Why can’t the hospitality industry in Sioux Falls retain good workers? Greed.


You get what you pay for

I will say it, the honeymoon is over. I knew there would come a day that we couldn’t keep building a restaurant on every street corner of this town and expect them to make a profit and last. Some would blame a worker shortage on the problem, I blame something else, a wage shortage.

It used to be easy to gather a group of unexperienced employees to run a restaurant in Sioux Falls, make huge profits, and leave those workers behind. Not anymore. There needs to be a change in philosophy, something I have often suggested in public employees. Hire quality employees, and pay them well, and they will do the work of 2-3 unexperienced employees that you pay half the wage to.

Don’t believe me? Well, I may not have owned a restaurant in my lifetime, but I have been working in them since I was 17 years old (almost 27 years). Over those years I have done it all, dishwasher, pasta maker, bus boy, line cook, fry cook, host and server. I even worked as a maintenance man. I’ve seen a lot, but the one thing that has always been a constant is that good employees who are paid well in the industry stick around, are usually never late and have great attendance. Money may not be the secret to happiness, but working in a customer service industry like food service is very demanding, but can be very rewarding if you are willing to do the job right.

About 5 years ago when I was in between full-time employment in the printing industry, I worked full-time as a server for 2 years. It wasn’t pleasant. It wasn’t the duties of the job that were hard, it was the way the employer treated me (a corporate franchise). Though I was the top earning hourly tipped out server and had $125K a year in sales, not only did my employer not give me a raise, they actually took almost 20% of my tips in a thing they call ‘tip share’. It is a scam that has been getting legal challenges across the country that forces tipped employees to subsidize non-tipped employees (like hosts, bussers and cooks). It saves these companies millions in wages, while killing the morality of their tipped employees who ironically are the front line of customer service for their business. Wouldn’t you want to be paying these people the best instead of robbing them of 20% of their income a year? It goes back to a change in philosophy.

The days where restaurants in Sioux Falls and across the nation can get away with poor pay, virtually no benefits and quite frankly abuse is coming to a close.

My advice is simple to anyone who wants to run a successful restaurant.

• Target your marketing to the customer base you want. Not only are good employees valuable, but so are good customers.

• Treat your employees like you would treat your customers. This one is important. Over the years I have seen good workers with good intentions get thrown under the bus because of a bad customer. In fact I quit my last serving job because of it. I don’t believe in the mantra that the ‘customer is always right’. In fact, 90% of the time, they are completely wrong. When I have been asked what to do with a bad customer, my answer is the same. Apologize to them, thank them for trying your place out, refund their money fully, then ask them to NOT return. I can’t tell you the number of times I have seen good employees get fired because a restaurant owner wants to save a BAD customer. Think about how senseless that is? Not only are bad customers bad for your bottom line, they affect the morality of your employees, and whether you ask them to return or not, they won’t anyway, and they will still talk smack about you either way. Asking them to not return is the smartest move.

• Pay all of your employees well, but also hire quality (experienced) people. I’m not just talking about front of the house, but I am also talking about hosts and dishwashers. Putting your employees on an even keel is the best way to keep peace in an industry known for unrest. There is nothing more frustrating for experienced employees who work their tail off getting paid the same as slackers they always have to carry the water for. Trust me, I believe in the team mentality, but that whole team has to be strong. It’s like links on a chain. Don’t coddle the slackers and reward the hard workers.

• Give customers something they will come back for. This one is very simple, give good service, provide a great product, and have a great ambiance and do it 110% of the time. With the saturation of restaurants in town, let’s face it, their are only so many customers to go around. And if they have one or two bad experiences, they may never return. This goes to how you run your operation. You wouldn’t hire a fisherman to run a battleship and vice versa. I have often joked with people for years, “500 restaurants in Sioux Falls, but not 1 decent place to eat.” Think about that for just a moment. Could you name 4-5 restaurants you have eaten in Sioux Falls where the food and service has been consistent 90% percent of the time? I can’t. And eliminate the price point. If I am going to eat out, price is not a factor, if I get something good in return. Put value in what you are putting out there, that means valuing your employees along with your product.

