Alex Richardson is no stranger to the restaurant business. Having literally grown up in the industry, he has worked in locations around the world, but called Lynchburg home for the last 24 years. Being involved in multiple restaurants in Lynchburg, Alex has a unique perspective on what it takes to make it in the industry. Even with all of that experience, nothing could quite prepare him for what 2020 brought to the table. A global pandemic hit the food service industry harder than most, entirely changing the way business was done.
As has been his pattern, he saw this challenge and approached it with curiosity. His solution? Being the first restaurant in Lynchburg to dispose of the usual tip-based payment system for employees, and begin paying them a set, living wage. Alex shared with us his perspective on the last year, and how this approach is one way he can help both his employees and his guest feel a sense of security in uncertain times.
Alex told us that in the service industry, “the majority of servers make $2.13/hour, plus tips. So the majority of their compensation actually comes from the tip wage, not necessarily from the hourly wage; …that fluctuation, that’s been the biggest issue. The average percentages…are anywhere between 18-25% of your total bill goes to service. That gives you the ability to not just order your food but get served too. Gratuity is an intricate part of your dollar wage per hour. And with COVID, that job changed dramatically; you have to have multiple people doing a job that used to be done by one person. How do you pay those multiple people from that one tip? We had to create an environment for the employee to feel safe and stable, in regards to the income that they’re making, but as well as a business; we’re being responsible enough to make sure that we are staffed accordingly, not only from a hospitality standpoint, but from a safety and sanitation standpoint.
The industry has suffered dramatically…one of the biggest challenges we’ve had is staffing, because we shut down and opened back up. The compensation model we had prior to 2020 and COVID…doesn’t work 100% in the hospitality and service industry right now. There’s a lot of issues with it. So I went ahead and I made [the decision to pay a set wage], so that there’s a sense of stability for the employee, knowing what they’re going to make per hour…and for the business itself, so we know what we spend.
The service industry has taken such a dramatic hit; we have always had to adapt and evolve based on consumer needs, and those of us that do that well are successful. [In] the new environment, even though we are adapting and evolving, you literally have to transform immediately. You have to pivot to the left and see if this works, and if that doesn’t work, head back to the right. And I think that has probably been the biggest issue, both for the guest, and the employee and the manager, is just ‘someone please give us some sense of what we’re going to do!’.
People are coming out [to restaurants] from their normal lives; they want to experience and not worry so much. With the restaurants pivoting and changing everything they’re doing, you have that unsteady sense of environment there too, and people don’t want that. I think what we have done well, is rather than react to the situation, we’re responding to the circumstance. I’ve had the opportunity of working in this industry for a long time. This is not something that I ‘got to do’ this is something I “get to do.” And that little word change, from got to get, changes everything about why you do it. I think that works with any industry. For me, the “why ” has always been in there. Changing things around doesn’t change why we do them.
Lynchburg has been very very good to me; Lynchburg is home. It creates an environment where I enjoy not only the location, but the people; the small-town feel with big-time amenities. I think Lynchburg is growing dramatically and has always been moving forward. I love the momentum – it’s growing and you can see what’s coming on the horizon. You know that the trajectory and the direction that Lynchburg is going is nothing but good.”
For more, check out rabistro.com.