Have You Thanked a Restaurant Dishwasher Lately?

Workers in the restaurant industry don't tend to stay in one place for long. This group took notice of their workers who have stuck around.

The Smith 15-Year Party

Courtesy of The Smith

2023 is a year of milestones at Food & Wine. There are a few big ones: our print magazine turns 45, we’re hosting the 40th anniversary of the Food & Wine Classic in Aspen, and we'll be launching our inaugural Global Tastemakers awards to celebrate the best in travel and hospitality. So to say I have celebration on the mind is an understatement. 

Like many of my colleagues, I worked in the restaurant industry before joining Food & Wine as a full-time staff member. While my time in restaurants is beloved, there’s something brands like Food & Wine do better: commemorating milestones and achievements, both those of individuals and our wins as a team. I think we should celebrate restaurant work the same way we do corporate roles. 

So when I heard a big restaurant group was celebrating dozens of employees with a decade-long tenure, I was immediately intrigued. In late January, I attended a party for The Smith, a New York-based restaurant group specializing in serving brasserie-style fare in massive restaurant spaces. The group shut down their sprawling NoMad location for a blow-out party composed nearly entirely of tenured employees and their loved ones. I was nearly moved to tears and I walked away fired up about how restaurant folks should be treated. 

Restaurant Workers Are On the Move

Restaurant work is unique compared to other sectors. Workers are paid differently than salaried and hourly employees in other industries, have erratic hours, and fundamentally, no matter how virtuous and thoughtfully run a restaurant is, it's a systemically hard industry for staff and owners alike. Because of these factors, it's a labor force where workers are on the move, jumping between restaurants for shorter stays. 

At the party I attended, The Smith was celebrating the 15th anniversary of their opening, but also acknowledging 61 employees who have worked at the various locations for at least 10 years. To put this achievement in perspective, according to the National Restaurant Association, 50% of America’s restaurant workforce — that’s over seven million people — stay at a given restaurant for fewer than two years. Between August 2021 and August 2022, the average restaurant employee tenure was only 110 days, according to restaurant management growth blog 7 Shifts

The Smith 15-Year Party

Courtesy of The Smith

What Does Restaurant Tenure Look Like?

For The Smith, creating a place where employees can take on new roles, learn new skills, and work up within the business helps foster an environment where people want to stick around. “We’ve always prided ourselves on the fact that we do have what we think is a remarkable ability for people to stay with us, grow with us, and grow into different roles at the company,” shared Adam Burke, vice president of operations at The Smith. 

Burke knows firsthand how important an environment which promotes employee development can be, as he was the opening general manager at The Smith’s first location in New York’s East Village in 2007 and moved through different roles as the restaurants grew. “I’ve continued to grow as The Smith has,” he said. 

The group of 61 employees celebrating over a decade with the company consisted of a variety of job titles including manager, host, server, prep cook, bartender, chef, dishwasher, operations manager, and more. But these longstanding employees are not just an anomaly. Across the board, The Smith employees stick around much longer compared to industry statistics. Over 10% of The Smith employees, that’s well over 100 people between both corporate and restaurant management, have averaged more than five years of tenure. What’s even more staggering is that the average tenure for hourly employees is over two and a half years, compared to an industry average of just over 100 days.  

How to Celebrate Long Term Employees

In an industry like restaurants where employees can come and go, it can take time to build community and for people to get to know you on a personal level. And the last few years haven’t given us that many opportunities to celebrate with each other. Like many restaurants, COVID brought on a lot of uncertainty for The Smith. “Our restaurants are back and are busy again and  we’ve been able to do that by keeping so much of our team intact,” said Burke. “We’ve wanted to celebrate our success and it's amazing to do this with so many people that have been through it all with us, stay with us, and want to build their careers with us.” 

So what kind of party do you throw? The Smith is known for larger-than-life restaurants in a city known for tiny and cramped spaces. The night of the celebration, The Smith filled its NoMad location with fellow employees, and asked each of the 61 employees being honored to invite friends and family. The room was filled with warmth. Colleagues made personal speeches about one another. People laughed, danced, and ate and drank copiously. It was a celebration of impressive people, as well as a celebration of community and of a company able to cultivate something special. Maybe you’re a regular at a restaurant and have rapport with a server, bartender or host, ask them how long they’ve been working there, and remember to celebrate their achievement. Next time you’re out to eat, think about all the people working who might not be visible to you at that moment and find a way to honor their work, too.    

Was this page helpful?
Related Articles