• Trust your employees. This one is huge. Never take the word of a stranger (your customers) over your employees, unless it is blatant they are lying. We all have bad days, that doesn’t make them bad employees. But there should also be REAL consequences to employees who screw up, which brings me to favoritism and nepotism. I see this all to often in the industry, in Sioux Falls it is like the Black Plague. Treat all of your employees the same while on the clock. There is nothing wrong with management being friends with their employees, but keep your love fest for each other off the clock.

The restaurant industry in Sioux Falls is on the cusp of collapse, I really believe that. My last job certainly proved that. This saturation of bad food and service cannot last and can only be tackled by higher wages to better employees. The industry doesn’t want to admit it, but they know eventually they are going to have to change. Quality people are available to work in the industry in Sioux Falls, I have worked with many of them throughout the years, but with quality people has to come quality wages.

But this isn’t just up to the industry, the legislature and the city council need to make some changes to the laws on the books. Years ago a team of well intentioned restauranteurs made their way to Pierre to change how employees in the industry get paid. Those guys are about ready to retire, and you can probably guess who they are. They have made millions on the backs of their employees by suckering the state legislature over the years. And they have strong allies that need to be persuaded to make changes to, like the Retailers Association and the Chamber of Commerce who are consistently anti-hospitality worker.

Here’s some quick changes that could be made;

• Eliminate the tipped employee minimum wage. It should be identical to all minimum wage earners. A tip should be an ‘extra’ a server or bartender gets for good service, it shouldn’t be 90% of their overall wages. Tips are too volatile.

• Eliminate the ‘tip share’. Allow tipped employees to keep 100% of their tips.

• Pay your front of the house employees the same as the back of the house. Harmony is a good thing.

• Hire more full-time employees, provide them benefits and PTO. A consistent workforce equals a consistent product. Keep hiring low-wage, part-time alcoholic stoners and you reap what you sow. By law, require restaurants to have a certain percentage of their workforce to be full-time.

I know, I have worked in a lot of places, and I can truly admit, not every restaurant runs perfectly. But blatantly ignoring the 700 pound gorilla in the room will only doom the industry in Sioux Falls eventually.

Pay better and hire better employees. It really is that simple.


#1 Bruce on 05.14.16 at 2:58 pm

Recently we quit going to a certain eatery because they refused to serve us the way nicely. The management was the problem. Every time we would go in there they would have new rules for diners to put up with. The place is new and like a ghost town saloon without the ambiance. Two to three times a week we would go there, drop $50 or more on each visit and now we go elsewhere.

Management sucked, period.

#2 Former Server on 05.14.16 at 4:10 pm

Did you used to work at Red Lobster or Olive Garden? Had a roomate work at Red Lobster and he was excellent at his job, good tips, reliable but ran his tail off and didn’t make squat.

#3 John on 05.14.16 at 7:41 pm

tipping is a bad american habit needing to go the way of the dodo. Just add 15% to the item or the bill – it’s done all over Europe, etc. Post such on the menu. It’s done. Yes, and for godsakes, pay folks a living wage.

There was no ‘worker shortage’ in the Bakken – just pay folks.

#4 LJL on 05.14.16 at 10:02 pm

Cusp of collapse?!?? Seriously, you need to take a look at the restaurant parking lots every weekend. You need to realize that the newest generation of adults are some of the laziest ever.

Hometown owned restaurants may be in such peril, but not the chains. Fast casual is the skyrocketing trend.

I bleeping hate eating out.I had the displeasure of spending time in Fargo recently. Always had to wait in line. Learned last week that Fargo has the greatest per capita of daily fast food eaters in the US. Got no idea how this research was done. Could be an ass statistic.

#5 Briggs Warren on 05.15.16 at 12:06 am

I agree 100%. I remember having you be our waiter at this restaurant multiple times and can attest you were one of the best they have ever had if not the best. We need to start treating people as people and not a means to a profitable end. Until that time we are just going to see a downward effect.

#6 Bryan on 05.15.16 at 7:39 am

So, when will you be opening a restaurant to put all these great ideas in place? Can’t wait.

#7 l3wis on 05.15.16 at 3:06 pm

Thanks Briggs, I remember waiting on you guys.

