Prairie Dog was founded on the principle of the triple bottom line, which aims to make companies accountable for not only their profits and losses, but for their environmental impact and their effect on people and the community. Our experience with the restaurant industry has unfortunately revealed that restaurants often sacrifice people (their own employees), in favour of profits, by asking staff to do things like clock out and continue working after their scheduled shifts have ended, or “benching” staff when they arrive for a shift and making them wait until the restaurant gets busy enough to justify their labour cost, sometimes sending them home after hours of waiting without paying a dime for their time waiting or their wasted commutes. These are practices that our founders find extremely distasteful and disrespectful of staff, and clear violations of the principles of the triple bottom line (not to mention labour code, but we won’t go there).
TIPS – A Flawed Experiment
For a long time, the idea of paying a token sum of money To Insure Prompt Service (TIPS) has existed, and we in Western society have bought whole-heartedly into the notion that a customer paying a commission to a server somehow ensures that the best servers earn the most income and acts as a direct feedback loop for performance. But this entire idea only makes sense in an environment where the typical people-management practices and labour conditions that we employ in every other industry are non-existent — where good servers don’t already receive fair compensation for their work, and bad servers don’t get let go or receive retraining, and where restaurants don’t provide their staff with incentives for improving their lifestyle like better working hours, benefits, and other perks. Further, the idealistic notion of tipping falls apart when the average consumer is conditioned to believe that they need to leave a minimum 15-20% tip, even for bad service. Think about it, the only situation in which that makes sense is if the restaurant underpays their staff by the equivalent of 15-20% of their revenue — oh wait, that’s exactly what they do!
It is hard to imagine a dental office where the hygenists are paid below minimum wage and have to receive tips directly from customers to Ensure Painless Cleanings (EPC – sounds like a good idea, no?), so why should we treat servers that way? Our governments have been complicit in this delusion for decades, creating a separate, lower minimum wage for people in hospitality industries, and they have generally turned a blind eye to income earned as tips, which has perpetuated this flawed experiment and acted as encouragement for restaurants and other hospitality-focused business to take advantage of their staff, leading many in our society to treat restaurant staff like a lower class of human being.
Tipping Creates Problems
While tipping may be one way to show a server or bartender that you think they are performing a good job, here are some other situations it creates:
- Statistics have repeatedly shown that the more attractive a person is, the more tips they receive in service roles (and the higher average guest cheque), regardless of the skill level of those people; so those with a desire to work a career in hospitality often find themselves the subject of discrimination, with several Calgary restaurant groups going so far as requiring a modelling portfolio along with job applications (seriously).
- Servers quickly learn that people are looser with their wallet after they’ve gotten tipsy or drunk; so the incentives are in place for servers to encourage over-drinking in order to receive the best tips.
- The higher a guest’s tab is, the more tips a server is likely to receive, which encourages servers to recommend the most expensive items on the menu or find other ways to inflate the guest cheque rather than tailoring the service to the guest’s individual means/taste.
- The most tips are generated on the busiest days/hours of the week, so staff compete for a relatively small number of shifts, and it is often hard to find good staff that will work the slower days of the week (like Sundays).
- In an environment where tips are the primary source of income, the most senior, experienced servers have to continue working the most difficult/lucrative shifts to receive “fair” compensation for their skills rather than stepping back and letting fresh blood come in to take on those shifts and learn to improve their skills.
- Experienced servers face challenges when training new ones, because they are slowed down by trainees and may lose out on tips, or have to split tips with a trainee.
- Bringing in tips at the front-of-house can create a wage disparity with the back-of-house (kitchen), where people often train for years to become journeymen cooks, but make a smaller effective hourly wage than the servers do, at least on the busier shifts, so restaurants usually find ways to collect all the tips and redistribute them to the entire staff, which can lead to all sorts of ripple-effects and most of all, drama.
- Tips give restaurant owners justification for failing to treat their staff like human beings.
At Prairie Dog, we do things completely differently. We believe in treating people the way we expect to be treated. First of all, that means that we give people a fair wage in exchange for their labour. We discourage tipping to the point of removing the option from our payment terminals. We are focused on building a modern performance management program that includes regular performance reviews.
Most importantly, we are constantly working to establish honest dialog with our staff that allows both staff and ownership to voice concerns and work together to improve things. Our founding team work out on the floor with our staff on a daily basis and observe their behaviour, which gives more opportunities for performance management. When we hire, we don’t fixate on physical attractiveness, instead we focus on personality – we want people who learn quickly and are friendly and fun, people who will grow with us and be here for the long term. Further, we don’t bench our staff, and we often find ourselves asking staff members to stop working for free before and after their shifts, which some do simply because they love working here. On top of treating staff like human beings, we do the following:
- All full-time staff who have passed their probationary periods receive full benefits including medical, dental, and vision care
- Staff receive discounts on their meals
- Staff are entitled to a free beer (or other beverage of their choice) at the end of their shift
- Staff are entitled to a free growler fill to take home each week
- Staff often receive 2-day weekends as part of their usual schedule