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Indies cope with labor woes

Top operators share how they are coping with workforce challenges.
Photograph: Shutterstock

Like most of the restaurant industry, independent operators are up against major workforce challenges, from hiring and training to retention. Some of the leaders in the independent space shared how they are addressing these issues. Here’s what they said:

“We are maintaining an exciting and welcoming company culture and environment to attract and retain the best employees. Nashville’s restaurant scene is booming, so it’s important to create a work environment that employees are excited to be part of.” —Acme Feed & Seed

“Lobbying efforts in D.C. to better educate council members on tip credits and tipper server/bartender earnings” —Founding Farmers (Washington, D.C.)

“Less people want back-of-the-house jobs—we are paying higher wages to keep good people.” —Paradise Cove Beach Cafe

Minimum wages continue to rise, putting pressure on costs and forcing price increases, impacting guest counts at our lower-priced dayparts (lunch and lounge). Low unemployment limits the available workforce for back-of-house positions, leading to lean staffing and retention issues with all restaurants competing for staff. Oregon is implementing a secured scheduling law July 1, making flexible scheduling and reactive staff scheduling a challenge financially, requiring schedules to be posted two-plus weeks in advance creating challenges for adjusting staffing levels for unforeseen business increases or decreases. Our solutions for all of these challenges are focused, shift by shift labor management, increased cross-training of back-of-house staff to allow for better station coverage when staffing is lean compared to business levels, elevating and empowering key staff to assist the management team and create a path toward promotion, and ensuring that our staff knows that we are investing in them to not only retain valued staff but also attract staff who seek to grow their careers in our industry. This is how we achieve our company vision of using our exceptional people to provide remarkable service to our guests, with an emphasis on operational excellence, all supported by our committed leadership.” —Portland City Grill

“[Our] delivery and catering business has increased, [so we’re] balancing the execution of increased labor to accommodate external revenue increases.” —Carmine’s

“[We are] increasing teammate rewards and recognition [and] completely revamping our training programs for every department.” —Bob Chinn’s Crab House

“With requiring such a large team to provide the level and detail of service we wish to give our guests, we are continuously striving to provide the best training and educational tools as well as processes for communication to keep us all on the same page. We have implemented a rigorous ongoing training program that includes weekly tastings and education on wine, food, cocktails, and service standards. We also have each staff department meet regularly to discuss ways to improve our systems.” —Swift & Sons

“We are increasing wages and launching new retention programs.” — Frankenmuth Bavarian Inn

“Staffing; recruitment via social media.” —Tavern on Rush

“Retention for various FOH/BOH positions, namely dishwashers and bussers. These jobs are not the most glamorous, and in many cases employees in these jobs want to move up to something different in a short period of time. We stay on top of this issue by keeping a steady supply of completed applications on hand.” —The Southern Steak & Oyster

“Wages are a growing concern as we are poised for a $1 increase in the minimum wage. This increase will have more financial implications due to it being double what we paid last year. We are fortunate to have guest volume and a good business model, but eventually more proactive measures will need to be employed to offset. Recruitment is a challenge for us due to our demographic location in the Central San Joaquin Valley. Hourly staff is drawn primarily from a 45-mile radius. Fuel costs and hourly wage earners without the luxury of tips do tend to be the most impacted. [Hiring] management staff, depending on the level, can be a challenge, so we have focused more on internal development for our middle management roles. Our skilled and upper management roles are the most challenging to recruit for, with reliance on recruiting platforms as LinkedIn, Indeed, ZipRecruiter, Monster and Craigslist. We will be doing more off-site job fairs as well as revisiting on-site job fairs to expose new employees to our property.” —Harris Ranch Inn

“Minimum wage increases have been a challenge, but [we] have continued to work on building revenue through [programs such as] catering Back Yard Pig Outs and focusing on delivering backyard BBQs to Midtown offices utilizing third-party delivery services.”  —Virgil’s Real Barbecue

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