Employee retention

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Viral Post Highlights Real Leadership

What a Viral Reddit Post Reveals About Leadership in Hospitality

by David Klemt

Reddit app icon on smartphone

A text exchange between a restaurant manager and delivery driver posted to Reddit went viral last month.

Refreshingly, it didn’t make the rounds on news sites for the wrong reasons. Rather, the text conversation is a succinct example of emotional intelligence, empathy, and leadership.

Those interested in reading the text exchange in its entirety can follow this link. However, I’ll sum it up here.

Posted to the subreddit Kitchen Confidential, the conversation begins with the manager checking in on the driver, asking, “You doing OK?”

The driver says they’re “doing better but” is still dealing with a lot. After the manager asks if they should cover their shift that night, the driver reveals they may need to quit the job.

Instead of blowing up at the driver, trying to talk them out of their decision, or cutting the exchange short, they say, “It’s alright [sic].”

Going further, the manager says, “You’re [sic] happiness is more important.” They add that the business hopes the driver will return to the job when they’re ready.

Shall I Cover You Tonight?

Now, I tend to believe that most members of restaurant, bar, and hotel leadership teams are empathetic. I also lean toward believing that most are competent problem solvers.

However, we’ve all come across people who don’t belong in a leadership role. In some cases, a person’s lack of leadership qualifications doesn’t manifest until they’ve been in the role for some time.

My business partner Doug Radkey and I have had conversations about leaders who don’t seem to lead. At best, they’re examples of what not to do. At worst, they’re chasing away a business owner’s staff and guests.

Most recently, these conversations have centered around managers insisting that staff solve scheduling problems themselves.

Before I proceed, I acknowledge fully that we’re facing an unprecedented labor shortage. That’s no excuse for poor leadership.

What, exactly, is the leadership team doing that they can’t manage the schedule? Further, with today’s modern scheduling platforms, why is filling available roles difficult for leaders? Several scheduling apps make it a painless, automated process.

The manager in this Reddit text exchange doesn’t demand the driver find someone to cover their shift. Instead, they behave like a manager and handle it themselves.

Don’t Ever Discount Yourself

If you’re active on LinkedIn and have a sizeable hospitality-centric network, you’ve likely seen posts about how the industry needs to be more people-focused. Not in terms of guests—that’s obvious.

Rather, the consensus is that we’re not going to solve the labor problem if we don’t treat staff as well as we treat guests. Some of these posts may be a bit saccharine, but they’re not incorrect.

Let’s review the texts from this manager:

  • “You doing OK?”
  • Your “happiness is more important.”
  • “We love having you here.”
  • “You’re an awesome person.”
  • “Don’t ever discount yourself.”

When’s the last time you and other members of the leadership team asked a staff member if they’re okay? And if you’ve asked recently, did you get an honest answer? Did you want an honest answer?

A restaurant or bar team that doesn’t trust leadership isn’t going to bother providing an honest answer to that question—they feel like the leaders don’t care about them.

Looking at the rest of the texts above, do you and your leaders take the time to recognize and thank staff? Even the shyest team member wants recognition for a job well done.

Those in leadership roles need to develop their skills constantly. Contrary to some in those positions, leaders aren’t there simply to lord their authority over others and dish out punishments.

So, before your next team meeting, gather the leaders. Find out if every member of the team is checking on staff, valuing their health and wellness, and tackling the mundane tasks that are inherent to their roles.

The maxim is true: People don’t quit jobs, they quit people. If your leadership team isn’t leading with empathy, you can expect your labor issues to compound. No amount of excuses will turn that around.

This article by KRG Hospitality director of business development David Klemt was first published by Bar Business and can be read in its entirety by following this link.

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Back of House Report: The Labor Challenge

Back of House Report: The Labor Challenge

by David Klemt

Employees wearing black staff T-shirts

A recent report from Back of House reveals opportunities for operators amidst the current staffing challenge.

In their report, the restaurant technology platform suggests effective hiring and retention solutions. For example, helping staff find meaning in their work.

To download and access the report in its entirety, please visit BackOfHouse.io.

For some of the platform’s insights into staffing, keep reading.

Why People Leave the Industry

Obviously, people take jobs for a variety of reasons. Often, a person’s first job has one or two motivations: money and/or experience.

Some estimates put a gig in the restaurant industry as the first job for a third of Americans. In Canada, restaurants are the top employers for those under 25 years of age.

However, Back of House sees value in looking at a different metric: Why people leave the industry.

As Back of House states, knowing why someone would leave their job helps an operator determine what benefits to offer to retain talent.

Now, it may be tempting to assume pay is the top reason people leave jobs. Per Back of House, however that’s not the case. Broken down by age group, below you’ll find the reasons people are leaving hospitality:

  • Pay: 26 to 35
  • Schedule: 46 to 55
  • Lack of opportunities: 26 to 35
  • Lack of benefits: 26 to 35
  • Work environment: 18 to 25

Look at these issues through the lens of someone moving through life. When first entering the workforce, more people want to find the right employer and workplace. From their twenties to thirties, more concern is placed on moving up, making more money, and receiving benefits. And, per Back of House’s findings, time becomes more of a consideration as people age.

