says Mobile Cuisine. 

  • A Follow-Up Email with a Solution

If you have the guest’s contact information, collected through a digital receipt, you can follow up with them when you’ve corrected a problem. Say they thought a dish was underseasoned: Sending them an email saying you’ve reworked the recipe and hope they’ll come back and try it again is a personal way of saying thanks for the feedback and showing that you were listening to their concerns. Plus, it might get them to come back.  

When responding to criticism, always thank the guest for the feedback, apologize sincerely, and open the door to further discussion – and if you throw in a discount for their next visit, all the better. 

Who Can Comp?

Typically, comping privileges are only given to managers, but some restaurants find that their servers are empowered by the ability to comp when completely necessary. This shows that managers trust their staff to wield this power properly. 

Build comping into your training, and make sure all staff know your restaurant’s policy about free or discounted food for family and friends. 

If you want to keep comping responsibility to managers only, set it up in your POS system so a server has to get manager approval before punching in that something is going to be comped. 

Keep Track of All Comps

The most important lesson to be learned about comping is to always keep track of a comped meal, drink, or food item: make sure you’re not scrambling to figure out where those $200 went last Thursday night. 

If your POS system tracks all these things for you, you can take a look at all your comps at the end of the month and see where your business needs to improve. 

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Welcome to the first installment of our 7shifts x Toast three-part ‘Staffing a Restaurant’ series. Over the next few months, we’ll walk you through the do’s and don’ts of hiring staff for front of house (FOH), back of house (BOH), and management. 

Each restaurant staffing guide will cover key skills, what to look for on a resume, how to properly vet candidates, and best practices when welcoming a new hire to your team. 

Whether you’re just starting out or you’ve been in the restaurant game for decades, a clear, comprehensive, and actionable staffing plan is crucial, both for you and the people who work for you. Taking a consistent approach to staffing (and communicating this approach to your team) is important. Why? Because it’s one of the first steps you can take to build an engaged workforce. Everyone, from your dishwasher to your lead bartender, should feel like they are a valued, contributing member of the team.

Anyone with hospitality experience will agree: no two restaurants are the same, which means a one-size-fits-all staffing solution is simply not possible. Your restaurant concept informs the staff and skill sets you’ll need to hire, making it critical to consider the nuances between, say, a fast-casual chain and a fine dining establishment. 

Today, we’re kicking things off with front of house restaurant staff—the friendly folks who champion customer service to ensure your guests enjoy a top-notch experience each and every time they visit.

Front of House Jobs

Front of house restaurant jobs are, by their very nature, customer-facing. After all, the front of the house includes any area where customers are allowed. If you’re not a people person—or able to effectively put on a facade like you are—then this side of the restaurant is not for you. Keep in mind that customers are becoming increasingly unpredictable: even the most masterful communicators will sometimes struggle to win over or satisfy their guests. It should come as no surprise, then, that a positive attitude and an ability to effectively handle customer complaints (in the moment and afterwards) are critical. 

So who are these people-persons, and what should you, as an owner, bear in mind to ensure they make meaningful contributions to your restaurant? Let's take a closer look:

Servers

Serving is likely the first job that comes to mind when you think of front of house. Your servers have the most contact with customers, and act as the liaison between front of house and the kitchen. To do so requires strong communication and organizational skills, as well as an approachable, accommodating disposition. This is as true for a sit-down restaurant as it is for a fast food establishment, though the position titles may change (counter staff, barista, cashier, etc.). 

  • Reminder for restaurateurs: Just because an applicant lists previous serving experience on a resume, it doesn’t mean they are a perfect fit for the job. Qualities like agreeableness and empathy are not easily taught, whereas processes – how to do a quality check, for example – are. 

Bartenders 

Bartenders or mixologists will have different levels of customer interaction depending on your setup: if there are seats at the bar, they may take food orders along with preparing drinks for the rest of the restaurant. Like servers, staying organized and on task in a fast-paced environment is key. 

