The Theft Mentality

restaurant theft

Not all theft looks like this

I recently read an article in which a local club owner justified the situation at Jardines Kansas City by stating that all employees steal.  I found this quite shocking because I have never stolen from an employer and feel that most restaurant employees could say the same.  I did agree with him on one point, there is a mentality that makes theft prevalent.  In restaurants where theft exists, the mentality that is used to justify it is a simple one.  It is also one that restaurant owners should acknowledge and fight to correct.

Here is a simple explanation of the employee theft mentality.

An employee sees the amount of money that an owner makes on a good night.  They don’t think about all the nights the owner lost money or all the years of saving that an owner put into the restaurant.  They don’t know that all of the money has already been spent.  They get upset and think of how much harder they work than the owner.  They think about how the owner never has to bus tables or run food.  They get angry and decide they probably deserve a drink during their shift.  They decide that all of the other employees worked hard and they probably deserve a drink too.  Soon the owner is making less money because the employee decided they were making too much and that it was unfair.

In reading about what happened at Jardines, I ran across another article.  This one was a bit different.  A local restaurant owner and board member of the Missouri Restaurant Association has filed suit to stop a minimum wage increase.  What was particularly troublesome about this wage increase was that the bill lowered the amount that an owner could take as a tip credit from 50% to 40%.  Combined with the wage increase, this would raise the server wage in Missouri to $4.95/hour or $.30 less an hour than I made in 1992.  By all accounts this owner is a kind and decent man who is incredibly generous to his long-time employees.  He is not a bad person, but is subject to the ownership theft mentality.

Here is an equally simple explanation of the ownership theft mentality.

An owner sees the amount of money that a server makes on a good night.  They don’t think about all the nights the server made next to nothing or all the years at crappy restaurants the server put in before making it to their restaurant.  They don’t know that the server had to borrow money last week to make rent.  They get upset and think how much harder they work than the servers.  They think about how the server never has to deal with calls from creditors and angry guests.  They decide that they shouldn’t have to pay the servers the minimum wage on top of all of those tips.  They decide that other restaurant owners work hard too and they deserve to pay their servers less as well.  Soon the server is making less money because the owners decided that they were making too much and it was unfair.

These two mentalities probably look very similar.  That is intentional and demonstrates how easy it is to justify taking something that is not yours when you feel that you are being taken advantage of.  This mentality is particularly easy for owners and managers to fall into during the lucrative month of December.  No one feels this way when servers get one table on a Monday night or get cut three times in a week during August.  The fact of the matter is that both parties can justify feeling wronged, but only one side can afford lobbyist to make the theft legal.

The point I am trying to make is that neither side is justified in coveting what the other has.  Both parties rely on each other to make this industry work.  The amount of money a restaurant may make on a single night does not take into account the tremendous risk an owner takes on by opening a restaurant.  Working for tips does not minimize the hard work that servers do for the restaurant that they are not tipped for.  Both sides deserve to reap the rewards of their hard work.  My wish is that neither group would feel justified in taking from the other in the name of “fairness.”

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About David Hayden

David Hayden is a restaurant marketing and training consultant based in Kansas City, MO. He writes a series of 9 blogs collectively known as The Hospitality Formula Network and is the author of "Tips2: Tips For Improving Your Tips" and "Building Your Brand With Facebook"

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