Hot Tips & Takes: Hospitality Coach Monte Silva Talks Work-Life Balance for Restaurant Owner-Operators

Monte Silva has spent 40 years in hospitality.

He’s done every job that exists in this industry: dishwasher, prep cook, line cook, busser, server, bartender, DJ, bouncer. But the majority of his career has revolved around restaurant management and operations.

He’s been a GM for Wolfgang Puck, and he’s also managed a $18.5 million revenue restaurant, where he oversaw a team of 13 salaried people and over 100 employees.

To say Monte is qualified to coach other restaurateurs is an understatement. And the ever-elusive, oft-forgotten concept of work-life balance is one of his favorite areas to focus on. Here’s what Monte has to say about living your life while successfully scaling your restaurant. (Yes, it’s possible.)

What’s your restaurant coaching philosophy?

It’s about mindset and habits. It takes 67 days to develop and keep new habits. But we tend to abandon behaviors before they become habits. And that’s the crux of why I started doing 90-day coaching.

The people who hire me are owners, often owner-couples. They run a restaurant, usually one to three locations. Maybe they’ve got kids. And ultimately they want to know: how do we grow our business and make sure we’re successful without having to be “in it” every day?

What does life look like for the typical restaurant owner “couple?”

Well, it’s busy. If they’ve got kids, there’s lots of daycare, after-school programs. Figuring out who’s picking up the kids and a million other logistics. Who’s handling chores and repairs and general maintenance at their house. Who’s going to be at the restaurant when.

It’s really, really tough for a married couple. They’re at the top of the line. It falls on them to share challenges with each other — they don’t want to take worries and complaints down to employees. They act like business associates, and a lot of times, they don’t know how to create a boundary between that relationship and their personal one.

"You can have success in this industry without sacrificing your whole life. You don’t have to choose."

What are the consequences of making your restaurant business the center of your universe? Of always being in “go mode”?

I had a client in LA; she and her husband had not taken a vacation in 7 years. Seven years! The wife had been in that restaurant every single day because she felt like no one cared as much as she did.

The mindset of a restaurant owner is full-throttle, full-sprint — constantly. And yes, there are times when more is required: New Year’s Eve, Mother’s Day. Sure, there are going to be longer hours.

But it doesn’t have to be that way all the time. You can have success in this industry without sacrificing your whole life. You don’t have to choose.

When a couple opens a restaurant, they usually want to create revenue streams. They want to work for themselves. And usually there’s a level of passion there. But the thing is: if you let it take over, this lifestyle will burn you out.

In our business, if you don’t figure out some kind of work-life balance, it inevitably leads to mental health issues and things like depression, divorce, drug abuse, suicide. It’s a huge risk to yourself, your family and your business if you don’t put systems in place that allow you to breathe.

What are prevailing myths or misconceptions about the restaurant business that you have to help your clients “unlearn?”

There’s a big myth about restaurants not being profitable. The average person doesn’t get into this business thinking they’ll be printing money. They come into it assuming margins will be low. But that’s wrong, and part of that problem is driven by an outdated operating model.

For example: Currently, everyone talks about your P&L and keeping your controllables between 60 to 65 percent, and your non-controllables around 10%. That’s the old model. So yeah, profitability of restaurants isn’t great when you compare it to other investment opportunities, but that’s because the P&L was set up a really long time ago.

Another big myth: You have to work 70 hours a week to be successful or to see major growth. Again, that’s no longer true.

And then there’s this myth that if you underpay people, you’ll have more profit.. That’s a big one — because you get what you pay for. Think of your people as an asset versus a liability. You get owner-operators with no experience, and they’re trying not to pay much, so they bring on unseasoned management, and it becomes a problem.

Ok. So if you’re looking for profitability and growth, but you don’t want to work 70 hours a week, where do you start?

Time management is so important. We tend to multi-task all the time, and that’s not always good. It leads to mistakes and jobs that are only halfway done.

Less multitasking, more focus. It’s little things — like if you’ve got people in a meeting, make sure they’re in the meeting. Not checking phones, working on their laptops. Everyone needs to be engaged, which ultimately saves time because things don’t have to be repeated and nothing gets missed.