  • Reminder for restaurateurs: Have your bartender prove their prowess. Are they familiar with mixing techniques? Are they trained in the best practices of serving alcohol? Do they have a mental Rolodex of cocktail recipes to deliver on demand? A pre-hire trial shift (paid, of course) is a good way to see their skills in action. 

Hosts

Most sit-down restaurants will have hosts whose job is to welcome guests on arrival and oversee wait times, reservations, and seating. With the exception of perhaps your restaurant marketing, customers’ first impressions are made or broken by the host. These individuals should be friendly, eager, and skilled multitaskers. 

  • Reminder for restaurateurs: Typically you’ll start sending serving staff home as traffic slows, but it’s important to keep at least one host on until you close your doors for the evening. When a restaurant is slow, hosts spend a lot of time standing around, which can tempt them to reach for their smartphones to text or scroll through their social media. Whoever you hire should be willing and able to find ways to keep busy that contribute to the success of the restaurant. 

Expos 

Expos toe the line between front and back of house, spending the majority of their time out of view of the customer. Orders can come in fast and furious at peak meal times, making it advantageous to hire someone who is naturally calm, cool, and collected. 

  • Reminder for restaurateurs: An expo’s primary responsibility is putting the finishing touches on a dish and directing the servers or food runners to deliver the meal to the guest. Having an excellent memory and outstanding time management skills are crucial for this position.

Food runners

The name says it all: food runners are responsible for delivering food from the pass to the customer. Speed and accuracy are must-haves to ensure each dish quickly arrives at its correct destination.  

  • Reminder for restaurateurs: Your food runners should have a solid grasp of your restaurant menu and software, as customers might decide to place an on-the-spot order or request a refill when their food arrives. 

Specialty positions

Typically found in fine dining, sommeliers, and maître d’s are two examples of specialty FOH jobs that require extensive knowledge and training in a particular area. Some high-end restaurants will have employees dedicated to the position; others may cross-train servers and bartenders to step in as needed. 

  • Reminder for restaurateurs: Even if you yourself aren’t an expert in the area, when hiring you’ll need to have enough knowledge to be able to ask questions or provide scenarios that require applicants to demonstrate just how well they know their stuff. For someone to list “wine connoisseur” on a resume means very little if they aren’t able to suggest wine pairings for what’s on your menu. 

Interview Questions for Hiring FOH Staff

Now that you have an idea of the kinds of competencies you’ll need for your restaurant's front of house staff, and you’ve put together a restaurant job description for each, it’s time to move on to interviews. 

It's not an easy time to be hiring in the restaurant industry. The labor pool is shrinking; meanwhile, restaurant employee turnover rates are on the rise. Modern Restaurant Management estimates the cost of hiring a FOH restaurant position to be around $6,000. 

Retaining a loyal, energized workforce is a process that starts long before an employee’s first day. Interviews are not only an opportunity to vet applicants, but to show off your killer workplace culture, too.  

Here are a few of our favorite front of house interview questions to get you thinking in the right direction:

  1. Have you dined at our restaurant before? If yes, what was your experience like and how do you think you can contribute to or improve it?

  2. What made you want to work in the restaurant industry?

  3. How do you adapt to sudden changes? Competing priorities?

  4. Tell me about a time you went above the call of duty to help someone in need. 

  5. What is your favorite dish? Describe it to me in a way that you think would make me want to try it. 

  6. How would you handle a difficult or demanding customer?

Don’t forget to invite the candidate to ask questions of you, too. Interviews are a two-way street!

Onboarding FOH Staff

Your job is not done once the interviews have been wrapped and the references checked. It’s time to move on to training.

We can’t overstate the importance of a well thought-out restaurant employee onboarding process. If you don’t invest time to build a system that properly orients staff to the workplace, you won’t be giving your new employee a fair shot at being the best staff member they can be. 

Three things are critical for FOH staff to understand from day one:

  1. Your restaurant’s guest experience. How do you want your guests to feel? What about your staff? This is as much about showing (leading by example) as it is telling.

