While channel surfing the other night, I stopped on an NBC News story that, for once, had nothing to do with anyone aggrandizing their wartime exploits, but rather a real hero in the world of good-sense business – someone in – get this – the restaurant business, of all things.
Jennifer Piallat, owner of Zazie, a small French restaurant in the hyper-competitive dining market of San Francisco, makes a ton more money for her business than most of her competitors do, in part by treating her employees exceptionally well. Where have we heard that theme before?
You can watch the story here,
But here’s a summary:
Zazie’s employees, average age 26, work in a restaurant, and actually live like grownups. They earn good wages, great tips, AND they get paid sick leave, full health benefits, including dental, and an employer-funded 401(k) plan.
They’re not actors or starving artists, slinging hash to make ends meet. They’re professionals in a career with a future.
One of the chefs has been at Zazie for 13 years. A dishwasher has 20+ years.
Ms. Piallat tells reporter Cynthia McFadden that in a market where successful restaurants earn a 5% profit, Zazie’s profit it closer to 22%.
How does she pay for all that, and still make good money? She asks each person who eats in her restaurant to pay a $1.25 surcharge, to cover her employees’ health, dental, and retirement benefits. Less, she points out, than the cost of a half-hour at a parking meter outside the restaurant.
There’s been a great deal of discussion lately, much of it in shrill tones, about how much employers, especially those in food service “should” pay their workers, relative to minimum wage, and indeed about what the minimum wage “should” be.
And while that crowd is “shoulding” all over themselves, Jennifer Piallat is calmly treating, and paying, the professionals on her team in such a way that there are always, according to yelp.com, “hoards of people waiting on the sidewalk to get in, but it’s well worth the wait!” I finally had to stop reading the reviews for fear that I was going to book a flight to San Francisco for no other reason than to eat at this restaurant! In fact, I may still do that!
In the story, we learn that before buying Zazie, Ms. Piallat had had a less-than-fulfilling career waiting tables. A brief excerpt from the transcript of the news story is illuminating:
McFadden: What made you decide to go this route with your employees?
Piallat: Just always being treated like a thief, that I was replaceable, irrelevant to the business.
McFadden: You could personally make a lot more money if you didn’t do it this way, couldn’t you?
Piallat: No, I don’t think I could…Turnover is incredibly expensive. People that have been here a long time can turn out a kind of work level that someone that’s only been here six months can’t.
At Contented Cow Partners, all of our work is predicated on the axiom that having a focused, engaged, and capably led workforce is one of the best things any employer can do for their bottom line. Thank you, Jennifer Piallat, for once again proving the point.
Creating an exceptional workplace is much less a moral and social issue than it is a BUSINESS ISSUE! Pardon my shouting, but after years of pounding that point home from the platform, in the corporate classroom, and across countless managers’ desks, it’s exhilarating each time I see it in practice.
At Zazie, as the old saying goes, the proof of the pudding is in the tasting. I can’t wait to taste it.
Richard Hadden is a leadership speaker, author, and consultant who helps organizations improve their business results by virtue of a focused, engaged, capably led workforce. He and Bill Catlette are the authors of the popular “Contented Cows” leadership book series, and Rebooting Leadership. Their newest book, Contented Cows STILL Give Better Milk, published by John Wiley & Sons, is now available. Learn more about them and their work at ContentedCows.com.