Stop multitasking during business hours. Block off time to get work done before the doors open — because once that happens, your guests should be your only priority. You shouldn’t be in the office writing schedules, or holding counseling sessions, or placing your produce order — you should be fully engaged in execution on the floor.

When you’re trying to focus on a million things at once, the hospitality aspect of your business is going to suffer.

If you get the right people — people you really trust — then you give yourself a whole new level of freedom. You can work on growth and expansion. You can take care of your family. You can take a vacation.

That makes sense — but it’s also easier said than done, isn’t it? Given the fact that it’s so hard to hire and retain staff, it seems like owners have no choice but to take more on.

Everyone is talking about the worker shortage. But I haven’t had issues during Covid, and my clients haven’t had issues.

If you create a great culture, and you become the kind of boss you’d want to work for, you’ll be the employer of choice. People will gravitate toward you. And once you’ve got a few great employees — well, they say eagles fly with eagles. Tell your top employees, “I need another you,” and have them bring you more great employees. Then cut them a generous referral check if those new employees make it through their trial period.

That’s far better than signing bonuses. Instead of saying — “Hey, we’re going to pay new people, but not you,” you’re showing your current employees that you value them, and they become your ambassadors.

Or: instead of paying someone a signing bonus, pay them an extra dollar an hour instead. That’s going to take 90 days before you pay $500 extra. So if someone isn’t working out, you save money. And if they’re doing a great job, then they’re worth that extra dollar.

The idea is that if you get the right people — people you really trust — then you give yourself a whole new level of freedom. You can work on growth and expansion. You can take care of your family. You can take a vacation.

What do you tell your clients to look for when they’re hiring?

Again, you want to hire people who you can trust so that you don’t have to micromanage, you don’t have to babysit.

Talent and skillset are important. But not as important as mindset. Find an employee who really cares, who’s responsible, who is self-managing. You can teach them the skills later.

How do you hire for mindset?

I worked in a Nashville steakhouse. I had 250 applications for 25 spots. A 10 to 1 ratio. I put them in order of experience level. At the very top, the servers had around 15 years of serving experience in high-end establishments, and at the other end of the spectrum they had less experience at lower-end restaurants.

I interviewed them in that order — but the interview itself had nothing to do with experience or skillset. It was all about mindset. What was their family like? What do they like to do in their free time? It’s like a sports team: yes, you want the skillset, but you need to bring on players who can play together.

Sometimes I ended up hiring someone farther down the line just because of the interview. I hired one guy who volunteers with the blind. That’s a person who cares about people. Another server was the oldest of three kids, his mom was a single mom, he took on a lot of responsibility to provide for his family. That’s a dude you want on your team.

Another source of heartburn for owners is turnover — maybe you get the right people, but they move on. How do you combat that?

Restaurateurs tend to not proactively search for people, and that’s a mistake. Two servers give notice, suddenly you’re scrambling. You hire the first person who walks in.

I encourage my clients to always accept applications. Always be hiring. Are there applicants who can raise the bar? Are there toxic employees you can remove? And are there super employees who you can help advance in their career?

So what’s the big takeaway for restaurant folks who feel like they are drowning?

You don’t have to do it all to be profitable, or even to experience significant growth. You just need the right foundation and a team you can trust. Getting all of those pieces in place is an investment on the front end for sure, but it’s the key to work-life balance in this industry.

Want to learn more about optimizing your systems, product and people to achieve work/life balance in the restaurant industry? Contact Monte to learn more about his service offerings at hashtagrestaurateur@gmail.com

You might also be interested in

We know how important same-day payments are for veterans of the service industry who are accustomed to quick cash — and we’re now seeing that same demand expand into other industries as well. 

Kickfin co-founder Justin Roberts joined MasterCard’s InConversation Webinar series to discuss why immediate payment disbursal is key for the restaurant industry and the gig economy as a whole.

Watch the webinar here or read our recap for the highlights: 

People live paycheck-to-paycheck

Not just some people are living paycheck to paycheck. Most people are. 