  2. Your restaurant policies. This might include things like dress code or staff meals. Don’t just drop an information bomb on your staff—making it interesting!

  3. Your restaurant software. Technology has helped restaurants become more efficient than ever: in the National Restaurant Association’s 2019 State of the Restaurant Industry Report, more than 80% of restaurateurs surveyed agreed that technology has given their business a competitive edge. Spend time orienting your new hires on things like your restaurant POS software, employee scheduling software, and so on.

Next month, we’ll head to the kitchen to cover BOH restaurant staffing.  To learn more about how to hire the best staff in 2019, check out our free Hiring the Modern Workforce course. 

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When designing a restaurant, there are hundreds, if not thousands, of choices to make. All these choices, large and small, contribute to your overall vibe – but some of the decisions you make may be ruining the guest experience for your customers with disabilities.

For a new episode of The Garnish, we sat down with restaurant architect Justin Alpert, who is passionate about making restaurants more accessible to all customers.

Alpert’s twin brother Jonathan is blind, and through frequently going to restaurants together, Alpert has learned all about the design elements that make or break the experience of a guest with a disability. “I've learned, without even thinking about it, how to kind of guide him through spaces. But I've also seen, if he was to walk around a space by himself, what would benefit him and what would hinder him,” said Alpert.

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If you’re struggling with your budget, you’re not alone. 

Restaurants operate on razor-thin margins; owners, operators, and managers are constantly reevaluating their inventory purchasing strategy and menu pricing strategy to offset operational costs throughout the business. Some of these operational costs are uncontrollable – like rent increases, third-party delivery,  or minimum wage increases – while some are entirely controllable. 

A controllable cost is, as the name suggests, an operational expenditure that can be reduced with some analysis, strategic thinking, and an overall proactive approach. 

Here are six ways restaurant owners, operators, and managers can wrangle and reduce controllable costs. 

Free Download: : Restaurant Budget Template: Calculate Where You're OverspendingRestaurant Controllable Costs Worth Re-ExaminingLate fees, tickets, and fines 

Fees are a classic example of drops in a bucket – one might not seem like a lot, but  fees can add up and deplete the budget for other areas of the business quickly. Some examples of fees you may encounter as a restaurant owner or operator are: 

  • License and permit related late fees

  • Parking tickets for a restaurant van or delivery vehicle

  • Loan payments

  • Late fees stemming from a water, gas, or internet bill

  • Noise complaints

  • Fines for over-serving patrons

  • Fines related to health code violations

You can tackle and potentially do away with fees altogether with a little organization, judicious planning, and staff training. Payments that result from poor business practices – like overserving patrons or noise violations – can be avoided by staying compliant with local law, you just need to make sure everyone on staff knows, and follows, all the rules. 

Based on your list of potential or recurring restaurant fees and tickets, enter any recurring fee due dates in your calendar and schedule reminders that let you know when bills are due, to stay ahead of them. A few minutes of planning can save you hundreds of dollars. 

Shop around to lower your electricity costs. 

Electricity is a major hidden restaurant expense. While you might be able to limit some wasteful habits and appliances, switching to a cheaper supplier is the easiest way to save. Many states allow you to shop around. 

Making this change will require that you make a hefty one-time time investment to research and do your homework, but it could save you as much as 10% of your energy costs. Say, for example, your  monthly restaurant electricity bill is $1,000; you could be saving $1,200 annually by reevaluating your electricity provider. 

If electricity is a big cost for your restaurant, it’s also worth considering ways to manipulate the light in your space through conscious restaurant design. The right wall colors, counter surface materials, windows, and positioning of lamps and overhead lights throughout your space can maximize the amount of light without increasing costs.  Check out our post about restaurant lighting to learn more.

Invest in smart restaurant technology. 

