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Wednesday, April 26, 2006

Pooling Tips - Team Building

Many of my clients have a policy of pooling tips. Does this policy reward mediocre performance equally with superior performance? Maybe. If you are a member of the wait staff in a pooled tip environment, when a customer requests attention you will be less likely to answer: "I'm not your waiter." If the entire staff really gets into the whole team approach, happier customers could be the result.

At the core of this policy is a sincere desire to force the wait staff to play team ball. Sometimes it works. I have observed fantastic team play in many dining rooms. When a team member wants to go along for the ride the formula can breakdown. Rarely will the POS system show the flaws.

Let's say I am an ambitious and lazy waiter and I want to maximize my income and minimize my workload. The easiest way to accomplish this goal in the pooled tip environment is to feed orders into the POS system. Since productivity reports are based on sales per clocked hour, I need only focus on persuading customers to order more. I would perform many of the other tasks less enthusiastically. My sole objective is to maximize a number on a report.

So now we have this super waiter with 20% more sales who may be neglecting basic customer care. I saw this in action at a highly rated restaurant with two small dining rooms. The restaurant is closed today. The infighters on Survivor were tame compared to those on this wait staff. Management praised the three people with higher sales per hour for superior technique with the clients. Fellow staff members despised these service laggards. Privately, they would complain about how they always have to offer the check, run the credit card, refill the water glasses, pickup orders, etc. for these sales wizards.

It would be great to have a POS system with fields for all the various activities involved in the client service puzzle. They currently do not report on many customer friendly activities designed to bring patrons back time and again.

In the restaurant I observed the initial impact on total sales was positive. It took slightly over one year of team dissonance to start the downward direction in revenue.

A much better approach to a tip pooling solution involves position. Designate extroverts to handle most revenue building activities. Make sure they are not focused only on orders. They should be handling all drinks including water. If the table opts out of bottled water, they should handle the tap water refills. I like one restaurant's policy of having an assistant manager present the check with feedback on the service.

Reward the quality control individuals who handle delivery tasks well. They can prevent many complaints from ever happening in the first place. They will point out hot items which are cold and sloppy plates. I'd have this group check on meat doneness and special requests. The POS system will point out voids, returns, etc. Have this group work to lower this activity.

Customer satisfaction is highly correlated to fast service, low returns and short waits for check and credit card approval. If you build a great team, tip pooling can be a windfall for all players. Higher sales will translate into lower food cost and higher profits.

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