Nothing breeds ingenuity quite as quickly as desperation. In this historically tight labor market, restaurants aren’t wallowing—they’re finding ways to streamline operations and give their people what they want. Here are three companies working to stay ahead of the competition for talent.
1. Increased competition from outside the industry
It’s not just the fast-casual segment—or even just restaurants—that Jason’s Deli must battle to win over workers. The sandwich chain’s employees are being actively recruited by a range of companies, some of which can offer better compensation packages, says Michele Kemplay, director of human resources for the chain. “Now we are dealing with employees transitioning into positions outside the industry, such as real estate and banking,” she says. Professional development and competitive pay and benefits help convince workers to stay, but the chain also maintains multiple channels of communication for staff feedback. For instance, employees can post comments, suggestions and ideas through the company’s intranet, dubbed the Idea Garden. “Once posted, other employees can vote for the suggestions they like best,” she says. “When an idea gets enough momentum, it is escalated to the appropriate department for review.” The chain encourages feedback by giving cash incentives for ideas it decides to adopt.
2. Nearing restaurant saturation
In the past few years, several quick-service chains have added more than 100 locations each, many relying on part-time labor to staff their new stores, says Anita Vanderveer, senior vice president of people at Sonic Drive-In. That’s created tighter competition for the 3,527-unit chain, which increased its unit count by 0.9% from 2015 to 2016, according to Technomic’s 2017 Top 500 Chain Restaurant report. To get an edge, Sonic encourages franchisees to invest in full-time team members. “We know that providing a guaranteed number of hours plus offering benefits leads to lower hourly turnover and higher crew engagement,” Vanderveer says. “A part-time workforce requires an increased workforce by 40%, which in turn requires managers to focus more on hiring, onboarding, training, while focusing less on the business.”
3. Lost battles in wage wars
As fast casuals continue to lead limited service in higher-than-average wages, it can be tough for operators within the former segment to stay on top. One of the biggest reasons team members leave Freebirds World Burrito is pay, so the fast casual is considering raising wages in strategic markets in 2018. Beyond increasing compensation, the Freebirds team decided it needed to be more consistent and clear about pay. In the last two years, the chain better defined job descriptions and clarified pay ranges for several positions. It also divided its shift leader position into two separate front-of-house and back-of-house management roles, and added a mentor lead trainer position as a stepping stone to assistant general management. “We did that to show the opportunities that existed and better narrow the focus of roles, because being a shift leader for a whole restaurant is a lot,” says Allison Hosgood, Freebirds’ vice president of human resources.