How these new restaurants put employees first

At Her Place, Schulman attempts to build an ecosystem that prioritizes the personal lives and schedules of its employees. There is a staff-level holiday every three months. Shulman remembers that during her years as a chef, she never took paid leave. In her place, she says, “You always have a vacation to look forward to.”

Some restaurants also shorten their menus to ease the workload of their employees. Bird Pizzeria in Charlotte, North Carolina, serves a narrow menu of simple, white, and vegan pancakes with assorted toppings and a kale Caesar salad. The restaurant opens at 4pm and stays open until 8pm, but on busy days you can show up at 5:30pm just to spot the last pancakes already snatched.

Husband-and-wife and owner duo Kerrel and Nkem Thompson know that more pizza means more money, and more customers deliver – but with their very small team bandwidth, and very small footprint in mind, they decided to keep it simple. While the limitations of a 500-square-foot kitchen and its staff of just four people (including themselves) increase their capacity, so does the Thompsons’ dedication to being parents.

“We wanted a comfortable space for the kids, rather than separating the idea of ​​work from family life,” says Nakim.

Even before the pandemic, Team Lasa, a Los Angeles Chinatown restaurant known for its Filipino tasting menu, envisioned opening a casual grill and natural wine bar. But the pandemic prompted co-owners Chase Valencia and Steve Barros Valencia and chef-owner Nico de Leon to do just that, and they opened Lasita, one of Bon Appétit’s 50 best new restaurants for 2022, in the same location.

Lhasa’s super seasonal menu created an environment where the kitchen was constantly creating new dishes and the house staff needed to memorize and explain each technique. In contrast, Lasita’s concise service and streamlined menu—with dishes like chicken inasal and pork belly schnapps—reduced the pressure on staff. “It allows us to have a better work-life balance, rather than breaking our backs to run this six-course menu,” says de Leon.

While shortlists and more flexible hours have a clear positive side for employees, there is another, lesser-known shift that makes working more sustainable for some home employees. Small, scannable paper boxes known as QR code menus are perhaps the most loathed development in modern restaurant culture. But by some restaurant owners and employees, they are not simply seen as a way to automate domestic workers’ jobs. Instead, they serve to make interactions between employees and customers less transactable.

At the Good Good Culture Club in San Francisco, one of Bon Appétit’s 50 best new restaurants of 2022, QR codes are located in the center of each table. In the Yangban community of Los Angeles, one of Bon Appétit’s Top 10 New Restaurants of 2022, you’ll order from the restaurant’s takeaway counter, but once you’re seated at a table, you can add to your meal using the QR code menu. This avoids frequent visits to the counter and helps team members in the large restaurant space know which tables to send food to. And while New York’s 8282 Korean restaurant didn’t opt ​​for the complete no-contact system, scanning the QR code menu on your phone before ordering in front of the housekeeper simplifies the experience.

The Good Culture Club sees QR codes as a way to free staff to interact with guests, while eliminating the stress of ordering errors — whether it’s missing an edit, letting an allergy slip by, or forgetting to add to a side dish. By requesting a QR code, tickets go directly to the restaurant’s POS system and into the kitchen.

“Servers can be more in touch with the table and direct it all the time,” says Jeff Hank, one of the owners of the Good Culture Club. This efficiency in the ordering process goes hand in hand with a shorter dinner service, which only lasts four hours each night. Good Culture Club server Nora Barber doesn’t see QR codes as just another step in automating what would otherwise be human interaction. Instead, Barber says relationships with clients are stronger now. “Using the rapid response system allows us as employees more time to be able to interact with guests and have real conversations.”

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