Attendees of the 2019 National Restaurant Association Show in Chicago discussed the current state of the workforce in the industry and its challenges during several panels held throughout the conference. Here are five takeaways from the Show.
1. Creating a culture of caring
A large topic on the minds of restaurant Show attendees was learning how to communicate and create a positive workforce culture in the #MeToo era. Nicole DaCosta, senior manager of learning and development for Brinker International, said that operators also need to go beyond the occasional training session and make sure they are weaving a positive, caring culture into the daily workforce narrative.
“Yes, we have compliance training, but it’s a multipronged approach,” she said. “It can't just be about training or a procedure or new policy that you institute. It's an ongoing conversation, not a one-time check the box thing. It has to be woven into every discussion and the business strategy.”
2. Culture comes from the top
Operators looking to create a positive culture inside their restaurant need to start with themselves to set the tone, said Sandra Holl, co-owner and chef at Floriole Cafe and Bakery in Chicago.
“A business owner-operator really needs to fend for the culture, and that goes down to every time I walk into my business,” she said. “I don't make a beeline back to my office. Instead, I stop and speak with each person on the way back to check in, I clear tables, whatever it is.”
Floriole employees are also encouraged to show the same respect to their vendors and suppliers that they show to their peers and guests.
“If we're not treating the vendors right, then we're certainly not going to speak to our customers right,” said Holl.
3. Tapping additional pools of talent
As the labor market gets increasingly tight, operators are looking beyond traditional hires. MOD Pizza, for example, now makes a point to hire formerly incarcerated employees after management noticed one of the chain’s current employees was wearing an ankle bracelet when he came to work.
“He happened to be one of our best employees, and so instead of being freaked out by it, we decided to actually lean in and figure out what was going on there,” said Senior Vice President of People Megan Hansen. “We started hiring a bunch of his friends and then realized that there was an opportunity to really make this a winning strategy for the company.”
Hilton Hotels has also branched out and begun hiring military spouses, with the goal of employing 30,000 veterans and their families at the company by the end of 2020. Melissa Stirling, Hilton’s senior director of military and youth programs, said that the company has found a lot of success with the program and that hiring from this group and taking the time to train them has produced hardworking and loyal employees.
“If you take that little bit of time and extra effort to train somebody from one of these unique populations that haven't had exposure and haven't had a chance, they will be so loyal and they will work so hard, because we've given them that opportunity,” she said.
4. Turnover isn't always bad
Hansen believes that turnover is not actually as bad as it seems and that operators will reap the benefits of a well-trained employee even if they stay for just a year.
“One of my biggest challenges early on was setting that expectation with my leadership team,” she said. “We want people to be turning over because we want them to be on their career path, and we also want to create space for new people to come in. Part of it is doing the right thing and recognizing that the right thing isn't just for us, but it's also for the larger community.”
5. Solving third-party delivery problems
Third-party delivery continues to be a necessary evil for operators. Michele Lange, director of field training for Chipotle Mexican Grill, said one of the biggest issues facing the restaurant workforce today is learning how to train third-party deliverers to provide better service. While she doesn’t have a solution to the problem, she said that the restaurant industry as a whole needs to focus on addressing it, as it will only continue to play a larger role in the industry.