Meaning and Value

Per Back of House, there are two important elements of employment that keep people engaged.

One, meaning in the work they do. In other words, feeling that their work has value. Two, staff want to feel that they’re employers value them.

Of course, both make sense, no? If a person doesn’t see their role in the industry as valuable, they’ll always be looking for the escape hatch. And if they feel that they’re employer doesn’t value them, why would they continue working for them? People, as they say, quit bosses, not jobs.

So, Back of House recommends that operators demonstrate they value their team members by:

  • investing in their staff;
  • supporting their staff; and
  • respecting their staff.

Now, good leaders should already do all of the above. It should go without saying but if someone feels a lack of respect, support, and interest from their employer, they’re not going to remain in their role for long.

And who could blame them? That seems like a terrible workplace and a waste of a hospitality professional’s valuable time. Time, of course, that can be better spent finding a good leader to work for who will help them progress in their career.

There are further insights one can glean from Back of House’s report. To download “Understanding the Staffing Challenge,” please click here.

Disclaimer: Neither KRG Hospitality nor its representatives received compensation to promote this report. The team at KRG simply feels all operators will find value in downloading and reading it, and considering the information contained therein.

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Chain Restaurants: Present & Future

Chain Restaurants: Present & Future

Woman dining with friends in restaurant

Technomic presented the state of chain restaurants, now and next, during Restaurant Leadership Conference 2022 in Scottsdale, Arizona.

Obviously, the entire hospitality industry is facing significant struggles. Rising costs, supply chain chaos, labor shortages and challenges, inflation… The past two-years-plus haven’t been easy.

However, there’s reason for operators and their leadership teams and staff to be optimistic. Additionally, independent and small-chain operators can learn from Technomic’s findings.

Challenges & Threats

Well, let’s take our medicine first, starting with the supply chain. In short, it’s bedlam.

Joe Pawlak (standing in for David Henkes) and Richard Shank of Technomic said as much during RLC 2022. Per their data, 35 percent of operators dropped at least one manufacturer between 2020 and 2021.

Whether because of rising costs, an inability to consistently deliver product, or other factors, operators had to adapt. Clearly, there’s a nasty trickle-down effect when an operator drops a supplier.

And then there’s inflation. Interestingly, Shank calls what we’re seeing currently as “existential inflation.” Relating to consumers, this means their confidence is shaken in terms of spending.

Of course, this type of consumer perception manifests in several ways. For example, some guests cut down on visits. Others will cut down on ordering, skipping appetizers and desserts. Perhaps they have one less beer, glass of wine, or cocktail.

Also, some guests “trade down.” Meaning, there are consumers who opt for casual restaurants rather than fine dining. Or, they’ll move from fast-casual to QSR.

Looking at the numbers, however, nearly 40 percent respondents to a Technomic survey say they’re visiting restaurants less. This makes sense, as 81 percent are concerned about how inflation will impact them personally.

On the operator side of inflation comes pricing. During Pawlak and Shank’s presentation, they used QSR dinner pricing as a real-world example.

According to Technomic, the tipping point for guest perception of good value is just $7. At only $10, consumers feel things are getting expensive.

As Pawlak and Shank pointed out, this is a problem. After all, the average price for dinner at a QSR is $10.08. That number may already be higher today.

Opportunities

Medicine taken, we can move to the good news.

First, Technomic predicts a strong Q3 this year. Additionally, they don’t expect double-digit year-over-year inflation.

In terms of labor, Technomic doesn’t expect costs to go down. However, they do anticipate that they’ll level off rather than rise.

Then there are the numbers. For the top 500 chains in the US in particular, 2021 was a “banner year,” according to Pawlak. On an aggregate basis, sales for the top 500 (McDonald’s is number one, for those wondering) are up 17.9 percent.

Also, every category of restaurant is performing better. The top 500 chains, for instance, are up 18 percent year-over-year. Midscale restaurants are up 38.5 percent. Casual is up 30.2 percent while fast is up 22.2 percent, QSRs are up 13.2 percent. As far as the biggest bump, fine dining is up 56.9 percent.

Looking at 2019 for obvious reasons, the industry was down 49.1 percent in sales in April 2020. However, the industry was down just about a single percentage point in February of this year compared to the same time in 2019.

So, how do we keep sales trending upward when facing inflation and other threats? Pawlak, Shank, and Technomic have some advice.

Operators, for instance, can implement the “balanced barbell” pricing strategy. In this model, high-value items drive business alongside premium offerings. In other words, don’t discount the entire menu just to entice guests to keep visiting.

Once guests get a taste for falling prices, they’ll consider the lower prices the standard. After that, any increase can be perceived as “too expensive.” Of course, discounting the whole menu also impacts guest perception of the brand negatively.

In addition, Technomic suggests offering higher net profit discount bundles, and implementing off-premise, large-party strategies.

Should Technomic’s predictions prove true, the industry may see an even stronger Q4 and start to 2023.

Image: Alex Haney on Unsplash

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This Simple Test Reveals Process Problems

This Simple Test Reveals Process Problems

by David Klemt

Server helping guest in restaurant

There’s an easy way to identify whether there are changes that need to be made to processes and practices that only requires observation and time.

