The End of the Human Touch

hospitality minimum wage One Haus
Article contributed by Mike Hewitt, Founder of One Haus and Farm To Turntable

Has the end of the minimum wage hospitality employee arrived?

Looking at today’s market and trends, one would think the minimum wage hospitality employee is in serious danger of extinction. Automated systems, self-check outs, ATM like kiosks and other tech innovation is challenging the need for actual “hands” or hospitality all together in some cases.

How and why has this trend come about?

One can point to the need to counter the rising minimum wage in the sector, a more streamlined labor cost and improved bottom line. Is this indeed the place to cut corners, the first or last human contact with your guests?

Some might argue client-facing hospitality is the last place one should eliminate that interaction. That last chance to make a positive impact on a guest experience. Impersonal machines, to some, cheapen the brand, take a bit out of the service element one expects or is essentially paying for when going out to dine. Is this just a quick serve phenomenon? We would be hard pressed to see this at Danny Meyer’s Maialino, but Shake Shack? Maybe.

Confused wandering guests, personnel hired to “train” or direct guests through the self-check out process in store defeat the price cutting purpose, leaving less room for high touch engagement and more sheep herding of customers. Perhaps it is too early on to also gauge efficiency of these new “employees’ versus the traditional human element. Without the right platform, support, IT expertise etc, it could backfire.

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From our side of the business, we have seen, encouraged and embraced the Hybrid Role. A hybrid role is perhaps a solution to assist in cost cutting without affecting the guest experience. Some examples of this are combining the Assistant General Manager with the Service Manager, the General Manager with the sommelier, the Sous chef and grill/Sautee roles among others.

Combining 2 roles that are complimentary, at a higher salary, attracting top level talent while at the same time eliminating one role entirely from your P&L is another avenue. This strategy can have a great effect on a team, slimming down personnel while improving the team dynamic, morale and quality.

Rent, food cost, health care, and other rising variables are chocking the life out of smaller, up and coming restaurants in our nation, and although moving to other territories with a more sustainable cost of business is an option, it is not the case for most operators out there today. Charleston South Carolina, Portland Oregon, Baltimore, and other emerging markets have seen an influx of operators migrating for a better shot at making it. A lot of this is cost-derivative, not by choice.

The labor dilemma is a hot topic, coupled with the perfect storm of a thinned-out labor force, new expectations from a new generation, and retention. Yes, retention, more than recruitment. While finding top talent has always proven to be a treacherous challenge, making sure talent stays with you is taking a front seat in the discussion. Operators are getting creative with perks, incentives, bonuses and other “tools” to keep the good ones. I’d say being nice, keeping your end of the bargain and treating them with respect would quell most of their worries. The “you are lucky to have this job” attitude of yesteryear must give way to the “what can I do to retain this great employee”. Needless to say, skill set, motivation, stability and work ethic needs to be there on the employee side. Easier said than done.

Have operators given up on people, in our beloved people business? Has training, developing and nurturing entry level staff given way to the plug and play variety of software? Only time will tell if the era of the low skilled, manual labor in our cafes, restaurants and hotels will prevail, or the machines will take over.


One Haus Principal & Headhunter Mike Hewitt has over twenty years of experience in the hospitality industry, ranging from operations, brand development, human resources, consulting and recruiting . With this extensive insight ranging from fine dining to fast casual, large restaurant groups to single mom & pop operations, Mike brings a deep understanding of operator  needs, having been there once himself. Mike’s approach to recruiting focuses on assessing company culture and honing in on a particular candidates’ specific skill set to make the match. He has a post graduate degree in Hotel & Restaurant Management from the Ecole Hoteliere de Lausanne.