Like most people in the restaurant business, I can honestly tell you that this is not where I saw myself when I was younger. When my family opened our pub and grill, I was fourteen, barely legal to walk around and gather plates from guests. I was still there a few years later, washing dishes. And, surprise, surprise, I’m still there now that it’s legal for me to carry over your overflowing adult beverage. I have transformed from a teenager working one night a week to help pay for movie tickets and videogames to the waitress guarding her closing weekend shifts. Even when I got an “adult job,” I still didn’t leave. I’ve officially been sucked into the industry, and I’m certainly not the last.
Don’t get me wrong. There’s plenty of reasons not to open up a restaurant (or work in one). The hours, the unsteady paycheck, the disrespect… Believe me, there are lists galore. Yet, we all stay in it. Yes, we’ve had some turnover, just like all restaurants, but my family will be there until my mom hands over the keys. Call it dedication, loyalty, family obligation, it doesn't matter; our restaurant wouldn’t have done nearly as well if we weren’t a family. There are just some things that only family will do, so, despite the many drawbacks of the restaurant industry as a whole, working with your relatives has some weighty advantages.
They’ll Cover Shifts on the Fly
The weekly schedule is always a mess. The bartender might be working two jobs, and the other one just called him in so a waitress is filling in, but now who’s covering her shift? No matter how dedicated other waitresses are, at the end of the day, they can say, “Not my problem.” It’s not their responsibility to cover someone else’s shift, even if the other person has a death in the family. It’s certainly expected that someone do it, but it’s none of their responsibilities. This is where a manager normally has to step in, but not in a family business. I’m already on my way, grabbing my bar shirt and texting my friends that I can’t make that movie tonight.
When it’s your family’s business, you’re willing to sacrifice more, because it’s not just a business. It’s not just work – it’s the skeleton holding your family upright. You’re not about to let a shift go uncovered, because then what if a guest posts a negative review on Yelp and no one ever comes in again? Other waitresses will find another job; the family would never recover.
Yep, family members are always on call. It can suck, especially if the rest of the staff catches on and abuses the situation. However, it is incredibly advantageous for the business as a whole – you’ll always have someone willing to drop everything and come join the fray.
Familiarity Breeds Efficiency
After a while, everyone behind the bar becomes familiar with each other. We can read when the cook is overwhelmed, the bartender needs saving from the crazy man talking her ear off, or when a coworker is too frustrated to take another table. Being able to read these signals and respond accordingly is key to a smooth-running restaurant. However, when you add family to the mix, there is a deeper level of understanding, and you don’t have to wait for it to develop. My sister knows I don’t like to ask for help, so even if I’m telling other servers that I’m fine, she knows to press the issue.
Family usually has no issue being honest with you either, even painfully honest. Whereas other coworkers might try to spare your feelings (“No, it’s okay, you’re doing a good job”), you can trust family to say how you’re really stacking up. No one wants to hear their weaknesses, but sometimes a dose of reality is needed, particularly when you’re dealing with inebriated guests. There is a tendency to dismiss complaints or compliments from customers after they’ve had three cocktails; family can best fill the gap here.
Guests Appreciate the Connection
Customers want to feel appreciated. They like seeing familiar faces and hearing their own name. When regulars walk through the door, I start pouring their drink and ask how the move is going, or whether their daughter got into the school she wanted. How you connect with your regulars should depend on the bar, but it’s easy to do in a family establishment. Guests feel as if they’re being included in intimate interactions, ensuring that connection that much faster. When I first started working at my family’s bar, even if I had nothing in common with a regular, we could still talk about my mom at length. Also, there’s an innate trust with family businesses: People believe they are more authentic than a chain, and when they see the family day in and out, they begin to want to support the family as a whole, which translates to supporting the restaurant or bar. Family establishments can easily generate customer evangelists if they play their cards right.
You’ll Grow Closer
Working with your family means seeing them differently. There are some negative aspects here, like seeing sides of your family you might not want to, but there are also a lot of positives. Experiencing stressful situations can actually pull your family closer together, and if there’s one business in which stress is guaranteed, it’s this one. Foodservice staff also eat half of their meals at their place of work, so at least there’s a lot of family dinners. Also, you’ll have to work with your family closely every night to achieve perfect service. When was the last time that other families united to fulfill a common goal? When they went camping and had to put up a finicky tent? Yeah, well, my family and I have to work together seamlessly every shift.
Like any family business, your life begins to revolve around your workplace, to the extent that you wonder what you talked about before you started working there. My family and I start nearly every conversation with, “So that Merlot couple came in and sat at table 19 last night…” Families can either support each other or dissolve into an exhausted heap. Running a bar or restaurant is difficult enough, and adding the drama of family can be particularly stressful. That being said, the benefits usually outweigh the costs. There’s no one else as dedicated to the business as your family. Assuming that they have the skills, hiring family can be a huge step up. They might know exactly what buttons to push, but they also know exactly how to bring you up again.