Luckily, it doesn’t take much time, either. In less than a week, an operator can determine if there are issues relating to onboarding new hires.

This simple test was shared during the 2022 Restaurant Leadership Conference in Scottsdale.

Interviews are Just the Start

It should go without saying but here we go: The hiring process doesn’t end with the interview.

An operator or their leadership team found an amazing job candidate? Awesome! That’s no small feat these days.

However, that’s just the first step in hiring and building a rock star restaurant, bar or hotel team.

Step two is onboarding, step three is training, and step four is advancement.

For KRG Hospitality, onboarding goes far beyond filling out federal and state paperwork. There’s more to it than setting up direct deposit and getting a new hire on the schedule.

Rather, operators need to implement a fully developed onboarding process. The key word there is “process.”

True onboarding includes the review of an employee handbook and an introduction to the business. During this process new hires should become familiar with the brand’s history, vision, culture, mission, and core values.

By the end of this process, a new team member should understand what’s expected of them, both in their individual role and behaviorally. Additionally, they should be introduced to the entire team.

In reality, the onboarding process is the development of a professional relationship.

The Test

Technically, the actual test for operators is for them to have in-depth hiring, onboarding and training processes in place.

So, operators should take a moment to review whether they have those processes.

However, the test I’m talking about here relates to onboarding directly. It’s simple and it was shared during RLC 2022 by Jim Thompson, COO of Chicken Salad Chick.

The only requirement is a few days’ time and an observant operator and/or leadership team.

Let’s say a candidate nails the interview. In particular, their personality is perfect for the available role. As the the hospitality industry maxim goes, hire for personality, train for skills.

The new hire works their first shift but their personality doesn’t shine through. However, that could be first-day jitters. Unfortunately, that personality the leadership team hired for is nowhere to be seen during their next few shifts.

According to Thompson, if a new hire’s personality doesn’t shine through within four shifts, there’s likely a process and practices issue. The lack of personality is an indicator that the new team member doesn’t feel confident in their role.

The onboarding process—either too shallow or nonexistent—is a likely culprit. Operators can use this test, a simple four-shift observation of a new hire, to determine if there’s a problem.

Once identified, the operator and their leaders can put their heads together, review the issue, and implement effective, positive change.

Image: Caroline Attwood on Unsplash

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The Uber Effect: Recruit and Retain

The Uber Effect: Recruit and Retain

by David Klemt

Person using Uber app on phone

To better understand how to recruit and retain top talent these days we can simply look at what’s known as the Uber Effect.

We just got back from the Restaurant Leadership Conference in Scottsdale, Arizona. The education was top-notch, featuring a wide range of restaurant industry experts.

One outstanding session illustrates the need for operators—chain and independent—to change their approach to recruiting and retaining staff.

Flexibility in the Workplace

According to Jennifer Grimes, senior vice president of client services for Service Management Group, people in the labor pool are after three things when seeking employment.

Generally speaking, they want better pay, better benefits, and better scheduling. Gone are the days of people focusing only on their paychecks.

And per Jim Thompson, chief operating officer of Chicken Salad Chick, the Uber Effect is largely responsible for this shift in focus. The Uber Effect refers to people realizing they can be much more in control of their careers.

In simplest terms, Uber drivers are in control of their workdays. They can work as often as they want, whatever hours they want, and wear what they want while working.

Of course, it’s not complete anarchy. There are rules, there are expectations, there are standards. However, there’s also flexibility.

Along with more flexibility in scheduling, people want the following:

  • workload balance;
  • ability to trade shifts;
  • better communication; and
  • paid vacations.

Today’s modern scheduling platforms make it simple for operators and their leadership teams to meet these expectations. With these apps, operators and leadership can:

  • assign specific roles to individual team members;
  • communicate clearly with staff;
  • allow staff to trade, drop, and pick up shifts; and
  • fill available shifts.

One Size Doesn’t Fit All

Thompson has an interesting anecdote about availability.

A Chicken Salad Chick manager conducting interviews didn’t proceed with a candidate. Asked by Thompson why they wouldn’t be moving forward, the manager pointed to the candidate’s availability.

During the interview, the candidate provided only a single day and the manager felt that wasn’t enough. However, Thompson disagreed with the manager’s assessment.

What if, Thompson posited Thompson, their availability filled a currently open shift? At least there would be one less shift for leadership to worry about.

But it went deeper than just that point. Good operators and leaders know that job interviews aren’t one-way streets. Candidates are also interviewing their potential employer.

What if this candidate provided limited availability because they’re unsure about a particular employer? They may not know the brand all that well, they likely don’t know the leadership team, and they don’t yet understand the workplace’s culture.

As Thompson says, “One size fits all is over.” Operators and their leadership teams need to be flexible.

It’s highly possible that just a few shifts in, if the narrow-availability team member is a good fit and finds the job engaging, they’ll broaden they’re availability.

Developing the Culture

Of course, the above scenario comes down to culture. And Thompson has an interesting thought on that operational element.

If an operator isn’t constantly developing their culture, it will grow stagnant. Maintaining the current culture isn’t good enough.

Failing to do so will ultimately lead to a decline in guest satisfaction. When that happens, a decline in traffic comes along with it.

