How much is good help worth?

After what seems years of planning and plotting we’re finally in the process of building out our restaurant. We’re moving “all in” and taking over a location which had a 20+ year successful run as a small town sports bar, but failed when that ownership sold to a couple who frankly seem like they just weren’t prepared to work the business like it needed to be. We’re changing up that tired concept and will reopen sometime in January with a “family pub” atmosphere.

We’ll be a full table service place serving deep dish, tossed, some pastas, soups salad, burgers and even a handful of entrees like a ribeye, porkchop, etc.

My question is…what is good server help worth? I’ve been a retail business owner/mgr for 34 years, and I know what non-tipped employees are getting around here (midwest), but what about my servers who should be tipped rather well here. My kitchen employees? Dishwashers?

I have a couple of folks working in that capacity in other locations and will certainly pick their brains, but I always go into a conversation like that with a feel for the answer.

Any help?

Afraid I can’t speculate on dollar amounts, too many variables, but: Remember that your help IS your business. Good people make for happy customers, bad/indifferent employees will put you out of business in a week, regardless of how good your food is. Good luck!

at my last pizza place(not ready for pizza at new place yet) we were high volume so we paid a bit more to keep the good employees, but my average pay(in alaska so cost of living is higher) was 10 for a good line cook/pizza cook, and 12-14 for my rockstars that could throw good dough, run and keep up with 4 big blodgetts, work the line, and prep really well. the 14 hr was reserved for my 2 supervisors that handled the busy nights, closed ect.



Waiters/Servers in our area get $2.25 + tips; we pay $7.25 + tips (and the tips are awesome) - drivers also get $7.25 + tips (and free delivery = bigger tips). All said, I believe its a go-go for the business. Average hourly wage is at least $15-$25/hr if not more on certain days.

More $$ = more motivation and happier employees. (of course, dirtbags want more for less work, this is where mgt steps in)

I own both a retail store and a pizza restaurant. We pay our kitchen crew (cooks, not managers) the same amount we pay for good sales help in our retail store.

Most places, I am familiar with, tipped staff make the tip minimum… but with your amount of experience, you must realize that your best staff are worth twice what your average staff are worth… as was posted above, in many ways, your staff IS your business. Pay what it takes to get the best, they are worth it.

Good help is very valuable. Learn from one of my old employers. He hired in a bunch of experienced staff when he first opened the place to make the transition smooth. Then after a few months of us being there and training the high school kids. They cut all the experienced staffs’ hours forcing us to leave since most of us couldn’t live off the small amount of hours.

Needless to say that 3 months after they did this the high school kids lost interest, and weren’t happy with the amount of work they were suddenly doing for minimum wage. They had mass walk outs and people just quit coming to work. They tried to call back the experienced staff but most of us refused to go back to work for them. In the end the place was forced to shut down as you ended up waiting over an hour for people to make pizzas.

That lesson being learned, these are my beleifs.

Servers, in indiana are usually paid 2.13 an hour plus tips. Now if the tip amount at the end of the night does not equal what they would have made as min wage you have to compensate them so they are at least making min wage. Now if you really like the server, go ahead and pay them the min wage and let them keep their tips.

Dishwashers are a dime a dozen and are good for min wage workers. However if you really want to attract good workers, go a dollar or more over it. The cooks and make line people are where you need to spend your money in labor as they need to be the ones that shell out your product. I would go off of experience, start with a base of min wage and then add a certain rate per year of experience in the field.

Thanks all for your replies. It’s good to know I was thinking the same direction as most of you were relaying.

We have a very experienced, honest, and hard-working person coming in to get us started on the right foot. She’ll be paid well past minimum and be worth every penny unless my I’m waaaay wrong. My weakness is in never having to use “tipped” employees. I’d planned on finding out what the other places in our little town are paying, (though they are one upscale restaurant, and a couple of weak coffee shops), and pick a number I was comfortable with that should enable them to make a very nice “hourly” wage with their expected tips. I’m sort of supposing that base wage will be in the $5.00-$600 an hour range.

I have zero clue about the kitchen help, but certainly do agree I will pay them as much as I see fit to for sure. I’d imagine to be enticing, and to be able to “demand” the best, I’ll need to be a buck or two more than minimum, or what is paid normally here in our area. I just don’t want to be so generous that I end up shooting myself in the left foot, trying to avoid shooting myself in the right!


As an experienced business owner, you already know about treating employees with respect and the value of a drama free work place.

It is amazing what staff you can attract and keep when you pay $1 an hour more than, and don’t have the small time dramas of, the other local employers.

what do you do when there is high MW like in Oregon then? its $8.40 and hour

One strategy I’ve heard of is to only let managers process Credit Card transactions, that way you can avoid minimum wage laws. Personally, I cannot recommend this as it may not be practical under actual working conditions.

