To be sure, finding and keeping labor is a top challenge for most restaurant operators. But some have managed to retain staff – and turn a good profit. A recent report from The Counter shares how in June 2020, when restaurants were closing doors and worry about the pandemic was just setting in, California restaurateurs Greg and Daisy Ryan doubled down on their investment in employees. Backed by a Paycheck Protection Program loan, an Economic Injury Disaster Loan, some private funding and down-to-the-penny cost analysis with a Google spreadsheet, they increased wages to an average of $27 an hour and added new perks, including fully paid health care coverage and 80 hours of paid time off. At the time it probably seemed crazy to many, but the plan has worked: In 2019, the restaurant was making $1 million a year. In 2021, that figure has jumped to $3 million and employee retention has been above 95 percent. It can be a difficult thing to focus on in a fast-moving business with dueling priorities but finding ways to invest in employee satisfaction pays off – and can protect your business for the long term. Some efforts are completely free – thanking staff for their efforts, recognizing them in team meetings, or promoting them on social media. Beyond that, take a look at the tedious tasks no one wants to do and consider how you might automate them and make an employee’s shift more enjoyable as a result. If you can’t improve insurance benefits (Oyster Sunday may be able to help you do this affordably), make sure you’re showing you care about employees’ mental and physical health by providing regular breaks and check-ins. Your training program should weave these principles into it as well. Steve McKee, co-founder of McKee Wallwork + Co., a marketing advisory firm that specializes in turning around stalled companies, prefers the term “immersion” to “onboarding” to help encourage employee retention. It should be a gradual but continuous process that goes beyond sharing policies and is more about embracing the culture and vision of the business – while also not hiding its flaws.
Labor attraction and retention isn’t getting any easier for restaurants. According to a Bureau of Labor Statistics report released in January, quit rates for the accommodation and foodservice industry increased from 4.8 percent to 6.9 percent over the previous year, a larger spike than any other sector listed. As the pandemic has amplified restaurants’ labor challenges, businesses across the industry have been taking a range of approaches to attract and retain staff. According to research from Black Box Intelligence, pay increases are only part of the solution. Offers of sick days, paid leave and variable pay are also on the increase in an effort to improve restaurant workers’ quality of life. Dig, the chain of approximately two dozen local, farm-sourced restaurants in the Northeast, has been taking cues from the pandemic-era offerings of corporations and giving their staff the option of a four-day work week. According to a Fast Company report, Dig experimented with the offering while they were running a smaller number of restaurants during Covid lockdowns. Staff were given the option of working one less day than they would normally, but the same number of hours across the week. As Dig offers a 40-hour work week, this has meant that participating staff work 10-hour shifts. While it may not work for every restaurant or every employee, Dig leaders say that the workers who have chosen to stick with the schedule have reported having better work-life balance and more time for responsibilities outside of work. (In fact, in an internal survey of 45 people who have participated in the changed work week so far, 87 percent said they would recommend the new schedule.) Looking at your shift schedule, staff needs and restaurant tasks, what might you adjust to offer better work-life balance to staff without sacrificing business needs? Even on a small scale, could you take any cues from businesses in other sectors that are known for strong attraction and retention of staff?