TOP 5 Takeaways From the Denver Talk Shop Live: Skilled Labor Shortage Discussion

1. Get creative with restaurant staffing

Consider hiring from prisons, halfway houses and the military for restaurant staffing. Brother Luck, restaurateur and chef of Four, has built great relationships with military bases in the Denver area. He hosts a 45-day on-the-job restaurant training program with service members to prepare them for work in his restaurants. Brother Luck discussed how many of the veterans that he trained were not so thrilled when they had to cook in the military, but find they love it after training and becoming part of his restaurant family. He recalls working with a veteran who finally understood the importance of nutrition when he took him to a farm and showed him around.

When Frank Bonanno, restaurant owner, chef and head of Bonanno Concepts, opens a new restaurant, he often has to hire upwards of 200 people in just a few short weeks. His advice? Try everything all at once! He hosts job fairs, visits culinary schools and reaches out to halfway houses for restaurant staff that’s willing to work.

2. Be willing to invest in restaurant staff training

Brother Luck explained how it pays to invest in leadership training and support. “Quality comes from great leadership.” If your restaurant training focuses on multiple skills, your team will always want to stay with you. Learn how investing in restaurant training can result in improved business and a reduction in your restaurant labor costs in our Food Fanatics® magazine article, ‘One Job, Many Roles’.

3. Build a culture that allows your restaurant staff to grow with you

All of our panelists believe in a strong workplace culture where employees are treated like family. Frank Bonanno believes strongly in transparency when it comes to the books. Any employee can see the restaurant’s financials if they are interested in becoming a part owner or working with Frank to start a new concept.

The Talk Shop Live panelists, Frank Bonanno, Alex Seidel and Brother Luck all offer employee incentives, such as bus and light-rail passes, to make it easier for their staff to commute to work. Bonanno referenced his favorite boss and mentor from when he was coming up in the industry: “Every time I tried to quit, he sent me somewhere else (to another one of his restaurants) to work.” Now, instead of letting his best employees leave, he cross-trains them, sends them to other restaurants under the Bonanno Concepts umbrella and finds ways to nurture their creativity as chefs.

Alex Seidel, chef-owner of Fruition and Mercantile Dining & Provision, says when he finds people who respect the industry, he thinks outside the box to keep them on staff. One of his best former chefs now makes artisanal cheese that he serves in Mercantile.

4. ‘Corrupt them early!’ says Patricia Calhoun of the Denver-based Westword, a weekly news publication

As both large and mid-market cities grow, Calhoun’s advice to restaurateurs is to get staff in when they’re young and turn what used to be a temporary restaurant job into a full-blown career. She uses this technique with writers at her publication, Westword. Calhoun has been known to recruit writers from high school, nurture their talent and keep them on staff for decades.

5. Don’t feel like you need to do everything in-house

Alex Seidel uses temp services for his catering business on peak restaurant nights. It helps alleviate the pressure on his core kitchen staff and acts as a recruiting tool. If someone from his restaurant staff is off on a peak night, the temps fill in for catering. He always looks to these temp agencies for great talent. If someone shines on a catering job, he tries to recruit them for his core restaurants.

Interested in livestreaming our next discussion about restaurant labor and staffing shortages? Check out our Detroit event coming up September 25.