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Industry vet Paz: Servers can help restaurants survive

Front-of-the-house workers are quick to feel the impact of the nation’s souring economy as their hours are cut and their tips fall. But now is the time not to ask what your employer can do for you, but what you can do for your employer, said veteran server Paul Paz, putting a twist on the famous quote of the late JFK who had challenged Americans to support their country. Paz waits tables at Stanford’s restaurant in Portland, Ore., but he is also a consultant and founder of . With unemployment steadily climbing—it was 6.5 percent nationally in October—the relationship between employers and employees is changing, Paz said. Servers can no longer easily hop from one job to another. Employers are flooded with applicants for entry-level positions, and they are firing underperformers. But employees do not have to feel helpless. There are things they can do to help their restaurants survive, keep their jobs and improve their incomes, Paz said.

Really, what can servers do?

As an hourly employee, you can help build traffic and improve guest relations. For example, our restaurant announced we would be open on Thanksgiving Day for the first time in its history. It was breaking with tradition and rather unsettling for the staff. But look at the alternative: We can have that family holiday, or we can go for the extra revenue. I encouraged the staff to send out letters to our regulars and invite them to spend Thanksgiving with us. It’s easier to build revenues with regulars than getting new customers.

So servers should step up their customer service?

We’ve got to keep our game face on. For us, it’s a soft smile, an inviting look, a nice sense of hospitality even though in the back of our minds we’re thinking, ‘Will I make enough to pay my electric bill?’ Consumers are also hiding out from their lives. They come in wanting someone to take care of them. They’ve got problems, too. My job is to let them hide out.

What can managers or owners do to help?

Your servers already know times are tough. You don’t need to beat them over the head. They need inspiration. Your staff has talent you can tap into. I write an employee newsletter. You may have people who can draw ads, design websites. The employer and the employee have to communicate closer together.

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