That’s right: around 64% of U.S. consumers are just getting by. Even more shocking, 51% of consumers who earn over six figures are still living paycheck to paycheck, despite their higher tax bracket. 

It’s a major reason why employees need access to their earnings sooner rather than later. The pressure of watching your bank account slowly drain in the two weeks between payday is putting a lot of pressure on people, leading to a much greater demand for instant payments than ever before. 

Instant payouts are now table stakes

A PYMNTS study found that people of all ages prefer to be paid out immediately, as well as some other interesting statistics:

  • When given the choice, 68% of respondents said they would opt for an instant pay out
  • 40% of gig workers surveyed were willing to pay a fee for an instant disbursement
  • 81% of respondents were willing to switch jobs to an employer that offers instant access to earned wages and tips

It’s safe to say instant payouts are becoming the expectation for today’s modern workforce. But not all instant payouts are created equal.

Consumers are much more likely to engage with an instant payout system if they aren’t required to share their bank account and routing numbers and can access funds with just their debit card credentials. Why? It’s faster, more convenient, and feels more secure. 

Instant payouts and tip management: a perfect use case.

Instant payout innovation has come at the perfect time for the restaurant industry, which is struggling more than ever with the hassles and cost of cash.

If you’re in the restaurant biz, then you know: Most consumers pay with credit cards these days, not cash. That means there’s rarely enough cash on hand to pay out tips at the end of a shift. But employees still want and need instant access to their tip earnings.

Enter: instant payouts. Offering employees the option to receive their tip earnings directly to their bank of choice, the second their shift ends, can go a long way in improving employee satisfaction and ensuring their financial security.

But instant payouts are more than a work perk for employees. The operational benefits for employers range from reduced administrative burden and significant time savings to stronger compliance and streamlined reporting.

Modernizing your tip management strategy: 5 best practices 

There are three key components to your tip management strategy: 

  • Tip pool policy: How are you divvying up tips among your staff? 
  • The payout method: How are you distributing those payments?
  • The systems and tech: What are you using to facilitate those payments?

Under the current circumstances, restaurant operators are under immense pressure to bring their tip management into the future. 

5 best practices for tip management 

Based on our experience working with restaurant operators across the country, we’ve found that these five practices are the perfect recipe for building a successful tip management system.  

  1. Determine the right model and method for your restaurant, based on your location and tech stack
  2. Get a written tip policy (and get it legally approved
  3. Solicit employee feedback in a structured way
  4. Leverage technology for efficiency, accuracy, and compliance
  5. Don’t over-complicate (but do over-communicate!)

Tip management solution must-haves

When seeking a new tip management solution, make sure you carefully vet each system to see if it really meets your needs, or if it’ll be just as frustrating as cash. Here are a few suggestions for what should be on your checklist: 

  • Instant payouts
  • Direct to bank of choice
  • Availability of employee funds
  • Payroll option 
  • Integrations 
  • Simple implementation + onboarding process 
  • Around-the-clock customer service 

Big emphasis on strong customer support teams. Restaurants and bars don’t have “typical” business hours, so neither should your tech support.

Bar Louie automates payouts with Kickfin 

In a recent case study, we took a deep dive into our partnership with Bar Louie, a chain with over 60 locations that took advantage of our new integration with Toast. They made the switch from cash payouts to Kickfin’s instant, direct-to-bank payouts and haven’t looked back.  

Two-minute tip-outs

Before Kickfin, managers spent an average of 45 minutes per shift working through Bar Louie’s complex tip out policy and counting cash. The tip pooling rules were important to them — it’s what makes the entire staff feel like they’re getting their fair share. 

Using the Kickfin0Toast integration, Bar Louie was able to automate the tip pool calculation process and send tips straight to employees in under two minutes – a potential annual savings of 15,000 labor hours across all locations.

>> See more customer success stories 

Do you want to see these kinds of cost-saving results at your business? Let’s talk. Get a demo of Kickfin and see why restaurant owners and employees alike trust us to manage their tips.

Kickfin’s best-in-class tip calculation tool has some exciting new bells and whistles.