It’s really rather simple: How an operator and the leadership team treats employees trickles down to guests. Unhappy and unsatisfied staff provide poor service. How long are guests going to tolerate negative guest experiences?

And no, simply offering competitive compensation doesn’t automatically equate to treating staff well.

“Competitive pay, to me, is the cost of entry,” says Thompson.

To this point, the COO, also the self-appointed chief smile officer, addresses how the restaurant chain respects personal time.

Chicken Salad Chick, founded in 2008, is closed on Sundays. This isn’t due to any religious influence. Rather, the founders, per Thompson, were influenced by what they perceived as a high divorce rate in the restaurant space.

So, the brand wants employees to have family time. That’s also why there stores are also closed by 8:00 PM. In some cases, they close at 5:00 or 7:00 PM. Again, personal and family time.

Could they generate more revenue if they opened earlier and closed later? Probably. However, their culture is crucial to their success.

Takeaway

If operators want to begin the process of truly developing a positive workplace culture, there are several questions Thompson suggests operators and their leaders should ask.

Is the brand purpose driven? Does focus on fun, family, and culture?

How can the business offer incremental value to staff? Are the pay and benefits competitive? Is the workplace safe and are their opportunities for staff to advance?

What’s the community like within the four walls? How’s the energy within those walls?

Are the processes and practices in place helping or hindering recruitment and retention? How can the processes be simplified so employees learn what they need to know quickly?

How flexible is the business, honestly? What’s being done to truly help leadership create better relationships with the team?

Finally, I’ll end on something interesting from Grimes. Analyzing employee engagement, SMG has found that isn’t just about compensation.

In fact, when it comes to what makes most people perceive their job as fulfilling, the top influencer is working with people they like. Second is salary and benefits. Third, rewarding work.

Operators need to adapt to employee expectations, just as they need to focus on those of guests. Sitting down with their leadership teams to discuss Thompson’s questions is a great first step toward developing a culture that works and rewards.

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Leadership Facepalm, Part Two

Leadership Facepalm, Part Two

by David Klemt

Airplane email icon set against white brick wall

In a stunning example of tone-deafness and callousness, a franchisee executive sent an email that led to severe consequences.

And no, I’m not talking about the termination of the offending exec. That, in my opinion, was well deserved.

In this instance, the email has led to mass resignations and damage to a global restaurant chain’s reputation. What’s more, the negative impact to the brand’s reputation comes from consumers and employees.

Of course, I’m talking about the now-infamous Applebee’s “gas prices” email.

The Email: Labor

Let’s just jump right into the email, because…wow.

“Most of our employee base and potential employee base lives paycheck to paycheck,” writes the executive. “Any increase gas prices cuts into their disposable income.”

This could have been an excellent example of awareness and perhaps even empathy. In the context of this email, it’s appalling.

Why? Mainly because this executive appears to be celebrating the fact that Applebee’s employees, at least those who work for this franchisee, are barely earning a living wage.

“As inflation continues to climb and gas prices continue to go up, that means more hours employees will need to work to maintain their current level of living,” continues the author.

In this exec’s view, this franchisee is “no longer competing with the government when it comes to hiring.” He cites stimulus payments and boosted unemployment support have run out. Therefore, he reasons that people will be forced to return to the workforce.

The author further points to competitors increasing wages to recruit and retain employees. This, he figures, is untenable and some will have to close their doors. So, the labor pool will fill up and this franchisee will benefit.

The Email: Wages

Some of what I’ve laid out above is accurate. According to some estimates, about two-thirds of Americans live paycheck to paycheck.

Additionally, it’s accurate to state that some employees will seek more hours to combat the effects of rising costs. Further, yes, the labor market is turbulent and challenging.

And, unfortunately, some independent operators are facing incredibly difficult decisions. To recruit and retain, they’ll need to be competitive and raise their wages. To pay for that, they’ll need to raise prices, passing on rising costs to customers. In some instances, for some operators, that will prove unsustainable.

However, an executive in this industry shouldn’t be delighted about any of this. And they certainly shouldn’t see it as an opportunity to potentially pay employees even less.

You see, the author of this email suggests that the franchisee can bring in new workers “at a lower wage to decrease our labor (when able).”

He then recommends monitoring employee morale to ensure that the Applebee’s operated by this franchisee is their “employer of choice.”

For me, however, the most eyeroll-inducing line is this: “Most importantly, have the culture and environment that will attract people.”

Images of printouts of the email reveal that at least a handful of recipients agreed. “Great message Sir! [sic]” reads one response. Another paints the email as “Words of wisdom.”

Clearly, the culture and environment are unhealthy.

The Consequences

Before I proceed, know this: I’m not going to name the author. It’s not remotely difficult to find the author’s name if you feel the need.

However, I will name the franchisee that finally fired him. American Franchise Capital reportedly owns more than 120 Applebee’s and Taco Bell locations in nine states.

So, to be clear, this executive didn’t work for Applebee’s directly. In fact, Applebee’s has disavowed the former executive and the email.

In the interest of clarity, it’s possible the author worked for Apple Central LLC, owned by American Franchise Capital.

