Rethink restaurant employee titles to empower your staff

I read an amazing blog post recently on the topic of restaurant employee titles. The author made an impassioned plea that rather than focusing on the function of a specific title, restaurant staff should be motivated to focus on the overarching mission that they all share…“to make guests happy.”

The time has come, restaurants and food service have evolved to the point where the titles of employees working in this industry need to change to reflect what they are really responsible for: ensuring guests leave with a smile on their face, with a belly full of food and nothing but nice things to say about the restaurant they just left.

Clearly an operator, through and through, the post’s author, Alana Corkery, goes on to describe how the title “food runner” fails to accurately encompass a given staff member’s full range of responsibilities. While ensuring that the right menu item gets to a guest’s table promptly is a food runner’s primary duty, he or she plays a critical role in a patron’s overall restaurant experience.

In most restaurants the food runner is also responsible for bussing tables, assisting the servers, heavy lifting, and odd jobs that no one else will sign up for. They are not just food runners, they are guest service assistants, and they are just as responsible for your guest’s satisfaction as any server, host or manager.

If you want to get more out of your staff give them titles that warrant the hard work they do day in and day out. If you hire someone as a “food runner”, that is exactly what you’re going to get. If you hire someone as a guest service assistant their whole scope of responsibility changes even if the job description stays the same.

As managers in the hospitality industry we are responsible for inspiring our staff to excel in customer service aptitudes every day and one of the difficulties we face is the insistent “that’s not my job” attitude because someone was hired as a server, or a bartender, or a busser.

As you can see, Alana makes a compelling argument for restaurant operators to rethink the titles they bestow on their staff. If this were the end of her post, I’m sure you can agree that you would be left with a lot of food for thought. But, in truth, the post gets even better. Alana goes on to describe an actual social experiment she ran with one of her restaurant clients to test her theory.

The results are, not only, incredibly interesting but truly eye-opening. If I owned a restaurant today, I would put running a similar experiment at the top of my ‘to do list.” It would both empower and motivate a restaurant’s staff. I can’t wait to hear what you think of her experiment:

The Restaurant Employee Title Experiment

We posted an internal job opening for a food runner position. We used the exact job description the restaurant generally uses for the food runner position except we changed the title to: Assistant Guest Services Manager. The pay was a mere $0.50 more an hour than the food runners generally make.

After the posting deadline had passed we had received 5 internal applications for the position of Assistant Guest Services Manager. 3 of those applications came from servers, 1 came from a bartender, and 1 came from a hostess who had previously managed restaurants.

It was surprising to me that none of the current food runners applied for the job. When I sat each of them down and asked why they didn’t apply their answers shocked me. “I didn’t think I was qualified.” “I’m not management material.” “I didn’t think I had any chance of getting the job because I’m just a food runner.” You should have seen their faces when I brought up their job description that they signed at the start of their employment and compared it to the posting. Unanimously their response was “I didn’t think I was responsible for so much.” They were already doing the job but didn’t realize the extent of their responsibility because their title was “just a food runner”.

The other members of staff who applied for the position had an equally perplexed reaction when we showed them the job descriptions side by side. They applied for an entry level position, one they never would have considered otherwise because it had the word manager in it. It seems that staff members were completely missing the scope of their responsibility in the restaurant.

If your jaw is on the floor, you can feel free to pick it up now. I had the same reaction when I first read the details of the well-thought experiment. It supports Alana’s argument perfectly…standard restaurant titles neither encompass staff members’ full responsibilities nor overarching purpose.

Here are a couple alternative restaurant staff titles to consider using:

Standard Title               Empowered Title

Hostess                            Guest Relation Manager

Server                              Guest Service Manager

Food Runner                 Assistant Guest Services Manager

Feature image by Florian Rathcke.