High-tech solutions to old-fashioned problems – like theft and heating and cooling – are getting ever-cheaper and easier to deal with 

While limiting electricity usage can be hard, one exception is installing a smart thermostat like such as Ecobee or Nest that allows you to track  temperatures, schedule heating and cooling times, and make necessary adjustments from your phone or computer. Electric thermostats help you spend way less on electricity while maintaining staff and customer happiness. 

Similarly, now may be a great time to invest in a smart video camera. Be upfront with your employees about where the cameras are — you don’t want them to feel that you’re spying on them. You do, though, want them to feel that you’re keeping a careful watch on what’s going on in your restaurant. And that’s going to be easy to do when you can peek at the footage at any time or place from your phone.

On top of preventing theft, the cameras also help with disputes between customers and staff, or between employees. A quick look at the footage can remove the confusion from potentially costly disputes and legal action.

Read More: 8 Ways Your Staff is Stealing From You Right NowEliminate early clock-ins.

Making sure you monitor employee hours with the aim to eliminate early clock-ins is not about nickel-and-diming anyone: It’s about making sure you treat all your employees fairly — without allowing anyone to indulge in a loophole that can breed resentment and take money out of another employee’s paycheck. 

It will also help you predict and plan for your labor costs; proactive action could mean big savings. The “early clock-in” loophole can easily cost a restaurant over $500 per employee in a year. Say, for example, an employee regularly clocks in 12 minutes before their shift begins: If you pay $15/hour, that’s $3 a day — or $15 per week — $780 per year. 

So how do you eliminate early clock-ins in your restaurant? Invest in a labor scheduling and employee management tool  – like 7Shifts or Homebase, both of which have free options, depending on the size of your restaurant(s) –  that integrates with your restaurant point of sale. The best point of sale solutions, like the one available from Toast, will have a clock-in enforcement feature that prevents staff from clocking in before their shift starts. Often times, you can configure this setting to prevent clock-ins 20, 15, 10, or even 5 minutes before a shift starts. 

Restaurant scheduling tools have many benefits: They save your data so you can learn which shift models work best, they allow you to input individual employee preferences (second jobs, requested time off) so that shifts are easier to schedule and more likely to work out, and, if they’re cloud-based, employees can view their schedules from home and pick up and drop shifts at their leisure.

Reduce Food Waste with Proper Back of House Management 

Food costs are one of the top controllable costs in your restaurant. You should be consistently analyzing and negotiating with vendors to ensure you’re getting the best price possible. Did you know some vendors price differently per location? You could be spending big bucks on an inventory item at location A, but have it under control at location B. 

Along with vendor relationship management, teach the back of house – specifically your prep cooks – cutting and prepping techniques that keep food items fresher for longer, and maximize the amount of product that is going onto plates rather than into a compost bin or landfill. 

To learn more effective ways to reduce food waste in your restaurant, check out these posts from Toast: 

Conduct maintenance regularly 

Unsubscribe from the "If it ain't broke, don't fix it" mentality. 

What could be worse than an unexpected issue that takes down your fridge on a Friday at 3:27pm? 

You can reduce the risk of unexpected restaurant equipment failure by conducting maintenance regularly, which will help you catch problems before they become big, expensive, and date-night-destroying. Some equipment providers offer yearly maintenance packages.  Yearly maintenance plans tend to operate at the local level, so you’ll have to do a little research to see what’s available in your area.  

As a bonus, in the event that something does go wrong, you’ll know exactly who to call and know that a person who already knows your equipment should be able to solve the problem quickly. Plus, the plan will likely cover much of the cost.  Think of yearly maintenance as insurance on your restaurant equipment: one-time investment that you’ll be thankful you paid that one time things go awry.

Save on printing, paper, and headaches with kitchen display screens. 

You can reduce  – or eliminate outright – a need for kitchen printer paper by investing in   investing in kitchen display screens. Restaurants that have a point of sale system with integrated kitchen display screen (KDS) technology reduce ticket time, human error, and the need for paper tickets. As soon as your guest orders, their ticket is sent directly to the KDS, allowing the line to start preparing items seconds later.