As far as fallout, it was swift. According to reports, consequences were realized immediately. A Kansas franchise manager was shown the emails, printed them out for staff to discover, and comped the meals of everyone at the location. Then, he quit and the staff walked out.

Per reporting, four other Applebee’s managers quit, as did several employees. The location remained closed for at least the following day.

If reports are accurate, Applebee’s lost five managers, nearly a dozen employees, and sales from a location for at least two days. That’s just the localized fallout.

Applebee’s, of course, is distancing the company from the former executive. However, that’s not going to stanch the reputational bleeding and turnover.

As we know, a significant percentage of consumers want to know their dollars and support are going to companies that align with their values. The same is true of employees; they want to work for companies with values they can get behind.

A Final Thought

This now-infamous email was sent March 9. Just two weeks later, it was circulated and went viral. The author, gleeful about being able to hire employees “at a lower wage,” was fired before the end of March.

I’ve seen several takes on this situation, and I’ve read some accompanying leadership advice. One in particular caught my attention.

Unfortunately, it’s not because I thought it was great advice: Be cautious about what you send via blast emails.

I’m not saying one shouldn’t be careful about what they send out in emails—that’s good advice. However, that’s not the lesson I’ve learned from this situation.

Personally, I see this as a lesson in emotional intelligence, relationship intelligence, brand culture, and work environment.

At least two companies, one with annual sales in the billions of dollars, another in the hundreds of millions, have had their reputations tarnished. The fault may not lie with Applebee’s but they’ll be dealing with the consequences regardless.

If an operator is going to learn anything about being cautious, it’s this: Be cautious when hiring those in leadership positions. Be cautious about those with whom you enter into partnerships. And be careful about how you view those who work for you.

If you aren’t seeing those who choose to work for you as people worthy of your respect, as human beings, your brand’s culture is poisoned.

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You’re Competing Against Chains for Labor

You’re Competing Against Chains for Labor

by David Klemt

Help sign outside business

Independent operators and local chains aren’t just competing with one another for staff, they’re up against global brands.

Unfortunately, that means competing against massive corporations that can offer higher wages and all manner of benefits.

However, smaller operations can still take steps to lure workers and fill open positions.

The Threat

In response to the labor shortage, many national and global chains are increasing hourly wages.

For example, Chipotle boosted wages for hourly workers to $15 per hour a few months back. Along with this boost in wages came a hike in menu prices: four percent across the board.

Earlier this year, McDonald’s also announced they would boost hourly pay. Hourly workers saw a boost of about ten percent. Of course, this chain also found itself dealing with increased supply costs. To offset a rise in costs of at least four percent, McDonald’s also boosted menu prices.

The latest to enter the labor fray is Starbucks. And like other chains, the corporation addressed the issue of hourly wages publicly.

Indeed, Starbucks’ announcement shares several details. First, staff who have worked for the company for a minimum of five years could see a pay raise of ten percent. Those who have been with the company for at least two years (but less than ten) could get a raise of five percent.

However, it doesn’t end there. Starbucks workers in the United States can take advantage of $200 referral bonuses. On average, Starbucks says hourly wages will range from $15 to $23 per hour, with an average of $17 per hour. The company expects these wage changes to be in place by Summer 2022.

Solutions

Of course, one doesn’t have to need revenue in the tens of millions or billions of dollars to compete for staff.

We’ve addressed this topic several times on the KRG Hospitality site. In particular, we’ve brought up increasing menu prices to support wage hikes. Specifically, we recommend borrowing from Chipotle and McDonald’s: Be transparent and explain why menu prices are going up.

Additionally, Bar Hacks guests like Chef Brian Duffy and Lynnette Marrero have spoken about this topic.

As Chef Duffy says during his second appearance, treating staff better is a big step toward reducing turnover. Word spreads among hospitality workers, and improved employer-employee relations is an excellent recruitment tool.

Another effective benefit? Flexible and improved scheduling which, of course, can be implemented easily via scheduling apps.

Mentorship is a powerful recruiting and retention tool. Both Chef Duffy and Marrero believe in the power of this benefit. They have decades of experience to pass on to staff that can help their careers.

Marrero also suggests implementing labor structures that corporations don’t offer. For instance, she suggests new operators are well positioned to offer earned equity, profit sharing, and co-op ownership structures.

Existing operators can also leverage Marrero’s ideas. However, they’ll need agreement from their investors if they have any.

Now that you know where labor threats are coming from, you can strategize and fight back. You may not have billions of dollars in the bank, but you’re nimble and can implement changes much more quickly. Listen to your staff and be open to making meaningful but reasonable concessions.

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Incentive Economy: What are You Offering?

The Incentive Economy: What are You Offering?

by David Klemt

Chef's knife and honing rod crossed on cutting board

You know about the gig economy but are you familiar with the incentive economy?

It’s quite simple, and there are myriad ways for operators to engage with it. In fact, you likely already participate in the incentive economy in some way.

To put it succinctly, the incentive economy is all about the perks of a job beyond a paycheck.

The Old Ways are Out

On episode 53 of our Bar Hacks podcast, Chef Brian Duffy addresses the need for changes in our industry directly.

