You’ve heard of the Great Recession, but have you heard of the Great Resignation?
The term describes the labor crisis we’re currently suffering through. While the phrase ‘great resignation’ was coined as part of the 2021 labor crisis, honestly, I don’t see it changing in 2022 based on what I’m seeing today. While it’s a real challenge, there are things you can be doing today to attract and keep employees for the long run in your restaurant.
The unfortunate reality is that we did this to ourselves as an industry over decades.
In early October 2021 at the South Carolina Restaurant and Lodging Show where I was a speaker, the keynote speaker, John Pollock with Technomics, the numbers people for the restaurant industry, said in his presentation that the steady decline in hospitality workers wanting to work in our industry and their happiness or lack thereof was nothing new. It had been getting worse year after year. COVID didn’t create it, nor did it make it that much worse, but it did continue that downward spiral.
About a week after I heard that report, Restaurant Business released an article, “Restaurant Workers Are Quitting at Historically High Rates.” They reported that nearly 7% of our nation’s restaurant and hotel workers quit their jobs in August of 2021. They said no other industry came close to that level of voluntary departures.
What is a restaurant owner supposed to do? Here is a short list of what you should be considering as a part of your long-term plan broken into two sections: Attraction and Retention.
1. Think about higher wages.
We’ve been fearful of $15 minimum wage coming from coast to coast. This labor crisis made the $15 minimum wage a non-debate. It’s not when it gets here. It’s here. If you hadn’t noticed, to attract good employees, wages are going up all over the place. Now, in the beginning of the pandemic labor shortage, the knee jerk reaction was to pay as much as they had to attract new employees. I said to my members, put the brakes on. Because once you let the toothpaste out of the tube, there is no putting it back. Once you pay those higher wages, that’s your new wage bracket. I did say that if your marketplace starts to go up, then you have to go with it. Not the knee jerk version from $10 to $25, but if your marketplace was around $15 starting wage and now you have to be at $18 or $20 to get cooks in the door, that’s something to think about if that’s what your competition is starting to pay. Develop a budget to understand how to calculate the impact of increased wages.
2. Flexibility in scheduling.
I will tell you flexibility is the number one reason why line employees work in the restaurant business. And this labor crisis has taken that away from many of them. Too many restaurant owners are making their problem their employees’ problem. Servers working 40 hours or more per week was unheard of before this labor shortage. Usually, their goal is to work as few hours as possible to make as much money as possible and now they’re working 40 or more hours per week. Line cooks love overtime, but for the last 12 months, 16 months, 18 months, they’ve been working overtime every single week. They’re burnt out. They’re no longer able to go to a concert or go see a friend or take a day off or swap schedules. They’re working all these hours because they’re all you have to remain open. If you want to attract people, the flexibility is key. To help my members get there, for the first time ever in my career, I advised some of them to close one or two days per week so their employees could have a scheduled, guaranteed break.
3. Provide a path for growth.
Show your employees a path for promotions. Now, not everybody wants to grow in this industry. If there isn’t a path, or if there’s somebody who doesn’t really care about moving up, point to the opportunities for personal development. It might be English as a second language, learning how to sell better, learning how to communicate with other staff members better, product knowledge from wine, beer, or food. Make it clear in your restaurant they’re always learning and becoming a better version of themselves. That’s huge. And when you can show people that, you will attract good talent.
1. Consistent management.
There needs to be a manager on every shift to help support your team members, to make sure the same rules are written for everybody, applied to everybody and everyone’s held accountable. Employees love rules. What they hate is the inconsistency in management enforcing those rules. When you have a leader on every shift, everybody is held to the same standard. They execute better. That consistency in management keeps people there longer.
2. Make sure employees feel appreciated.
Making employees feel appreciated doesn’t mean they have to feel loved. It means they feel like they are important to the business, that their work matters. To get into the weeds with this one, read the book, The Five Languages of Appreciation in the Workplace by Gary Chapman and Paul White. Make sure you get a copy today.
3. Create a positive work environment.
Become an employer of choice. When a customer asks your team member if they like working in your restaurant, you want them to say it’s awesome. If they say it sucks, or say they’re looking for another job, or they don’t give a positive response, that means you’re not an employer of choice. In this case, your culture needs a reboot. I also covered the topic of keeping your employees and becoming an employer of choice in episode 23 of my podcast, “The Restaurant Prosperity Formula,” available anywhere you get podcasts.
I don’t know if we’ll always call it The Great Resignation, but restaurant owners will always remember this time in their businesses as a time when they had to go to great lengths to find good employees and even greater lengths to keep them. If you follow the three ideas for attracting employees and even more importantly, the three things to keep employees, you’ll get results. Simply putting forth the effort to attract and keep your employees is an indication to me that you’re looking at ways to become an employer of choice. The key is to take action today.