As usual you should always consult an attorney before adopting any labor law advice given on a pizza forum.

The same; pay a dollar an hour more than the other guys. The principle does not change. If you pay better, you can attract the better candidates.

In our market, I have not been able to hire anyone for as LITTLE as $8.40 since 1999. Our lowest paid staff now are $10 (high school students) and our cooks make $11 or $12.

Why does it work? Aside from better product consistency and service helping to build the business, three “rockstars” on the line can put out more product, made right, with portion control than four average cooks. Ask your best pizza makers if they would rather have more people in the kitchen or a bigger paycheck but working harder.

Remember, you don’t get the better results from paying more… you get better results from better crew. Paying more is how you get better crew.

Thanks sharing that incite. So I guess pricing wouldn’t fluctuate much or at all since you are using a similar labor budget compared to paying minimum wages with more peeps 8)

I understand you’re being flip about this Greg, but even so… Avoiding the FLSA by circumventing the interstate commerce clause would make you exempt from the FLSA, but not a state minimum wage law. You can do whatever you’d like to get around the FLSA (less than 14 employees, buy locally, don’t process credit cards, etc) but you’re still bound by the state minimum wage.

Either way, anybody out there trying to circumvent minimum wage isn’t going to last long. We now pay so far beyond minimum wage it’s silly, but I have the best employees around, almost no turnover unless somebody graduates high school or college and all of my competitors are staffed by incompetence.

Honestly, I can’t remember the last employee that quit that wasn’t moving or graduating from school and moving on to a “career.” It’s probably been a couple of years, and it’s because I pay better than anybody in my area. I also have my pick of the litter come interview time. So to answer the question, good help is worth more than your competition is paying.

I suppose the best answer is “it depends.” It depends on where you are and how you run your business. You can always increase the pay of someone who is more of an asset than others to the business. There is no rule that you have pay everyone the same.

I pay about $10/hour, but there is no tipping where I live. It’s considered degrading, like getting a dog to beg or bark for a treat. Even a child knows that they’ll have no job if they aren’t conscientious, and the more successful the business is, the more opportunities they’ll have. So, “it depends” on where you are.

The great thing about being the boss is that you can (and should) change things when your well-thought-out plan doesn’t work out quite like you thought it would. Good luck!

I’m not sure what the principle is titled, but in observation its: “Likes Attract.” As for labor, I see it as, “Duds attract Duds, Rockstars attract Rockstars.” Pay the minimum (or less) and its, “you get what you pay for…”

I’m in business to attract “Rockstars.” - and I will gladly pay more for it.

Ever walk into a McDonald’s and see a ‘Dud’ working?? If you do, look around, you’ll probably see more. In some cases, its so bad, the entire staff are “Duds” including MGT. Again, you get what you pay for.

The saying goes “pay peanuts and get monkeys” Also pay bigger peanuts and get bigger monkeys


Mrket position has some impact, I would guess. A low-price, econo place would drive a cheaper labor %. Since you said you are looking for above average product and positioning, then you should be able to afford a higher labor cost.

To us, we pay as much as we can afford for the best people we can keep. Our pizza guy makes $10, which is big money around here. That ties into the "pay more than the next guy". We start off moderate and pay for quality. Servers can be a make-or-break for a dining room business. Find, train and retain the best people. I disagree that money is what keeps people loyal/long term. It is definitely a big part of the equation, but that whole respect thing that was mentioned . . . that is a bigger deal to me than others believe.

Find a structured way (in your mind/plan) to provide for that trust and respect for your rock-stars. You get a reputation for treating people well, and rock stars will start seeking you out . . . pay, gradual trust/responsibility, treat them like adults, regular feedback about performance and improvement needs, and a clear outline of expectations. These sorts of things ALONG WITH attractive pay will make more difference than just pay.
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Thanks all for your input, you helped me to see that where I want to head is in fact where I need to be heading!

Nick, I really need to make a trip south sometime to spend an hour or two with you…can’t wait till you’re on the speaker’s circuit or for your book “How to be a great guy and still make it in the restaurant business” comes out!

We’re making progress with our build-out process, moving the entire kitchen to allow for the ovens, plus give a much needed smoother flight pattern that was well over-due. Our redecorating is nearly done in the dining room, waiting for the kitchen equipment to be cleaned and the new kitchen to be done so I can reclaim the Pub room and get it whipped into shape. Sometimes what is left to do seems daunting, but we’re really in good shape and “should” be opened for business within 3 weeks.