LJL, the fast food, in and out places will always survive in SF. The sit down places, not so much. You know the question I asked about consistency of service and food? I could only come up with one place since I wrote that. And guess what, this family owned business recently opened a second location. Gee, must have something to do with their philosophies?

Bryan, not sure if I would ever work in the industry again, but if I do, I am going to be very, very, very, picky.

#8 moses on 05.16.16 at 5:51 pm

Until they pay decent wages the turnover will continue.

#9 James on 05.17.16 at 12:45 am

I I agree with most of your points, but if you think a server should make as much as a chef and not share tips you are the idiot. If you look around at most places who scrubs the floors, who is actually doing deep cleaning after a rush, this is the only part of the article that has upset me, pay a sever 1000 dollars evry pay period, plus let them take hundreds of dollars a night in tips. I say fuck that

#10 duggersd on 05.17.16 at 6:33 am

The idea of paying more to employees and raising the prices to reflect that and getting rid of tipping sounds good on paper but the facts often collide with the hope. I was reading an article about Joe’s Crab Shack and their no tipping policy. The employees did not like it and the customers did not like it. Other restaurants had similar results in California where restaurants are facing a $15/hr minimum wage in the near future. Restaurants that went ahead with the minimum wage had help that actually made less. Many of the servers were making in excess of $20/hr., even with the “tip share”. Another thing that was found is that employees who did not receive tips did not offer as good of service.

#11 The D@ily Spin on 05.17.16 at 10:02 am

The city IS the hospitality business at the golf course. Now, a citizen sponsored commercial hotel. There’s opportunity if you’re a city employee and live in the Fire Chief subdivision 50 miles out of town. Just keep a PO box or be sure you’re buried in Sioux Falls so elections can be rigged.

#12 Megan G on 05.17.16 at 2:17 pm

The problem is management. I’ve also been in the industry my entire career, and have the certifications to prove it. But after working my butt off for 7 months just to repeatedly be castigated publicly by my boss, (to the point of being called stupid because day shift broke my oven and I couldn’t figure out what was wrong with it) I gave my notice and changed jobs.

However. Waitresses and Cooks should absolutely not make equal wages; I went to culinary school and have been a cook, chef, and fry cook at many jobs. I have not once, EVER seen a waitress work as hard as the line does. They complain when they get seated with three tables, yet the cook bust their ass to make food for every table. BS.

#13 SFJB on 05.17.16 at 2:55 pm

I too was a server at a downtown restaurant years ago, and can tell you tip sharing is the BIGGEST bullshit owners can pull to torque off producing workers.
I would bring big ticket sales with 6+ person groups, but my table turnover was not up to par. I got far more than fair tips because I serviced these people without being overbearing & creepily hanging over the table like a vulture.
BUT, due to tip sharing, the weaselly servers that didn’t get squat for tips, but could turn a table over in less then fifteen minutes got 70% of what I brought in. People were rushed, not checked on after being served, and shown the door the second they put their napkin down.
Those that have never had to carry a tray at a full arm extension can never understand how a $40 tip ends up being $4.63.

#14 Jordan on 05.17.16 at 6:17 pm

How does one know what it’s like from the opposite end if they’ve never owned a restaurant?

#15 Julie on 05.19.16 at 3:34 am

In response to your comment Jordan : Restaurant owners vary in their involvement with the day to day or even month to month business of running a restaurant. Often salaried workers perform all of the business functions of a given restaurant, including writing checks to distributors and authorizing new hires without any direct involvement (or oversight). This is what a successful restaurant company looks like.

On the other hand you have owners who work overtime at their own restaurants. These people typically act as general managers and do nothing besides what a salaried professional would, and often less effectively. So they waste their labor on something they’re not good at in the first place, and at the same time they completely ignore the kind of big picture growth ideas that they’d have time to work on if they weren’t already completely occupied with working.

Thirdly there are also owners of the second type whose fortune will soon change, because they actually do know what the fuck they’re doing, but they are rare.

Anyways anyone who has thrived in a management role at a busy successful restaurant knows more about owning one than most owners do. was my original idea

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