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How to handle wage disparity complaints from BOH staff

gender wage gap

Question:

Here is how I handle it when the back of house complains about the disparity between take-home pay with the front of house. I offer to train any cook who wants to work in the FOH as a server. No one has ever taken me up on it. They say they wouldn’t be able to put up with customers one on one. 

– David Pipkin, Managing Partner, Eagleford Restaurant, Cuero, Texas

Answer:

Last week, we addressed the question of a restaurant allocating part of the tip pool to cooks in order to lessen the gap in take-home pay for cooks, dishwashers and other BOH staff. On the surface, it seems like a clever way for restaurants to raise wages without dipping into their bottom line. Servers, of course, are less impressed. In most cases, however, the practice is not allowed and can cost the restaurant much more in labor complaints.

Your comment is well taken. The Restaurant Opportunities Centers and others who have been very vocal about the FOH-BOH disparity—which their research says also often falls along racial, gender and ethnic lines—advocates for exactly what you offer:

  1. Training for more lucrative tipped and supervisory positions.
  2. Pathways for promotion from within.

In many ways, what you offer is a high-road restaurant practice. It can yield already trained and dedicated employees, who know your menu and your system, representing and selling the food much more effectively than a new hire, who may not last, may need extensive training, or whose heart isn’t in the job.

Unfortunately, as you point out, offering a pathway does not necessarily mean people will walk it. I can relate. As a cook, I got nervous and clumsy in the dining room. It just didn’t feel right and no amount of career opportunity or tips, I thought, would change that. But my advice is to keep offering. Eventually someone will say, “Sure,” and will turn into your best server. In the meantime, we have previously addressed ways to keep people happy: raising wages, of course, but also other motivators that can go beyond money in making your operation a great place to work.

More about FOH training here.

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