5 ways to meet the needs of modern employees

How operators can address the shifting workforce was a top topic at the North American Association of Food Equipment Manufacturers’ 2023 conference.
restaurant workers
Labor shortages continue to be a major pain point across the restaurant industry. / Photo: Shutterstock

The changing workforce was a top topic at the North American Association of Foodservice Equipment Manufacturers’ 2023 conference, held in Orlando this week. Operators discussed how they’re contending with continued labor challenges, and manufacturers served up a number of tech-centered solutions to shore up staffing shortages and efficiency goals.

Here are five takeaways we left the event with.

The old ways of finding employees won’t cut it.

Winning the war on talent is going to become one of the biggest issues for every industry in this country, says Julie Davis, senior director of workforce and industry initiatives for the Association of Equipment Manufacturers, noting that there’s no time to fall behind.

Thinking outside the box to find workers is one piece of the puzzle, she says, giving examples of clients who tried some fresh tactics and met success. One company joined local parent groups on Facebook to promote their internships and another sent “baby baskets” for new parents to area hospitals—the baskets included a small selection of diapers, creams and other essentials, along with a one-page description of the organization and a note that encouraged parents to reach out if they were ever looking for a career.

Data is important, but it’s about balance.

“We live in a dynamic time—where old models are challenged, where things are not predictable,” says Maureen Welch, founder of CREate The Solution. A critical skill for this moment is the ability to lead others during periods of ambiguity, she says, and while data matters, you can’t let the numbers hamstring your decision-making. Both qualitative and quantitative information have a purpose, and it’s important to integrate the left and right brain.

Multifaceted support goes far.

“Talent will go where it’s welcomed and will stay where it’s appreciated,” says Adam Busby, general manager at the Culinary Institute of America’s California campus. That goes beyond saying thank you to staff—having a visible career path for workers is something that can help them feel valued and connect to their purpose. In addition, it’s important to ensure that you’re connecting with staff on a human level. “We’re humans first, employees second,” Welch says.

Workers aren’t necessarily looking for more money, says William Walker, director of dining services at Auburn University in Auburn, Ala. Flexibility and support are at the top of the list, too. He says he tries to consider what might keep potential employees from coming to work and solve for that: “Do I need to think outside the box? Have a child-care program?”

Tech isn’t always a labor replacer.

In the current labor market, Justin Tallio, engineering manager at Taco Bell, says he’s contemplating how to make employees’ jobs easier and better so they want to come into the restaurant. There are a lot of other places they can work, he says, so if companies can remove some of the tasks staffers don’t want to do through automation, they might make a dent in that employee churn.  

Don’t lean on HR to do it all.

Understand the capacity of human resources to fulfill everything you need as an organization, and if you have the resources to help the HR department, do it, Davis says. “We have a group of HR folks that we typically throw this on, who just survived COVID. They are burnt out, and now, we are turning to them and saying, ‘Hey, become community outreach experts.’”

If your team doesn’t have the resources to help, consider opening it up to other employees to see who raises their hand and is willing to dive in on culture building, she says. You might have staffers who have previous marketing experience, for example, or are natural influencers and can come together in a working group.

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