First, he tackles the lack of transparency in leadership by some operators. As Chef Duffy says, “That’s an old school way of doing it. That was an old school way, that was the Eighties.”

According to the chef, and we wholeheartedly agree, we now find ourselves in a “different phase” in the industry.

Then, Chef Duffy takes on how leadership in the industry treats staff.

One effective recruiting and hiring incentive Chef Duffy offers on the podcast deals with scheduling. None of his cooks close both nights of a weekend. He also posts schedules two weeks in advance so there are, A) no surprises, and B) if staff need to swap or drop, they have time to do so without impacting the business.

This simple scheduling incentive is attractive to new hires and existing staff. Why? Because working unpredictable, erratic hours is stressful.

“That ruins your life,” explains Chef Duffy.

If operators want to attract new hires, keep their team together, and reduce turnover, listening to staff about scheduling is crucial.

Things Need to Change

Chef Duffy shares a story on the podcast about his daughter and her experience working at a restaurant operated by a hospitality group.

No, he doesn’t name the group or the concept. The who isn’t the point here, it’s the what.

That what is how leadership bungled not only a scheduling issue but also how they botched Chef Duffy’s daughter’s two-week notice, her final shifts, and her final pay.

For more context, his daughter wasn’t a new hire who bailed after perceiving she had been treated poorly. She had worked at that restaurant for a year, there were ongoing issues, and she finally left.

As we all know, we’re down about a million jobs in this industry. That loss isn’t simply because of the pandemic. Our industry is undergoing a seismic cultural shift and we’re losing people who won’t return to hospitality.

Things need to change if we’re going to reverse this trend and strengthen the industry. KRG Hospitality president Doug Radkey addresses the change we need in his latest book, Hacking the New Normal. Chef Duffy addresses some of the necessary changes on our podcast as well.

“We can complain as much as we want, but we created it,” Chef Duffy says. “We as owners and operators and managers, we created what’s happening right now.”

Get Creative

The only limits to incentivizing your staff are your imagination, staying consistent with policies and procedures, being respectful of your staff and guests, and the law. Remain in those confines and get creative.

An incentive doesn’t need to be a grand gesture or prize. In many instances, something that makes a shift more fun and breaks up the monotony is enough to energize the staff.

“I want my staff, I want my front-of-house staff, to know what my sales goal is for the day,” says Chef Duffy. “And then I want to run a contest with that.”

One of the chef’s favorite contests is simple and highly motivating: Follow the Twenty.

Chef Duffy puts a twenty-dollar bill into play against a particular item or menu category. For example, either a specific dessert or any dessert.

Whenever a team member sells a dessert, they get the $20 that’s in play. If a different person sells another dessert, they get the twenty. Follow the Twenty incentivizes the first person to sell more of an item to hang onto the money, and the game motivates the rest of the staff to outperform their coworker to get the prize.

The last member of staff to sell a dessert that shift or day keeps the money.

Offering another creative incentive he’s seen, Chef Duffy shares that there’s a restaurant out there offering a free tattoo to kitchen staff that stays for at least 30 days. Will some staff leave after they get their tattoo? Possibly. Hiring wisely, implementing training policies and procedures, treating staff with respect, making scheduling easier and more flexible, ensuring clear communication is embedded in the fabric of your brand’s culture, and offering further incentives can prevent that turnover.

Offer Ongoing Education

“We live in an incentive world now,” says Chef Duffy. Explaining that he doesn’t operate large kitchens, large bars, or employ large teams, he admits he can only do so much in terms of incentives.

However, his approach to incentivizing staff to stay starts with this example of true leadership: “The one thing I can do is treat my employees well.”

With decades of experience in the industry, Chef Duffy’s knowledge is something he can offer his staff. A big believer in education, passing down information that can enrich team members’ careers and lives is an incredibly valuable incentive.

During a recent training session with a very young kitchen staff, the chef started with the very basics of education.

“Hey, guys, here’s a knife. This is a knife,” he said to the kitchen staff. “There’s seven different parts to a knife. Here’s the most powerful part, here’s the most precise part. This is how you hold it, this is what we do…”

Just reading that, it may seem like Chef Duffy was being condescending. That’s not the case. He wants to share as much of what he’s learned over the years to pass on his collected knowledge.

“I want people to feel as if they’re gaining something from me and the knowledge that I have rather than, ‘Go cut those onions and I’m gonna yell at you if you do it the wrong way,'” says Chef Duff.

Make Meaningful Change Today

Making impactful change can feel overwhelming. Let’s face it, it’s easier to just stay the course. But these days, staying the course can cost you your staff, then your guests, and then your business.

One way to start making change is to look inward at yourself, and at your leadership team.

Are your staff gaining anything from you beyond a job and paycheck? Is your leadership team mentoring and incentivizing staff? Are you, your leaders, and your team happy at work?

If the answer to those questions is “no,” do what’s reasonable to improve your brand’s work culture.

As Chef Duffy says, “The whole dynamic of it has to change and we have to take better care of our employees.”

Image: Steve Raubenstine from Pixabay

by David Klemt David Klemt No Comments

How and Why to Edit Your Menu

How and Why to Edit Your Menu

by Nathen Dube

Restaurant tables with place settings and menus

When thinking about opening a restaurant an important question to answer is, “What am I going to serve?”

