Over the past three months we have been trying a new way of paying our front of house staff - commission - and it seems to be working.
In May, we installed a Micros point-of-sale system at Spaggo's, hoping we could eventually put staff on commission-based pay. The first steps were difficult and involved restructuring the way we operated.
The number of staff and the size of sections within the restaurant had to be recalculated. Customers had to be seated in rotation in sections of the same size. This complicated life for the managers as some sections are always more in demand than others.
Rosters had to show not only when each member of staff was to work, but also in what section so that the system would be fair.
The next problem was that some shifts are busier than others. Suddenly everyone wanted to work Saturday nights. This was dealt with by letting each part-time team member "bid" for a certain shift pattern in order of seniority.
Our full-time members work rotating shifts, so they share busy and less busy sessions.
Next came the question of commission percentages. Lunchtimes are generally quieter than evenings, so by comparing wage percentages with average lunch and evening sales, we decided on 6% commission for a lunchtime session and 4% in the evening.
We wanted our duty managers' commission to be based on the total sales generated for the session worked. A lunchtime commission of 3% and 1% in the evening, plus a basic hourly rate, were agreed.
The bar was slightly more problematic as it is used mainly as a dispense bar for the restaurant. An hourly rate, plus commission of 3% on any bar sales, was proposed.
The introduction of commission-based pay was slightly rocky as staff were worried that their weekly commission would be inferior to their hourly wage. A safety net was introduced over a period of 10 weeks, until the system settled and the staff received selling technique training.
The result has been astounding. Average spend has risen by £2, and staff are fighting to work Friday and Saturday nights. At any moment during the evening, each team member knows what their sales and average spend is and are proud to tell us what they have achieved.
Almost all are better off, not by mountains but by a significant amount each week, and wage costs have remained static. Not only that, customer satisfaction seems to be on the increase as staff are more attentive.
Those who did not like this way of working have moved on, leaving us with the best sales team we have ever had. Congratulations to them and here's to a prosperous Christmas for us all.