Not only will this upgrade make for smoother front and back of house communication and faster ticket and table turn times, but it will save you on printing and paper costs. In 2017, the Toast community saved 2,500 trees by adopting KDS into their back of house operations. 

Read More: 3 Restaurants Using Kitchen Technology in Unbelievably Innovative WaysGet Your Costs Under Control 

These tips aren’t a set of magic fixes, and controllable costs will differ from restaurant to restaurant.  Where food costs may be a top concern for some, electricity may be in the top spot for others. 

It’s important to focus on ways to reduce overhead in your restaurant by taking a proactive approach to optimizing controllable costs. 

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Danny Meyer, who heads up the famously gratuity-free Union Square Hospitality Group, admitted in an interview with Forbes that it takes about a year to get the math right when you eliminate tips. That’s reason enough to scare many small businesses out of even considering trying a new compensation structure. His restaurants have stayed the course and stuck to the gratuity-free (plus benefits) model, but not everyone who tries it has been able to make it work. 

David Chang's Momofuku Nishi tried it for six months, and Thad Vogler of James Beard Award-winning restaurant Bar Agricole in San Francisco tried it for nine months, but said “As much as I agree and I believe in the principle, it was too hard.” 

However, on two opposite corners of the U.S., two neighborhood restaurants are currently thriving on the gratuity-free, profit-sharing model. In the newest episode of The Garnish, we got to hear all about what it's like to work at Juliet in Somerville, Mass. and at barcito in Los Angeles, Calif

We learned about the challenges of implementing this model as well as the joys of gratuity-free work, including stable income and benefits, the motivation of profit-sharing, and a smaller front- and back-of-house divide.

Useful Definitions
  • Gratuity-Free: a system where servers do not accept tips and are instead paid an hourly living wage, often plus benefits. 

  • Profit-Sharing: a system where staff are given bonuses when the business does well. This method allows for a similar type of reward as tips, where if a person works hard, they are compensated extra. 

  • Open-Book Management: a system where management shares the finances of a business with its employees, so they can see how their work contributes to increases in revenue. 

How it Works at Juliet and Barcito

At Juliet in Somerville, Mass., “Everyone starts with a living-wage base pay. Right now the current base is $15. And then from there, we also do profit-sharing. Everyone is given a look into the business, [so] we're really aware of the amount of money the restaurant is making,” explains general manager Katie Rosengren. “From there, everyone gets a little bit of the profit that we make in the restaurant. It's every single person who works here, from dishwasher all the way up to the owners, because everyone is contributing to it.” 

Because of this system, there’s virtually no front- and back-of-house divide at Juliet. 

Rosengren also says that if people still tip (after having heard the explanation of why the restaurant is gratuity-free), they put the money towards staff development or staff parties.  

Over at barcito in LA, “It's a hospitality-included, no-tipping model. We have basically baked the cost of doing business into our menu prices,” says owner Andrea Borgen “We revenue share with our front of house staff, so it's based on week-to-week sales as opposed to night-to-night tips.” 

Lauren Leland, a bartender at barcito, explains that the revenue pot is split according to number of hours worked, which means that there’s no need to fight over busy shifts every week. “If I'm working different shifts than the other bartender, but we work the same amount of hours, we're seeing the same amount of money. So it feels a little more fair.”

Stability in Pay and Lifestyle

At both Juliet and Barcito, a slow shift doesn’t mean a small paycheck. Both restaurants also offer health insurance, which is rare for the restaurant industry

“A priority for me is to ensure that my staff is getting a certain number of hours per week and have really predictable take-home pay,” explains Borgen. To achieve this, she doesn’t cut servers on slow days, but rather gives them cleaning projects to do. 

On slow days at Juliet, “we always have the option of whether or not we want the night off. We're never told we're going to get cut,” says Sam Mangino, a server at Juliet. “The option is we're going to do a lot of cleaning or, one of [us] can take the night off. And there are some days where I'm like, ‘I'm so tired. I do want this night off.’ So at least if I'm not getting a day's worth of pay, I get to make that choice on my own.” 