If you’re already using Kickfin’s tip pool calculator, then you know how much time and hassle you’re saving by automating everything. (And if you’re not? Head over to our tip pooling software page to see how it works!)

As we partner with more restaurants to bring their tip management into the future, we’re continuing to innovate our product so we can address their biggest pain points.

In this case, that means enhancing our tip pooling features so you can auto-calculate tip amounts even for the most complex or unique tip pool or share policies.

Check out a few of our latest features that will make tip calculations easier than ever.

New Release: Splitting Large Party Tips 

If your restaurant often hosts large parties, you know that the tip share can get confusing. Say one server is taking care of a party of 40 with a bartender assigned to only make drinks for that party. Meanwhile, the server has a few other two-top tables that are getting drinks from the main service bar. At the end of the night, how do you ensure that the large-party bartender gets their fair share of the tip out (without spending an hour on your phone calculator)? 

Kickfin can now automate that process for you, alleviating questions from your event bartender and saving time and effort on the part of your managers. 

Seamless Integrations 

Kickfin is partnering with your POS system to integrate seamlessly with your existing restaurant tech. Already, we’re serving Toast customers through our integration — and your POS just might be up next. 

Kickfin integration users get access to new product features first, like our new tip-out transparency tool. Your employees can log into their Kickfin accounts and see exactly how their tips have been split between team members, offering them full transparency into your tip policy in action.

Manager Tips 

We’re always listening to feedback to improve the Kickfin experience, and this one goes out to all of our restaurant partners who asked us to streamline the manager tip reallocation process.

>>Learn more about managers & tipping laws

In most cases, managers are not allowed to earn tips since they are salaried employees. But we all know that managers often step in and take care of tables to help servers get out of the weeds. Well-meaning guests will most likely leave a tip, not knowing that the manager technically can’t accept them — so where does that money go?

Kickfin now features a default pool, where tips “paid” to a manager are automatically redistributed to tipped staff based on your restaurant’s tip policy. 

Improved Labor Data Accuracy

We all know how easy it is for an employee to forget to clock out after a long shift. And sure, they aren’t going to get paid for a 16-hour overnight shift, but when payday comes around, those extra hours create a nightmare for your payroll team. 

With Kickfin, all employees are required to be clocked out in order to finalize payments — so you’ll catch the labor data mistake long before your payroll team has to sort it out. 

Even Better Security 

We’re committed to protecting you and your employees’ hard-earned money, so we’re adding an extra layer of security for certain transactions. You can now enable double approval of payments that meet certain conditions:

  • First payment for new employees
  • Employees getting their first payout in X number of days
  • Employees receiving more than X payouts in a 24-hour period. 

With these extra guardrails in place, you can always be sure that the right money is going to the right person. Reach out to our support team to configure your custom security measures.

Using Kickfin is a win-win for operators, managers, and employees alike. Restaurateurs save on cash delivery and labor costs, managers shave hours off their workload, and servers have the same instant payment that they’re used to — without the hassle and uncertainty of cash. 

Want to learn more about Kickfin? Let us show you the ropes with a demo

You heard it here first: 2024 is the year of integrations. 

In an effort to make Kickfin even more user-friendly and adaptable for our partners, we’re working with restaurant tech leaders to integrate our tip management solution with their existing systems. 

First up — Toast! A trailblazer for cloud-based restaurant management technology, Toast is a favorite POS system for restaurants, food trucks, and bars. You probably know them best for being the first to create handheld POS devices, drastically changing the entire restaurant ecosystem. To make life easier for their customers, Toast partnered with Kickfin to create an integration that makes tip pooling, tip distribution, and calculation smoother. 

As restaurant tech innovators ourselves, this partnership is the perfect fit for Kickfin. 

Our goal at Kickfin is always to save time for managers, prevent loss for operators, and create more financial freedom for hospitality employees through pioneering technology that digitizes many of the analog processes that the restaurant industry is built on. 

As a member of the Toast Partner Ecosystem, we’ll be able to deliver our product to Toast customers and modernize their tip management systems with ease. Using technology that they’re already familiar with, Toast customers can reap the benefits of Kickfin with minimal ramp-up upon implementation.