There is one answer that tempts too many restauranteurs: “I’ll offer something for everyone!” The thinking is that doing so translates into everyone coming to their restaurant or bar.

The truth is, everyone isn’t coming. Sadly, many of these places don’t survive long, and 60 percent of restaurants don’t make it past their first year. Having an overwhelming menu is one of the key contributors to that statistic.

Massive menus are stressful for guests, making it difficult for them to decide. At a certain point, too many items create what’s called the Fallacy of Choice. Overwhelm guests with possibilities and they’ll just choose something simple and familiar rather than exploring the entire menu, impacting the guest experience negatively.

Too many options also lend to the perception of low-quality food. How can a kitchen staff possibly excel at so many dishes? How can the ingredients be fresh and not frozen? What is the quality of dishes if people only order them once or twice a week?

Those reasons and more are why it’s important to have a laser-focused menu from the onset.

Inventory Challenges

If a large portion of your menu isn’t moving out of the kitchen to hungry diners, guess where that food is going. A large menu creates tracking issues, a high percentage of ingredient spoilage, and opens the door to theft from staff. The best establishments do just a handful of things well, with a select few complementary items to round out the menu.

Having a kitchen full of product for dishes on the menu that might get ordered can quickly turn into dead stock. If there are boxes sitting in dry storage shelves collecting dust, it’s a good time to consider removing any dishes that require them from the menu.

Setting a scheduled review of inventory and menu sales breakdowns can be a great way to avoid dead stock eating into your food budget for any significant length of time. Not all dishes end up being winners—ignoring the losers will limit profitability significantly. A massive, unchecked menu just compounds the issue.

Another profit-eater is food waste. Ordering usually means receiving product in bulk and breaking it down. It’s near impossible, as an example, to order just two or four of something like cabbage for a dish that doesn’t move. The cabbage sits, and half a case gets thrown out for every dish sold. Having a focused menu will help quickly highlight items that need to be removed from a menu.

Tracking Issues

Then there’s the issue of theft. Unfortunately, theft happens. Having some deterrents in place can help mitigate opportunities for those who seek to steal in this industry.

If there aren’t robust tracking systems in place along with an honest team who uses them correctly, things can (and will) disappear. A much harder time will be had spotting losses and what’s causing them when it takes a long time to track inventory. Again, this leads to compounded profit losses on dead stock and product spoilage. We haven’t even begun to prepare any food yet and already our food cost is trending in a bad direction.

A restaurant budget needs to be established before opening and needs to be adhered to strictly. That can quickly go out the window when it comes to ordering food to stock your kitchen. A massive addition to your operating costs can set you back a few months, particularly when you’re not seeing a return on purchases for the reasons stated above.

With the current climate of the restaurant industry and a post-Covid dining scene, avoiding these pitfalls is crucial to success. Rising food and labour costs, recovering from months of closures, and a shortened patio season (if you’re lucky enough to have one), have made strict cost controls more important than ever going forward.

Keep in mind, if your seating capacity matches or is less than the amount of menu items you’re serving, that equates to minimal product turnover, which translates to minimal profits. That number is multiplied by product loss of any kind.

Training & Retention

When an owner can’t match their concept to food and drink offerings, it leads to poorly trained staff and frustration during service. There will be plenty of room for error (more loss!) and, unsurprisingly, low staff retention. That all keeps this never-ending cycle in motion.

If you can’t clarify your vision, how can you expect staff to showcase it to guests with any confidence?

At every “big menu” restaurant I’ve worked in, the owners were always in the building or kitchen. This wasn’t because they were driven to be hands on. It was because they couldn’t train staff properly to run the whole menu reliably, things would go “missing,” or staff simply couldn’t accomplish daily tasks consistently.

Interestingly, the opposite was true at establishments with small, focused menus. Staff were confident and knowledgeable, problems with food and service didn’t spiral out of control, and food moved out the door to some degree of consistency. The owners were freed up to run their business rather than micromanage everyone.

With all the issues currently hampering the food industry, the last thing you want right now is another level of frustration among your staff. Retention rates are at an all-time low. The struggle to fill job openings industry-wide are at all-time high, as are reported cases of staff walking out mid-service. A properly structured menu can keep your business on track and make the lives of your employees much more simplified.

Editing Your Menu

Focusing on cohesion between menu and concept doesn’t require offering all the dishes under the sun. Avoiding the “something for everyone” approach leads to improved guest experiences and employee confidence. Streamlining your menu simplifies inventory and sales tracking; differentiates high-profitability items from the rest; and makes identifying items that don’t sell easier.

Paring down your menu into a tight, focused version allows you to quickly retool it every few months. Just try tracking and editing a large four-page menu as frequently. It’s costly to reprint and you have better things to do with your time.

Keeping things tight also creates space to take advantage of seasonal offerings, local specialties, or customer favorites. You can also offer specials throughout the week that can drive traffic and give your talented cooks a chance to show off!

I would suggest looking over your sales data to identify your highest-selling dishes and the slow movers every one to two months. If you have a seasonal menu, this can be done at the midpoint of a seasonal change.

