To Feed Restaurant Staff or Not to Feed Them

employer of choice restaurant employees restaurant staff
To Feed Restaurant Staff or Not to Feed Them

Are you struggling with what to do when it comes to feeding your restaurant staff? I have seen and experienced a lot of things in my 30-plus years in the restaurant business, including all the different ways you can go about feeding your restaurant staff. There are pros and cons to them all, so I am tackling the four best options and offering what I like – and don’t like – about each of them.

The first option is the family meal. It is the most old-school way to feed your team. The family meal is usually found in fine dining restaurants that do really high sales and have reservations on the books. They generally know they're going to do incredible sales each night where they can bring all the team in at the same time without worrying about labor cost because the ring at the register is so high.

This is where the chef makes a big meal everyone can share such as rice and beans and tortillas with shredded pork for pork tacos, or pasta and meatballs. The meals don’t have to be things you have on your menu. Just buy the ingredients and everybody sits down like it was a Thanksgiving meal. They all sit and eat together, coming in at the same time together, clean up together and open the restaurant together.

The pros of the family meal for restaurant staff is it's family oriented. Everybody gets fed, and no one has to worry about taking a break to eat during the rush.

The cons are do you have a recipe costing card for that? How do you track that? Does your labor cost really need to be that high? Even if you've got the greatest sales in the world, you're bringing people in when they don't need to be there and you're paying them to eat. So I'm not a real fan of this old-school method of a family meal, but it's still done.

Another old-school method made popular by the chain restaurants is a special menu for employees to eat for free. You may have the greatest burgers, and you may have great sandwiches and pasta dishes, but they get grilled cheese, peanut butter and jelly sandwiches, or simple pasta with sauce. They get the basic items that don't cost you a lot.

The pro is everybody gets to eat, and you can control the cost because they are low-cost items.

The cons are they're not learning what your food tastes like, it can be really boring and you can be sending a message that your restaurant staff is not important enough to give food that you actually like.

Probably the most common way to feed restaurant staff is to offer a 50 percent discount off their meal. If you work a shift and you order something, you get 50 percent off. If you sell a burger for $15, you comp half and pay half. In this setup, managers usually get a 100 percent free meal for every shift they work. This doesn’t mean they get this discount when they come in to eat with all their friends and family, and they don’t get it on a big take-out order on the end of their shift so they can feed their family and friends. The 50 percent discount is applied during a shift. You can offer 10–25 percent off to all employees when they’re not working. I'm not a fan of it, but I know a lot of restaurants like to do that.

The pros are they eat off your menu and know what the food tastes like.

One con is there are some items you can't let them eat. For example, if you have a high-quality prime, dry aged steak, they don’t get that at 50 percent. You  just can’t afford it. This can make them feel slighted. Also, since you are comping food, you can create some liability with use tax because you’re not paying sales tax on 50 percent of food you bought from your vendors and the government says you owe them taxes on that 50 percent of product. It requires a whole other discussion we should have in the future, but definitely have a plan for that if you take the discount route to feed your restaurant staff.

More recently, I’ve seen restaurants that have to reduce their costs because of The Great Resignation and inflation only provide snacks to feed their restaurant staff. The snacks can range, but restaurant employees bring their own meals and then have access to snacks such as granola bars, chips, bags of popcorn, chips, etc.

The pro of this approach is you're still showing your restaurant staff you care.

The cons are it can be interpreted as you really don't care enough about them and is what you’re offering enough for them to sustain themselves if they don’t pack their own lunches.

With these options in mind, what I want you to know is that in this day and age, showing your restaurant staff that they're appreciated is a big deal and it helps you become an employer of choice. Select wisely because sometimes penny pinching may cost you more in employee turnover than the small benefit of reducing your food cost.

If you would like to learn how to own a restaurant that doesn't depend on you being in it to be successful, sign up for my free video course that teaches you three key principles to running a successful restaurant. If you're ready right now to make some serious changes in your restaurant, you can also book a 60-minute call with me where we talk about your challenges and figure out exactly what is holding you back from having a restaurant that doesn’t depend on you being in it to be successful. 

Be sure to visit my YouTube channel for more helpful restaurant management video tips.


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