servers and managers

Servers are caught in the middle. On one hand, they deal with customers who are, at the worst, complete babies who use the restaurant as an institution to gratify their most petty desires for control over other people. At best, you deal with reasonable people who just want a meal. This is rare though.

On the other hand, the server has to deal with managers, who are, surprise surprise, complete babies who use the restaurant as an institution to gratify their most petty desires for control over other people.

But this is just ranting on my part. The point I want to make is that there is really no reason for a manager to actually manage anyone. Sure, a manager is useful because they might act as the host, enforce side work discipline, divide tables between servers, and control access to sensitive areas of the restaurant (register at the end of the night, liquor supply area), but there isn’t a whole lot of justification for their role as a watchdogs over the servers.

Here’s why. First, servers are getting paid for performance (at least under a reasonable idealization), and so their incentives are already properly aligned. They want to give good service to tables and the manager second guessing their attempt to optimize service for some number of tables is unlikely to improve performance. This is a reason that managers probably wont’ improve things.

What’s more though is that, in at least one way, managers are likely to make things worse. First, they often fixate on irrelevant tasks. For example, I had a manager that always wanted cheese on the table before the pasta arrived. Usually, I just brought it out with the food or asked when I put the food down whether someone wanted cheese. If I brought it out with the food, I saved myself a trip to the kitchen, and if I asked, I would sometimes get a no, meaning that on net, I saved myself trips to the kitchen and made cleaning up the table easier later (less ramekins on the table). But when my manager was watching, I would try to remember this instruction. Thus, I would deviate from the optimal mix of tasking. This is an insight from economics. If the benefits of performing one task among many are raised, people will perform more of that task to the detriment of other tasks (in this case, beneficial tasks that aren’t observed by the manager). However, since we assume that servers, due to the way tipping works, are already performing the optimal mix of tasks, then managerial intervention of this type makes servers less effective.


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