Dishin' That: A little fairness could go a long way

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Fair and equal treatment for all is not a common behavioral mantra in the restaurant business.

Senior staff, even if they’re less competent or committed, usually get the bigger, better shifts. Such scheduling is part of the “charm” that accompanies the hiring, staffing, retention, and lack of structure in the serving world.

In the restaurant business, the bigger, better shifts could mean higher volume meal periods, resulting in larger check averages; or a cherry schedule with time off, allowing for a structured life outside of the job. Best yet, would be a combination of both, and many career servers have such a schedule.

Take for example, the handful of desirable places that are closed on Sundays and/or Mondays, even in the lucrative months of tourist season. Grace on Chestnut Street and Emilitsa on Congress Street come to mind, as does the iconic Back Bay Grill in Bayside. While owners and managers may still be scuttling about doing administrative and operational tasks, most of those staffers are enjoying a restaurant-style weekend.

From an HR perspective, I applaud those quality-of-life schedules. It would be tempting, and most likely viewed as a smart business decision, to let the tentacles of greed tug at the purse strings. But truth is, many places that used to be open on Sundays and/or Mondays found the level of business didn’t always support the payroll or food cost.

Regardless of the reasoning for not staying open seven days a week, the “HR decision” became a public perception kudo for me. Choosing to wear the rose-colored glasses, I marvel at the consideration management is showing their well-rested employees.

But outside of big-box chains or corporate entities with the primary goals of workplace safety and thwarting sexual harassment lawsuits, the concept of a structured restaurant human relations department cracks me up. It recently became funnier when another friend (a hospitality guy this time) told me about his exit interview.

“I gave my two-week notice because I’m starting grad school and am getting a fat chunk of financial aid I’m going to rely on,” he said. ”Now keep in mind, other people have quit with no notice or were no-shows all summer. One guy who’s been there for years called out all summer and they never said squat to him, while we all busted butt. So, after I gave notice, the GM asked if I could talk to him about it after my shift.

“So, he starts out by giving me a bunch of crap about how I’m leaving when they need me most because it’s still really busy, and I’m not leaving town like the others,” my friend continued. “Then, he started asking me all kinds of questions about the work environment, the other manager’s leadership qualities and stuff that just doesn’t factor into the culture of that place.”

“I told him, ‘man, just treat everyone the same, based upon attitude and how well they do their job. No new kid is going to stay if he gets all the worst shifts. Just be consistent, you know?’ And then, I shook his hand and left.”

,I laughed to myself over how every restaurant I know of, no matter how legally compliant, has unconventional HR practices within their operation.

At least that’s a constant.

Peas & Q’s

Q — “Why should we tip food trucks? There’s no seated service or refills or anything. I don’t tip the woman at the counter at CVS.” — Leon T., Gorham.

A — Definitive answers around tipping ethics are between you and your God. That said, food trucks provide a delightful dining alternative, and while overhead may be lower than traditional eateries, their window of opportunity is fraught with limitations and restrictions.

So, if you like the truck’s concept, food quality, and service, no matter how non-traditional, fork over the tip.

Natalie Ladd lives in Portland. When not pecking away, she can be found serving the masses at a busy eatery, or tirelessly conducting happy-hour field research. Hospitality questions or comments should be sent to, and may be featured in a future column. Follow Natalie on Twitter: @Nhladd.