Rosengren is the mother of a young son. Not only was her job at Juliet held for her while she went on maternity leave, but her income is stable without having to work every weekend. 

“There are a lot of moms who work in restaurants that tip –  they are amazing human beings, and I 100% support anybody who does this for a living and has a child because it is so hard. But having a gratuity free model allows it so that I don't have to work every Friday and Saturday night so that I can afford to feed my child or house my child,” said Rosengren. “It gives me a lot of flexibility, and it also keeps those people in the industry who are really talented, who are really capable but just can't make ends meet by working a Tuesday lunch.”

The Challenges of Going No-Tip

The switch from the standard tipping model to a no-gratuity model requires a lot of calculations; if you plan to do it, you’ll need to leverage as much sales data as you can to inform how you’ll shuffle around money. Typically, restaurants increase menu prices to be able to cover minimum wage (or higher) for all workers. This is a risk, because loyal customers may experience some sticker shock. According to Borgen from barcito: 

“We anticipated the sticker shock risk, which I think certainly manifests itself in two kinds of different ways.Either guests see our menu prices, balk, and and don't walk in at all, or they come in and their ordering behavior changes based on the prices, so they go for the lower-ticket items, and check averages drop and you're not meeting what you need in order to sustain your business. I've realized that there is sort of a third risk that we certainly felt, [which] has to do with value perception. The example that I use a lot is this short rib dish … it used to be $13 and then it increased to $16, and that three-dollar difference made such a change in the way people reacted to that dish. Before, they were thrilled and they loved it and it was such a great deal. And once it was $16, it was too small, or too bland – nothing about it changed except the price tag.”

At Juliet, occasionally, a guest will say that they charge too much, but Rosengren says they often just aren’t thinking ahead to the fact that they really don’t have to tip at the end. 

“There are a lot of places around that will charge $15 for a brunch plate and then you tip on top of that. So if we charge you $15 for a brunch plate and you don't tip on top of it, we're actually cheaper than that other place.”

The Downfalls of the Tipping System

Why bother shaking up the system that we’ve been running on for centuries? 

Firstly, studies have shown that it’s rife with discrimination: black servers receive smaller tips than their white counterparts for the same quality of service. The discrimination can also go both ways: Servers can give worse service to populations who, according to racist stereotypes, are perceived to be bad tippers. It's also widely understood that tipping culture contributes to sexual harassment. 

Secondly, tipping makes for an unstable income for tipped workers. “You aren't able to say, ‘I'm definitely going to have enough money to pay my bills and pay my rent this month,’” says Rosengren.

Leland agrees: “I was working at a few other places before I came to barcito where I'd walk out with 30 bucks one night. I was like, ‘I can't predict my life.’”

Sam Mangino, who wrote her college thesis on tipping and has served for tips and without them, says tip size is only minimally influenced by quality of service. “Tipping habits don't change when someone walks into a restaurant, they already have those decided,” she says.

Rosengren experienced this back when she worked for tips. “You could have an off day, you could really mess up a table or feel like you really did a bad job and someone will still tip you 20% – which is great and wonderful – or you could be so on, do every single thing right, by the book done a perfect job, and still get a 12% tip, because it really doesn't matter. People know what they think is fair to tip and that's what they're going to tip regardless of what you do. And when you realize that as a server, it's pretty defeating,” she says.

Anyone who’s ever worked a service job likely has an opinion about the tipping system. It can be a fantastic way to make good money with or without a college education, but the system’s drawbacks are starting to be noticed by guests and servers alike. 

However you feel about it, it’s always exciting to see restaurateurs trying to swim against the current and make changes towards equity in the American restaurant industry.

We covered all this and much more in the Gratuity-Free Restaurants episode of The Garnish, which you can also find wherever you get your podcasts. Subscribe to our podcast newsletter so you never miss an episode. 

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