Rising labor costs paired with schedule challenges, a tight labor pool and customer expectations have caused operators to rethink how to utilize bussers. As costs continue to creep up and looming regulations make day-to-day staffing more difficult, restaurants have come up with new plans for bussing without compromising the experience in the process.
Get rid of ‘em
Eureka Restaurants, a casual-dining concept focused on craft beer and whiskey, takes a team approach to staffing—and got rid of the busser role. Instead of assigning individual jobs (busser, waiter, etc.), front-of-house staff are all referred to as service team members and trained with an “every guest is yours” mentality, on everything from hosting to bussing.
“We want all of our service team members to be able to sell and have knowledge for our guests,” says Robert Suzuki, chief people officer. “Every staff member has to describe products, offer suggestions and ultimately sell.”
Once hired, team members go through multiplatform training to make sure that they are able to provide a knowledgeable experience for guests, as well as maintain the restaurant. “We have an extensive training program for all of our team members that delivers multiple types of learning content,” says Suzuki. The onboarding includes watching videos about the brewers and distilleries Eureka partners with, participating in group activities, and games and more. After working for a few months, team members have to complete an exam.
Intensify training to cut elsewhere
At Coco Pazzo, a fine-dining restaurant in Chicago, owner Jack Weiss had to cut down on labor costs, but didn’t want to compromise the dining experience by eliminating bussers. Instead, he decided to minimize another role: “I’m reducing the number of managers on the floor and really presenting a much bigger challenge and higher level of excellence for my wait and bus staff,” says Weiss.
Joe Carlucci, owner of Carlucci Restaurant and Bar in Downers Grove, Ill., also plans to keep bussers—but change expectations. The bussers in his restaurant are expected to pitch in outside of their traditional job; for example, asking guests if they’d like another cocktail or more wine if their glass is empty.
Turn to tech
Fast casual Spin Neapolitan Pizza has bussers—however, they have a dual back-of-house role: dishwashing. To minimize the challenges associated with wearing multiple hats, Spin has incorporated technology to speed service and help staff stay organized.
“We call it a bus-dish role,” says partner Ed Brownell. “They are responsible for maintaining the dishes in the back, but they have a headset on and are in communication with the front-of-house manager, and we’ll use them to make sure that we keep the dining room bussed so that we can turn our tables faster.”
While Brownell says that the use of tech has made operations more efficient, the chain is cautious about relying too much on tech and does not foresee it replacing bussers soon. “We want to be careful that we don’t become so automated that we remove the interaction between staff members and guests.”