“No two restaurants split tips the same way, but invariably, it takes too long and involves too much risk,”  said Justin Roberts, the co-CEO of Kickfin. “This integration allows for the utmost customization with a near-zero learning curve — truly the best of both worlds for restaurants that want to save time, reduce labor costs and make life easier for their team.”

And one of their partners is already enjoying the ROI with Kickfin. Bar Louie takes great pride in making tip distribution equitable for all of their employees, so they rely on a complex tip pooling system to ensure fair pay. Prior to using Kickfin, managers at each of their 60 locations spent 45 minutes at the end of every shift to make calculations and divvy out funds to all of their servers. Now, they’ve streamlined their tip-out process with Kickfin — and managers are doing the same work in less than a minute! That’s an annual average of 15,000 hours saved across their entire chain. 

>> Hear more Kickfin success stories

After implementing Kickfin, managers can spend their time on what matters most: delivering excellent customer service. That means more table touches, more support for your staff, and more time to focus on server training. 

With managers spending more time on the floor (instead of counting cash in the back), you’ll see better customer reviews, better service, and increased sales — all from digitizing your tip-outs with Kickfin.

We’re excited about our new partnership with Toast and the opportunity to make digital tipping a reality for their customers. For restaurants who aren’t using Toast, don’t worry! We look forward to providing similar integrations across the restaurant tech industry.  

Want to see these results for yourself? Find out how to become a Kickfin integration partner or check out a demo of our platform.

No growing pains here! 

We’re thrilled to announce that Inc. listed Kickfin in their list of the top 10 fastest growing companies in the Southwest. (In fact, we earned the #1 spot in the software category and were listed as #9 overall!) We’re honored to be included alongside innovative companies that are making a big difference in our region. 

Inc. measured Kickfin’s growth from 2020 to 2022 — which wasn’t an easy time for the restaurant industry, to say the least. In spite of the challenges posed by the pandemic, restaurant concepts across the country embraced Kickfin’s technology. 

As a group, the 2024 Inc. honorees averaged 136% growth and created 17,606 new jobs over a two-year period. Individually, Kickfin grew by a whopping 1,304% (yes, really!).

We want to recognize and thank both our amazing customers and the Kickfin team for being part of our success story and allowing us to be a part of theirs. 

Our Customers

For years, restaurants manually calculated and paid out cash tips — despite the increasing hassle and liability those old-school methods entail. It’s not because operators are tech-averse; there simply wasn’t a good way to automate the process that didn’t create new friction or require new workarounds. 

That’s precisely why we developed Kickfin. Of course, we’re proud of what we built and the team behind it (more on that below). But we owe a great deal of our success to the customers who trusted us enough to give Kickfin a shot — especially those early adopters who are now some of our longest-standing customers.

There’s a leap of faith involved when you partner with a vendor and layer in new technology, particularly when it impacts something as important and sensitive as how you pay your people.  We don’t take that lightly, and we are incredibly grateful for the opportunity to serve each and every customer who’s been on this journey with us.

>> Hear from our customers about their experiences with Kickfin

Our Team 

Every person on our team wholeheartedly believes in our mission and vision for the future. In short: we’re here to make the tip management process insanely easy for everyone so that paying out your people is (almost!) as great as getting paid. 

As backstory: Our co-founders, Brian and Justin, came up with the idea for Kickfin while dining out together and noticing that an armored car was dropping off cash. They asked why a restaurant would need a cash delivery when most patrons pay by card; the manager explained the cash was needed to pay out tips at the end of the shift. The inefficiency (and expense, and risk…) of that process was a lightbulb moment for Brian and Justin.

They set out to build a team who not only understood the problem, but could think critically and creatively about a solution — and bring it to life. 

From sales and marketing to product and support, every Kickfin employee has had a hand in the growth and success of our company, thanks to their passion for our purpose and their commitment to being best in class.

We’re proud of what we’ve achieved thus far, and we’re excited to continue collaborating with our customers, innovating on their behalf, and taking Kickfin to the next level together. Onward and upward!

See Kickfin in action!