Just the other night I was hanging out with a friend who’s a bartender at a local restaurant. The restaurant certainly isn’t known for its bar, however, the low prices ensure that there is a constant spillover from the family section into the bar.
Therefore, it’s a fairly lucrative position for him – highly-priced “mom” drinks plus a customer that’s willing to tip fairly well make for a good combination.
Anyway, we were discussing the advantages and disadvantages of various positions at the restaurant. This makes for an interesting case because there are no incentives for a promotion. Promotions simply aren’t worth it.
Managers get screwed.
A bartender can expect to make a minimum of $15 per hour, which, when levied against other “college jobs” in a low cost of living place where I live is a fairly decent hourly income. If you work the numbers, it works out to something like $30,000 per year. (50 weeks X 40 hours per week X $15 per hour).
At the bartender level, you’re paid by the hour. There’s no such thing as a salary, obviously.
However, if you “advance” into management, you’re going to earn something like a $35,000 year salary. So, $35,000 for unlimited number of labor hours. And unlimited it is.
From purely anecdotal experience, he claims that managers work at least 60 hours a week. When a new restaurant is opened, and employees are sent away to set the stage for a new location, hours are way in excess of 60 hours per week. One reports working something like 80 hours a week for the first few months, all for $35,000 per year.
Now, there isn’t much that would make someone want to get out of bed every single day for $35,000 per year, especially when you have to deal with employees that won’t show up, skip work because they’re hungover, or who quit a few days in – restaurant turnover is terrible, as anyone knows.
So, if we average it out to 60 hours a week, managers are making significantly less per hour than bartenders for more responsibility. And, frankly, managers are working for income that is taxed. I find it very, very hard to believe that the average server or bartender claims every single dime they make. First because it seems almost impossible, and secondly because it’s not in their interest and tremendously difficult to prove. I can’t be sure – I’ve never worked in food – but something tells me they aren’t claiming all of their income. I just know that “all cash” tends to mean “all sketchy.” The IRS told me so.
What if these incentives are good?
What if paying people less to work in management is actually a good idea?
Look, I don’t know what it takes to run a restaurant or deal with restaurant employees. Someone who thoroughly enjoys telling someone else what to do and who is willing to take a pay cut to do it might be the perfect person to hire.
The only people irrational enough to take a management job in this particular restaurant must be people so power hungry that they’re willing to forgo freedom and a higher per-hour wage just to tell people what to do. In an industry like this, maybe that’s a good thing?
I equate it somewhat to teaching. I’m a believer that there are only two ways to get good teachers: set pay super high (to attract intelligent go-getters) or super low (to attract people that want to be teachers so much that they’re willing to starve to do it.) The restaurant business seems to waddle on that lower extreme.
I don’t really understand it. Most professional jobs provide more income for more work. Restaurants seem to work backwards. More work for less hourly pay, and relatively no change in total compensation.
Is it a cultural difference? Is the culture such that you have to have power-hungry type-A lunatics operate as slave drivers just to get people in? Is it that bad to where you have to have perverse incentives just to get the crazies to show up to work?
I’m not sure.
Anyway, fill me in. If you’ve ever worked at a restaurant, help me understand the culture. Why would any business ever pay someone less for doing more? Does it make sense?