I have had hundreds of conversations over the years about labor. Many of those conversations were with less experienced managers.  Most of the time when I asked them to better control labor, their response was “I cut my servers.” I’ve never understood this answer for many reasons.

First, your servers are your sales people. I don’t care what others say but I have never in my career seen a restaurant cut servers and grow sales. From a perspective focused on creating sales short term (for that day), cutting servers does not make sense. Cutting servers does not allow the servers enough time with their tables to increase their ability to sell. If they are running around busy, the server doesn’t have time to tell the guest about the menu or answer questions or make recommendations.

Second, when cutting servers your restaurant tends to not provide the service the guest deserves and expects. By not providing great service you not only lose your ability to increase immediate sales, but the lesser service hurts your reputation and ultimately your long term growth. If you are cutting your service staff, you risk giving poor experiences to your guests. The snowball effect of this is:

You cut to save labor: Your sales decrease and the service you give is sub par—You receive poor reviews—Your sales drop—You cut to save labor. And the downward cycle begins.

Lastly, from a purely mathematical viewpoint, cutting servers is not the answer. If you cut four servers at the tipped sub minimum wage in many U.S. cities, you save about $8.50 per hour. But if you cut one host you may save $12–$15 per hour. It just makes more sense (cents) to cut a support system first. Also, keep in mind a server can also seat guests but it’s less likely a host can serve as well as a server. 

However, the great restaurant managers focus on shaving minutes from schedules not a body from a shift. This is especially important in the back of the house. Cutting a line cook from a shift may prove disastrous. Murphy’s Law dictates that as soon as you determine you can cut back a line cook from a shift either the restaurant gets pummeled, or someone calls out sick. Again, shaving minutes of several employees shifts tends to be the safe and most successful solution.

Looking for creative ways to cut is better than just selling out and cut a full body. However, I always say the best way to cut labor percentages is to grow sales. And you can’t grow sales if you are always cutting.

Editor’s note: This is the 32nd article in a new column from restaurant expert Monte Silva. More on the series can be found here. The first story, on Why Underpaying Restaurant Employees is a Recipe for Disaster, is here. The second, on Why Marketing is Not Expensive, is here. The third, on people-centric leadership, is here. The fourth, on Why Working 70-Hour Weeks in Your Restaurant is Not the Answer, is here. The fifth, on How to Provide Hospitality in a High-Tech, Low-Touch World, is here. The sixth, on ‘The Convertible Culture’ in Restaurants, is here. The seventh, on Why the Old P&L Model Has Set Restaurants Up for Failure,’ is here. The eighth, on How to Scale Your Restaurant Business When There is Only One of You, is here. The ninth article, The Secret to Finding and Keeping Great Employees is Not Difficult, is here. The 10th, What Culture Do You Really Want at Your Restaurant?, is here. The 11th, on Your Restaurant Should Serve People, Not Product, is here. The 12th, on Don’t Let Shiny New Toys Distract Your Restaurant from What’s Most Important, is here. The the 13th, on Why Restaurant Value Shouldn’t Be Based on Price, is here. The 14th, on The Case for Hyper-Focused Menus, is here. The 15th, This is How Your Restaurant Will Survive Beyond 3 Years, is here. The 16th, on The Difference Between a Restaurant Coach and Consultant, is here. The 17th, What is a Restaurant Tech Stack, and How Do You Know if You Built the Right One? is here. The 18th, You Can’t Make Someone Accountable if You Haven’t Made Them Responsible, is here. The 19th, Memo to Restaurants: Service and Hospitality are Not the Same Thing, is here. The 20th, Why a Penny Saved in a Restaurant is Not Always a Penny Earnedis here. The 21st, on Why You’re Never Too Old for Greatnessis here. The 22nd, Why Consistency is the Only Way to Keep Your Restaurant Openis here. The 23rd, on The Restaurant Industry Doesn’t Have a Labor Shortage—It Has a Leader Shortageis here. The 24th, Are Restaurant Employees Today Entitled? is here. The 25th, Should Hotels Rethink How They View Restaurants?is here. The 26th, Five Priorities Operators Must Follow to Successfully Run a Restaurant, is here. The 27th, Why Your Restaurant Needs an ‘Abundance Mindset’ in 2024, is here. The 28th, You Can’t Run a Successful Restaurant Without Persistence, is here. The 29th, Why Investing in Yourself as a Leader is the Best Way to Grow Your Restaurant, is here. The 30th, Gaining Momentum and Why Restaurant Success Grows with Time, is here. And the 31st, In Restaurant Leadership, How You Finish is More Important than How You Start, is here.

Expert Takes, Feature, Labor & Employees, Leader Insights