NASHVILLE, Tenn. (WTVF) — In an attempt to stay competitive in hiring and have high retention among kitchen staff, new downtown Nashville restaurant Church and Union implements 'Tip the Kitchen' initiative proving to save training costs and deliver a stronger experience for patrons in the dining room.
"They they work hard, they sweat a lot. They, you know, get little recognition. There's almost no like self-gratifying aspect to that job. Other than putting love into the plate they put up in the window," explained Church and Union Executive Chef Adam Hodgson about the kitchen staff in any traditional restaurant.
He said there has always been animosity between the front of the house and the back of the house in restaurants.
"The front of the house makes it makes a killing in tips every day, the back of the house works off hourly wages," said Hodgson.
That rivalry combined with post-pandemic times when finding top-notch staff has proven a challenge, the new restaurant joined their restaurant group 4th Street Group in implementing the 'Tip the Kitchen' initiative.
"We've added a line on our guest checks that is for 'Tip the Kitchen' which is shared equally amongst all of our [kitchen] employees, which has been a big help, " explained Church and Union Chef de Cuisine Eric Litaker who has worked in the restaurant business for 30 years.
Hodgson added, "The ownership matches up to $500 and tips per day for the kitchen to split. And that's huge, huge. It takes, you know, $300-$400 in tips and turns into $800 instantly for them to all split. You know, it's it makes their their their day and their paychecks that much better."
So far Hodgson has seen patrons spit their typical gratuity 50/50 between the serving staff and kitchen staff, split it another way or send it all to one.
"If I pay everyone $25 an hour, now I have to raise the menu prices to reflect you know, covering that cost. And if we keep our menu prices the same and then, you know, ask you if you feel like the experience was was worthy of a kitchen tip. Like that's that's a whole lot more approachable than then the first option," said Hodgson.
With the Tip the Kitchen initiative in place, Hodgson said the kitchen staff is on pace to earn an extra $15,000 to $17,000 a year.
"It forces them to think every time they put food on a plate, you know, 'Is this something that that I want to serve the guests? Because it's gonna affect my tips.' You know? And so it encourages them to A, show up for their shifts. If they missed their shifts, they're not only missing their hourly rate, they're missing the tips that day." said Hodgson. "It encourages them to pick up shifts when people call out. You know, all of the problems that every restaurant faces every day with staffing this this helps control."
"Staff retention is at an all time high. Quarter one before we implemented the system we had a 1.2% training rate of gross revenue. And after we implemented in quarter two, between quarter two and quarter three that drops 2.2% which was $112,000 savings...for the company-wide just in training alone," explained Hodgson.
Litaker said he noticed a change in the kitchen staff's motivation and attitudes when the Tip the Kitchen initiative began.
'The average is anywhere between $50 to $75, I would say, a night per person," explained Litaker, "So, it's actually a it's a big help. It could be a phone payment or car payments in the week for extra someone, you know, a little bit extra cash."
"It makes us, you know, put a little more of our—pay attention to our execution and how we do things and making every dish our best," said Litaker, "When you get your paycheck like, 'hey man, all that great work we did' it just just add a little bit of smile and pep in your step."
The restaurant group said the initiative is not going away even after the pandemic stress of hiring and food prices wears off.
"I think we just tapped into something and this should be the new the new model moving forward for the industry. I mean, it's a game changer," stated Hodgson. "I can't speak to why people aren't doing this other than the fact that it's something new. It's something that guys in the kitchen are not used to."
The 5th Street Group which owns Church and Union implemented 'Tip the Kitchen' all of their restaurants in Charlotte, North Carolina, and Charleston, South Carolina, and share detailed revenue reports on a Twitter page, @Tip_Kitchen, with the hope other restaurants will adopt the model and bridge the wage gap between the service staff and the culinary team in kitchens everywhere.
Church and Union is located in Downtown Nashville at 201 4th Ave N.