Are we hiring the wrong servers?

We’ve all heard the stories about restaurants hiring attractive young servers and forcing them to wear “sexy” clothes. Research suggests that many factors, including the server’s appearance, increase the size of the tip paid at the end of the meal. That makes the server happy but is it good for the restaurant? A new paper out of Cornell (the Waiter’s Weight,Does a Server’s BMI Relate to How Much Food Diners Order? By Doring and Wansink) suggests that servers with a higher body mass index (BMI) actually generate more orders (particularly alcoholic drinks and dessert but more overall). So the question arises, are we sacrificing revenue by hiring with a “skinny” bias which just increases tips to the individual but has an opportunity cost to the restaurant?

Why might this happen? While this is novel research in restaurants there is other research that says we behave differently around different people. If we are with a fitter friend we might not order dessert. If we see an attractive person walking towards us we might pull in our belly or walk a bit taller. This might be a factor. It might also be that by not hiring a “type” we simply improve server quality and they simply do a better job upselling. Perhaps a combination of ther two. Frankly, despite a large sample it might just be a spurious result but it is worth at least thinking about.

If tipping doesn’t reflect the quality of the service (which the research seems to suggest) are you really improving the quality of the guest experience by hiring a “type.” And if so is it enough to offset the apparent loss in average cheque?

It also raises the question as to whether we might want to impress a thinner server by ordering a more expensive item offsetting the increase in items ordered – unlikely but average cheque was not analyzed in the study – likely because there were many different restaurants so study of average cheque would have been more difficult (although not impossible).

There are limitations here. There were just two categories of BMI. We have no insight into the nature of the relationship between ordering and BMI. We also don’t know why it happens. This may not be the answer to raising average cheque but it should make us think. In the end though, it is worth thinking about who we are hiring and why we are hiring them. Keep an open mind and think critically

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