Those of us that have toiled in our industry know the value of the education, preparation and compensation we have all earned through our experience serving others. But with all that being said, our industry also ranks as one of the least respected in our society. While you may not agree with her politics, freshmen Congresswomen Alexandria Ocasio-Cortez (AOC) hit on something important regarding this in her recent tweet.
She rightfully questioned why anyone would equate working in the service industry as being lesser than any other role in life. For too long, we have actually allowed this narrative to pervade and it’s time we changed that perception. Yes, we are populated with folks that are looking for flexibility and maneuverability in their employment. Just because they might be students working while in school or a bartender that acts, doesn’t mean we shouldn’t expect them to be professional.
It’s Time to Treat Staff Like Professionals… Because They Are
I am convinced that we do this to ourselves by tolerating this inaccurate trope. But then I look at an operation like the Hillstone Restaurant Group and see an organization that simply doesn’t allow that mistake. They serve great food and employ terrific people from whom they demand the absolute best. Check them out; you’ll see the demands they place on their staff and how the staff responds. You’ll never see a server begin their shift, in any of their restaurants, who is not wearing a crisply starched shirt.
Sure, their servers make great money in tips, but what about their line and supports staff?
Same thing, totally professional and committed. They accomplish this through discipline, consistency, and making their standards crystal clear. I assert that they demand that their staff respect themselves, so that the community will follow suit.
If We Want Society to Respect Our Profession, We Need to Respect Ourselves
If I could suggest any adjustment in our industry, it’s that we need to require the rest of society be more respectful of our efforts. This list of 37 professions in descending order of the amount of respect they receive places Servers (31) and bartenders (37) at the bottom of the list. For some reason, chef/kitchen staff doesn’t even seem to merit inclusion.
It’s without reservation that I claim those rankings to be our fault. Our industry has been squeezed tight by labor shortages and cost of sales increases, the two places where we always seem to be thrifty already. But the number of you that work hard enough on recruiting the best candidates and ensuring they are properly trained is embarrassingly low. You need only look to Chik-fil-A to find an example of a concept that utilizes entry level/unskilled labor to drive their business, but succeeds despite them.
That isn’t to say that unskilled labor is the problem. Quite the contrary. YOU ARE! If you aren’t putting significant resources into identifying the right candidates and developing your new, and existing staff, then you are setting your restaurant up to be disrespected.
Simply stated: If you don’t respect your own business, you shouldn’t expect society to either. Yes, this is an appeal for you to focus on the people that serve your guests and provide the products that guest consume. Once you dedicate yourself to improving their performance through training, development and individualized nurturing, you turn the corner toward professional respect.
It’s Time the Business World Respected Our Industry
We employ 8.4% of the almost 157 million employed people in the United States. If nothing else, we are a force to be reckoned with. Other industries who access our people as they grow should be grateful that we prepared them so well. Our folks learn to perform under pressure, deliver direct service to the customer, and have the ability to manage multiple tasks effectively and with the appropriate priority. If those aren’t skills that describe a successful professional, then what are?
In life, you get exactly as much respect from people as you demand. I, for one, am weary of our industry being thought of as a commodity and not as the parts that make it work. Elevate your staff. Provide them with the tools to be professional and they will respond by being more professional.
In the end, it’s about leadership. So, really isn’t the contempt for the employees in our industry just a sign of our disrespected leadership? Let’s do better and demand our industry receive the same respect given to any professional category. Ultimately, you do this by being more professional yourself and leading your team to the respect they deserve -- and have earned.