Whispers of an upheaval in a popular café and bakery chain has been circulating among industry insiders recently. According to reliable sources, employees suddenly abandoned their posts without the mandatory 15-day notice, leaving the executive chef foaming in the mouth and pointing fingers at instigators. On the other hand, the disgruntled ex-employees confess tales of measly salaries and service charge shares so insufficient it had them questioning where most of it went.

In the competitive local restaurant scene, stories of unhappy staff and abusive bosses—or vice versa—are all too common. Once in a while, though, you hear stories like those of Nowie and Odette Potenciano of Sunny Side Café Group who jumped through hoops and struggled through obstacles to provide their staff with livelihood during the Boracay’s closure. While this heroic act surely had the employees eternally grateful,  grand gestures are not a necessity to earn their loyalty.

In this highly competitive industry, there are many who have found their comfort zones with companies they easily call “families.” While a good number of restaurateurs struggle to build lasting relationships with their staff, there are some who have found the secret formula that keeps their people motivated, satisfied, and fiercely loyal.

Ties that bind

Oscar Ancheta

Oscar Ancheta, 73, has been with Alba Restaurante Español since they opened their branch at the Doña Narcisa Building in Paseo de Roxas, Makati City back in 1975. Usually a somber figure in the Polaris Street branch dining room that he has inhabited since 1991, Ancheta breaks into a smile when he recalls his early days as a waiter with the late Señor Alba. “Konti palang kami noon,” Ancheta recounts, “madalas nakaupo lang siya diyan, nagbabantay.” He is quick to call their attention when a customer is not immediately catered to, one of the icon’s few pet peeves. “‘Yun lang ‘yung ayaw niya, at kapag hindi tama ‘yung pag prepare ng pagkain.

While taking a breather after lunch hour rush at Souv! by Cyma BGC, its restaurant manager Bumble Go fondly recalls simpler times as Tequila Joe’s bartender in its El Pueblo, Ortigas Center branch, the now defunct Tex-Mex bar of Souv! chef and owner Robby Goco. “Alala ko pa nagpa-party si chef Robby noon,” Go says. “Doon ko siya talaga nakilala, pati mga friends niya. Ayun, nagkukulitan lang sila. Basta sobrang saya ng gabi na yon.” It was during these lighter moments when Go had a glimpse of his boss’ fun-loving side.

Fair pay

Erwin Aparri

Tender moments between employer and employee are nice, but basic requirements need to be met. Erwin Aparri, Souv! Molito Alabang’s restaurant manager delivers some straight answers. “Siyempre okay ang bayad sa amin,” he says, “basta lahat ng required ng gobyerno na ibigay, nakukuha namin.” When Aparri was offered the assistant manager job in Cyma Cebu years ago, the Ilonggo did not hesitate because he admitted he needed a change of scenery. Goco and his partners also ensured that he had comfortable lodging while he was in Cebu, and when the branch folded, Aparri was promised a job back in Manila.

Tender moments between employer and employee are nice, but basic requirements need to be met.

Sixty-three-year-old Lito Macalino is another of Alba Polaris’ old timers, and he also assures that his employers pay what is legally required (“on time lagi ang bayad and minsan advanced pa”), plus 13th month pay and other extras during the holidays. He also shares how their imposed centralized service charge, which is shared by all, keeps the kitchen and dining room staff working harmoniously. “Wala nang inggitan,” Macalino admits, “kaya mas maganda ang samahan namin. Pati narin ‘yung pagtingin namin sa mga boss namin, kasi walang pinapanigan.

Personal growth

Lito Macalino

Since there are no favorites, the playing field is even. Even better when employers value their personnel’s growth and development. Aparri and Go share how they rose through the ranks thanks to regular seminars and training sessions. These are followed by evaluations and tests that open doors to management positions. Here, advancement is quick when you work hard. “Napansin ko sa ibang lugar, mabagal umasenso,” Go observes. “Sa company namin, mabilis kasi may suporta galing sa management.”

“Napansin ko sa ibang lugar, mabagal umasenso,” Bumble Go observes. “Sa company namin, mabilis kasi may suporta galing sa management.”

Macalino and Ancheta might not have advanced vertically, but it doesn’t mean they didn’t reap the rewards of their loyalty. Both grandfathers, their children are either happily settled with families or are finishing college. They were able to provide comfortable lives for themselves and their loved ones on their waiters’ wages. Macalino proudly says, “Lahat ng income ko galing sa Alba.”

Bumble Go

Everybody wins

Ancheta gives credit where it is due. “Sir Miguel (de Alba, son of the late Señor Alba) is a very good businessman,” he says. “Talagang napalago niya ‘yung negosyo ng tatay niya.” And as the business grew from the time the younger Alba took the reigns in the ‘90s (they just opened their biggest branch in Estancia Mall at Capitol Commons), he was able to expand the business without compromising its classic and time-tested flavors. As a result, Ancheta affirms that the staff benefits from this growth as well through bonuses and a generous pay that is never delayed.

Same goes for Goco’s team who can attest to their boss’s generosity and kindness, especially when the stores are doing very well. Aparri says, “Galante ‘yan si Sir Robby, lalo na kapag good mood. Maraming incentives kapag na-hi-hit ang targets.” It is quite commonplace for a meeting to turn into an impromptu noshing and drinking session when Goco feels like celebrating small or big triumphs.

As with any successful relationship, longevity depends on many factors but mostly on the intangibles. It is not just about attending to financial requirements but also being susceptible to their needs as human beings.

Family first

This casual and easygoing vibe among Goco, his partners, and their staff is something that works for them because of their unique dynamic. “Gusto nila na nagsasalita kami,” Aparri says, “na meron kaming opinion tungkol sa mga bagay sa restaurant.” Goco likes to keep the communication lines open so that his staff feels they can approach him and tell him anything. This doesn’t mean though that the boss lets them get away with murder. “With chef Robby, you just have to follow procedures,” Aparri shares.

Kasi tinuro na niya sa iyo ‘yan. Ibig sabihin ganyan niya gusto ‘yon, huwag mong babaguhin. Magugulo kasi ‘yung standard,” echoes Go.

Obedience and loyalty really does have its rewards. For Ancheta and Macalino, who are both in their twilight years and with growing families to support, medical assistance is a benefit that is the most important. Macalino shares how the de Albas went beyond expectations when his son was hospitalized for a heart condition. “Sabi lang sa akin ng supervisor ko noon, sabihin ko lang daw kung ano kailangan ko,” Macalino recalls. “Kung kulang pa, basta sabihin ko lang daw sa kanila kung magkano pa kailangan. At walang pressure din sa pag bayad, basta kung ano lang ang kaya ko.

Just trust

As with any successful relationship, longevity depends on many factors but mostly on the intangibles. It is not just about attending to financial requirements but also being susceptible to their needs as human beings. Go alludes to what truly motivates him— to not let his bosses down. “Malaking bagay ‘yung pag bigay ng tiwala sa akin,” Go says. “Gusto kong patunayan na hindi sila nagkamali na pinaubaya nila sa akin ‘yung pagpapatakbo ng store.”

For someone like Ancheta, who is just as synonymous with the Alba brand as their chorizos and paellas, leaving is almost an unthinkable possibility. He takes pride in knowing all the regulars and their families, how he is to their patrons like a beloved uncle. It is these guests who often discourage him from his much delayed retirement. “Ano daw gagawin ko sa bahay,” Ancheta says, “ma-bo-bore lang daw ako doon.” He says maybe he will retire in a year, but then quickly changes his mind. “Nasa kanila (his bosses) ‘yun, if they still want me,” he says, flashing that incredible smile.

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