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What to do when a server struggles to sell

server taking order


Is it lawful for a restaurant to reduce a server’s three-table section to a two-table section due to a low wine sales percentage?

– Jeremy, Server, Humble, Texas


Servers are many things to guests—welcoming hosts, entertaining pals and knowledgeable food and beverage ambassadors, to name a few. They are also, perhaps most importantly, salespeople. Your question seems to be questioning management’s decision to give you a smaller section due to your performance, lagging in selling a profitable item (wine). No doubt, in a nonpooled environment, this move took a big chunk out of your take-home pay.

As often happens in this column, we need to distinguish between what is legally allowed and what the operation really should do. On the surface, there is nothing wrong with reducing your section due to your lagging in wine sales. It would be best if that possibility were clearly spelled out in the employee handbook and uniformly applied as part of the operation’s performance improvement process. But the restaurant needs to maximize revenue, and it would seem having a stronger wine sales-oriented server have more tables, and you have fewer, would be a promising way to do that. A similar solution would be to schedule you for fewer hours or move you to shifts such as lunch where wine is a harder sell for everyone. Reducing your workload, if anything, could be seen as compassionate and constructive, giving you the opportunity to focus on improving your performance. As long as the move was not discriminatory, it makes some sense.

But where I get depressed about our industry is, before taking corrective action, what was done to support your improving your wine sales? Training, tastings, a pairing cheat sheet, merchandising, promotions or mentoring, to name a few? While there may be nothing wrong with management reducing your section, there is nothing right about expecting sales to come from less opportunity to make them and no extra supports, training or guidance to get it done.

As always, consult with your attorney and restaurant association. More on increasing servers’ sales here.

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