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Creative Ways Restaurants Are Dealing with Labor Challenges

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4 ideas from industry experts at the Talk Shop Live tour.
By Davina van Buren November 01, 2018 Sponsored by US Foods

Staffing good workers is critical to a restaurant’s success, but finding and keeping talent is a major challenge. According to the U.S. Bureau of Labor Statistics, the restaurant industry will create 1.7 million new jobs by 2025. As the foodservice industry adjusts to this rapid growth, one of the biggest obstacles for many operators is finding skilled labor.

As a result, many restaurants around the country are implementing strategies to address these major issues. In its Talk Shop Live tour, US Foods held panel discussions hosted by award-winning chef and restaurateur Marcus Samuelsson in two red-hot food cities—Denver and Detroit. The mission was to foster conversations around finding and retaining skilled labor in foodservice.

Though the panel discussed many unique ways to solve labor challenges, one of the major themes that emerged was that restaurants must get creative to find and keep the best talent. Operators can source talent through traditional avenues, like culinary programs and job fairs, but also from partnerships with halfway houses, military bases, and prisons. During the panel in Detroit, Lisa Ludwinski, owner of Sister Pie in Detroit, said an old-fashioned sign in the window also worked wonders for her staffing. “That has been the most successful recruiting tool as far as retaining employees,” she said. “Most of our ‘sign-in-the-window’ employees have been with us for several years now.”

Brother Luck, chef and owner of Four by Brother Luck in Colorado Springs, tapped local service members as a fresh talent pool. Luck created a 45-day internship with the foodservice program at Fort Carson, where soldiers actually come into Four’s kitchen for on-the-job training in a restaurant to gain skills they can use to enter the workforce after their military service. “It’s about building friendships and relationships, having mentors and communication,” says Luck. “They will have this experience with them no matter where they go in the world.”

Another theme was that creating a productive, fair, and comfortable workplace environment is essential to retaining talent. Creating a respectful workplace is key, but pay is another major concern. For example, at her restaurants The Farmer’s Hand and Folk in Detroit, Kiki Louya mentioned that her team eliminated tipping in favor of an 18 percent service charge that is distributed evenly throughout the entire staff. Not only is this fairer to back-of-house employees like dishwashers who often work long hours with little pay, Louya said, but it also creates a platform to educate guests about the value of food. “People might want cheap food, but not understand all the things that are built into the cost of that plate,” she said.

Panelists also stressed the importance of creating a company culture that values each employee equally. At Sister Pie, Ludwinski and her team eliminated the hierarchy of kitchen positions. With the exception of a kitchen manager, they now simply hire “staff,” and everyone works together to accomplish the day’s agenda. “It’s one of the first steps we are taking to create a business that is more radical and aligned with our values,” she said.

Though labor is a monumental issue within the restaurant industry, there are plenty of other pressing concerns as well, and US Foods is committed to being a resource for operators in search of innovative solutions. Talk Shop Live’s October events focused on food waste and driving traffic. See the next installment in the December issue for key highlights from the panel.

For more insights on key industry issues, ideas, and video from the events check out usfoods.com/talkshoplive.