Keep the change :) (Food series, Part 1 of 4)

Everyone who has ever worked as waiter/waitress/server know the power of this statement.  That statement is powerful because servers work for a different minimum wage than other minimum wage workers.  It varies from state to state, but it’s usually significantly lower than whatever the mandated wage is.  Why? Because they make tips.  With all of the incentive programs that are gaining in popularity during this time of “accountability” it was easy for me to make the analogy of teaching turning into a service industry.  So let’s take a look at the restaurant industry to see how this would work out.  I will base this solely on my two different experiences in working as a waitress.

Shogun, Japanese Steak House (Auburn, AL).  I still remember this job as one of my favorite jobs and greatest working experiences.  It was fast paced and high pressure and very rewarding (most of the time).  In my experience (almost ten years ago now) it worked like this:

  • I was paid $2.13/hour.  Each table had 10 seats.  Most waitresses had a two table section.  Waitresses were also responsible for setting all of the tables, making the salads for the service, and checking that the grill was on once orders were taken.  The average entrée item was $15.  When customers were seated, I took their drink orders.  Once a table was full, or as full as it was going to get, I took dinner orders and turned them into the chef.  Then I prepared the soups and delivered them to the table.  Next, I prepared their salads and delivered them.  In the meantime, I continued to check drink levels.  The chef would come to cook for the table and entertain them with a great show.  I would clear the finished salads and soups and take care of any other needs.
  • Once the bill came, the anxiety would set in.  Because these meals tend to move slower, table-turning was not a reasonable expectation, so waitresses hoped to get a good tip for the great experience.  The general rule is 15%.  So if I had a full table, the average bill for a table would be around $200 for meals and drinks (of course could be more if they were big drinkers or ordered sushi).  I would expect to get $30 for that table.  All tips went into a box, with each waitress having a separate section.  So if I had 4 tables I got $120, right?  Well, first we need to take 6% off the top for bus boys and dish washers.  Ok, that’s fair.  Now I’m down to $113 (approx.).  Still good!  Wait, 1/2 of all of my tips go to the chefs.  They did the show, they’re the attraction, so this is fair.  EXCEPT that they already get paid almost three times as much as I do per hour… So now I’m down to $61.  Ok, have a nice night!  Whoops!  Bartenders worked hard tonight too (for $6/hour) and I need to tip them out at 10%.  So I walk away with $55.  Not too shabby if I work every night, and every night is this busy, and every customer tips at 15%…
  • What I learned from working at Shogun: being prejudiced isn’t nice, but its a reality.  As a waitress we learned quickly to evaluate what customers to REALLY take care of and which ones to just do the minimum.  A table full of golfers (drinking and having fun with the chef) – got great service!  A table full of (what I deemed as) rednecks who treated me like a servant – got the bare minimum.  Sad but true.  But when your pay is based on your customer, and you’ve had a slew of negative experiences with a certain type of people, you learn to adjust accordingly.
  • How does this apply to education?  If we run our schools like Shogun, teachers will make decisions about which students will earn them their tips.  Who are your golfers in education?  In my school, it would probably be the small percentage of students who have earned a 2 or 3 on the previous End of Grade test AND have a spark for improving.  Who are your rednecks?  The small percentage of students who have a guaranteed passing score (based on last year) and don’t require too much attention AND your large percentage of students who have a 1 or low 2 and show complete disdain for school and could care less about passing a stupid test!  Are these the types of decisions we want educators to start making? Also, what would happen if the chefs (administrators), bartenders and bus boys (support staff), and owners (central office people) were all put on the server pay scale?  Maybe then, they would start to take more interest in the plight of the servers (the teachers)…  But that won’t happen!  They will continue to make their guaranteed salary while also pulling in the tips (bonuses) that the servers are dependent on.

Olde Auburn Ale House (Auburn, AL): More traditional restaurant experience.  Again, one of my favorite jobs.  I made great friends, learned a lot about beer and brewing, and also learned the value of having great managers.

  • Again, I was paid $2.13/hour plus tips.  Only had to tip out the bartenders at the end of the night, therefore I took home most of what I earned.  I had a little more ability to flip tables, and was able to build up a nice group of “regulars” because of the unique nature of a brewery.
  • The experience here was a life lesson on management.  We went through a lot of people, and a lot of managers.  The real test would come during a busy night or game day.  What I found out was that the managers who were constantly in motion, and doing the dirty work when times got tough, got the best service from their employees.  When you’re running around, trying to keep up with food running, drink running, table clearing, dish washing, etc. it would be a delightful surprise to arrive at your table and see that your manager had seen drinks in the window and taken initiative to deliver them to your table!  Or for a manager to walk into the kitchen, palms out, and load up plates to help get food out ASAP.  When a manager takes the approach of “not asking anyone to do something that they wouldn’t/couldn’t do themself” it makes a HUGE difference and makes a business a great place to work.
  • On the flip side… I had a few managers who walked around, hands in pockets, and barked out criticism.  Those managers didn’t last long because server turnover would happen quickly and customers tended to be complaining during that time.  When a manager is heard (and not seen) there is a lot of trust lost, and employees feel disconnected.  Anxiety is high!
  • How does this apply to education?  Teachers generally mistrust suggestions made by administrators and central office people who haven’t been facing the “dirty work”.  Also, professional development by those people is a JOKE!  I have attended far too many “workshops” about how to make my instruction more interesting where the “expert” read me a Powerpoint at warp speed and did not model what they were reading or let me practice it! (FYI: CERTL‘s training on PBL is very hands on, they pay you for the training, and you practice it with real students before you leave!).

I think we can eliminate the restaurant industry as a potential model for education, but I still think it should be a requirement that every person who eats in a restaurant work in a restaurant at least once.  Empathy is key!

Stay tuned for Part 2: Restaurant Challenge!

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