Peter Romeo - Editor at Large, Restaurant Business and FoodService Director
- Sandra Holl – Co-owner and Chef, Floriole Café & Bakery (Chicago, IL)
- Rick Gresh – Director of US Culinary Operators, Flight Club & AceBounce (Chicago, IL)
- Brother Luck – Chef and Owner, Lucky Dumpling and Four by Brother Luck (Colorado Springs, CO)
Peter Romeo says 38% of restaurants are operating without enough managers, and 35% are short on hourlies – an historic high. Wondering why you’re having a hard time attracting talent? We’ll let Rick Gresh, US culinary director of AceBounce and Flight Club, and Sandra Holl of Floriole Café & Bakery tell it like it is.
1. Get used to interviewing candidates
Brother Luck says when he first entered the industry, he had to vie for a job, because he wanted to work for a great chef and learn. Now the restaurateur is the one who has to interview potential candidates. Candidates ask him during the interview process about the company culture, work conditions and positive workplace. Sandra adds that she gets a lot of questions about the ethics behind the business and has had to show much more transparency about sourcing and environmental footprints to her potential employees. Because the labor pool is shrinking, our panelists cite many different methods they’ve implemented to think outside the box when it comes to recruiting. Read more about how Chef Brother Luck recruits from the military, and previously incarcerated men and women, to give back to the community and expand his labor pool.
2. EMPLOYERS WITH BENEFITS
All three panelists provide healthcare, but Sandra recognizes that for younger people who may be on their parents’ insurance, that may not be important – so you have to have other selling points.
She cites paid sick leave – which is mandatory now in Chicago – and other perks that humanize a historically ‘work-you-to-death’ industry. Gresh says it’s all about culture. Creating an environment where employees want to stay and build a career is key – knowing that every employee needs to be managed a little differently. Both Brother and Sandra created individual development plans for their staffs, to help get them to the next level and keep them engaged. Sandra says as an owner, it’s her responsibility to provide good scheduling practices for higher employee retention.
Gone are the days when you could cut staff at the last minute, schedule on-call shifts and have unstable scheduling practices. At Floriole Café, the full-time staff works five days a week – and it’s important to Sandra that no one works more than 45 hours per week. Chef Luck is now looking into local childcare partnerships to help his staff afford childcare.
3. GET ENGAGED
Employees who don’t feel valued are twice as likely to leave their jobs within a year. It’s in every operator’s best interest to invest in engaged, trained employees. When employees are engaged, absenteeism drops by 41%. Brother makes it a priority to introduce his young chefs to events like the James Beard Awards or NRA Show, to get them exposure and help them learn and grow. Rick says that when his employees see an issue, making them a part of the solution to fix it for the restaurant helps them feel invested.
4. IT’S NOT A STAFF SHORTAGE, IT’S A LEADER SHORTAGE
Rick Gresh has a weekly “Who’s on the Bench?” session with his management team to discuss who is almost ready for promotion, so that they can grow into upcoming roles. Brother says he has really started to look into those supervisor roles, and not just put time and energy into training the managers. Your supervisors are your next leaders; give them just as much training as the people currently helping you run your business.
5. MINDING THE WAGE GAP
As hourly wages rise and tips are in question, Sandra says it’s crucial to professionalize the restaurant industry, to make servers and dishwashers alike a profession and eliminate the need for tips entirely. Brother Luck says as he works to minimize the disparity between front and back of house, a concern in Colorado is losing the tip credit. Peter discussed Danny Meyer’s recent switch to the “hospitality included” model, of which Kiki Louya has adapted a version. You can read more about it here.
6. STAFF TRAINING IN THE DIGITAL AGE, AS TOLD BY CHEF BROTHER LUCK, WHO USES INSTAGRAM TV TO TRAIN STAFF.
IGTV not for you yet? Companies like ExpandShare aim at being a more formalized way of training employees through an easy-to-use app.
7. DELIVERY AND THE EFFECT ON STAFFING
It’s no secret that delivery can be a huge factor in needing increasingly cross-trained staff. Brother says he’s tested delivery, but has really lowered the volume because of the potential negative impact on the dine-in customer. He chooses to put the dine-in customers first, because they are the largest factor in bringing in tips and repeat customers.
Ultimately, kitchens are built to handle a certain volume, so don’t be afraid to leave delivery out of your services if it comes at the expense of your dine-in customer experience, as well as the employee experience.
8. DON’T BE A CULTURE VULTURE
Sandra believes it starts with the owner-operator to set the business culture. If you’re coming in for a management shift, don’t beeline for the office – jump in and show your employees that you’re a part of the team. You are being watched by the staff, and how you act and react feeds into the staff. Brother Luck says, “Our cooks make food and our chefs make cooks.” He says constantly creating strong leaders who are trained well and confident in their craft is crucial to creating a strong company culture. Both Rick and Sandra credit learning to trust their employees – and not micromanaging – as crucial to allowing a culture to flourish.
Gone are the days when mental health was regarded as an afterthought, at best, in our industry. Brother Luck is promoting #SoberWeek with his employees, and starting activities like staff hikes, and having open discussions with staff on mental health. If you are ignoring the mental health of your employees, you’re ignoring a huge factor in what could eventually be the downfall of your restaurant.
9. KNOW WHEN TO HOLD ‘EM, KNOW WHEN TO FOLD ‘EM
As an owner/operator/manager, knowing when to dig in and when to step back is a constant balancing act – you are not alone. Sandra says making assumptions is the enemy. Don’t assume your people know what you mean when you bring up a task the first time. Make sure you take the time to walk them through the process until you’re on the same page.
Learning when to pull back a bit and let your leaders lead is both a key to retention and a key to fostering a strong company culture. Brother speaks about the moment he knew it was time to leave the line and let his head chefs take the reins.
10. THE FUTURE IS FEMALE
Fifty percent of culinary school graduates are women, but only 17% of restaurant owners and leaders are women. With such a shortage in the labor pool, it’s imperative that the industry moves to appeal to women and supports having a diverse restaurant community overall, where everyone feels included. Sandra Holl says we have to change the way we see the restaurant industry – to make it a more comfortable place to work for all employees. If you want women to flock to your restaurant, it’s imperative that your company culture adhere to a harassment-free workplace with a strict zero-tolerance policy. Gresh says he instills in every employee that any form of harassment or mistreatment of fellow employees will not be tolerated.
Read more about Brother Luck in our Spring Food Fanatics Magazine Here.