Think about what items are being purchased and only used in one dish. They can start to pile up in your stockroom and lead to dead stock. Consider the versatility of ingredients when planning a menu change—cross-utilize everything you can.

Fluctuating Costs

Another important point that can get forgotten is that the prices of food items fluctuate constantly. Maintaining a large menu, therefore, can become a nightmare cost scenario quickly. Limes, beef, avocados—even celery—are experiencing tremendous jumps in price. A small menu allows for damage control when prices jump, giving your room to make quick, lower-cost moves.

Of course, the alternative is to have your staff rattle off everything the kitchen is out of to your guests. Not cool.

The underlying theme here is to avoid tying up your finances in product that is sitting, turning to waste instead of profit, or not moving at all. Your mission is to have product moving out of the kitchen constantly and consistently.

It might seem like a wise decision to offer a large menu that’s all over the place. Maybe you’re making that choice for fear of alienating guests or reducing your traffic. However, the points made in this article should illustrate why a cohesive link between concept and menu is crucial, and how a smaller, more focused menu can deliver more for you than a large, out-of-touch menu.

Image: Karolina Grabowska from Pixabay

by David Klemt David Klemt No Comments

4 Tips for Recruiting and Retention

4 Tips for Recruiting and Retention

by David Klemt

Server walking through restaurant carrying tray

Operators seeking to survive and thrive despite the Great Resignation can give themselves an edge with these four concepts.

Attract New Talent

KRG Hospitality president Doug Radkey doesn’t find the struggle to fill restaurant, bar and hotel positions all that shocking.

Why? Because too many operators post generic, cookie-cutter job listings. Doing what everyone else is doing has never been advisable for those looking to stand out.

Instead, Doug suggests a more unique approach to job ads, an approach that helps operators stand above the competition.

Step one is avoiding banal listing language:

  • “Are you friendly, energetic, and highly motivated?”
  • “Are you an experienced and enthusiastic [insert position]?”
  • “The ideal candidate must work well in a fast-paced environment and be a team player.”
  • List of basic job tasks.

Instead, Doug suggests the following:

  • Hire for values rather than experience. Training addresses systems and standards, not personality and drive.
  • Operators should be transparent about their core values, company culture, and potential for growth.
  • Showcase the approach to inclusivity, diversity, acceptance, and flexibility. That is, if that’s authentic. If not, that’s a flashing, neon red flag that requires addressing.
  • Offer a living wage, benefits, potential for personal growth, and education.
  • Produce a video of team members sharing why they work at the company. This must be genuine and honest.

Demand creates competition. Innovation beats the competition.

Actually Onboard New Hires

So, an operator adjusts their approach to filling open positions. They recruit and hire promising employees.

Sadly, it’s common for new hires in hospitality and foodservice to leave in just a few months. Rather than accept this as the norm, operators have a tool at their disposal for improving employee retention: Onboarding.

Too many operators think the next step after hiring someone is providing a start date, showing them the front- and back-of-house, and hoping things will work out.

Well, hope isn’t a strategy.

The next step after hiring someone is onboarding and should include the following:

  • Complete all pertinent paperwork and setting up access to systems. If applicable, set up direct deposit.
  • Provide new hire with detailed employee handbook. If there isn’t one yet, that must be addressed.
  • Share the story of the business (history, area, etc.) and workplace culture.
  • Outline expectations: Policies, rules and responsibilities.
  • Explain benefits, such as health insurance and mentorship opportunities.
  • Provide training and assign shadowing.
  • Deliver feedback on trained tasks.

The above list obviously has room for more onboarding tasks. Operators should create a physical onboarding checklist. Also, they should require the person or people tasked with onboarding to complete and sign off the checklist (even if that person is the operator).

Nail recruiting, hiring and onboarding and word will get out. The result? Hiring gets easier and turnover decreases.

Focus on Workplace Culture

Doug addressed workplace culture and the labor shortage on Bar Hacks bonus episode number 16.

Simply put, operators need to take an honest look at their culture.

Is it inclusive and accepting? Transparent and nurturing? Do employees feel comfortable bringing up workplace issues? (More on that last one below.)

Hospitality is fast-paced and demanding—owners and managers shouldn’t add to the stress.

Why would anyone want to work in for someone who isn’t going to treat them and their coworkers with respect, mentor them and nurture their career, and value their input?

It’s every operator’s responsibility to be good stewards of hospitality professionals’ passion for this industry. We do them a disservice when we turn a blind eye to an unhealthy workplace culture that has taken hold, crushing their love of his business and driving them away.

Value Employee Feedback

Yes, guest feedback is valuable. However, so is feedback from employees.

It’s important for operators to remember not to focus solely on guests.

True, a business isn’t a business without customers. Equally true: It’s not a business without employees.

So, operators should foster a work environment in which employees feel comfortable sharing honest feedback. This is, of course, where culture comes into play.

If employees don’t feel safe sharing their opinions and suggestions, operators won’t truly know what it’s like to work for them. Without that feedback, employee turnover will skyrocket, recruiting and hiring will be an endless struggle, and the guest experience will suffer.

We all know what happens if guests pick up on an uncomfortable restaurant, bar or hotel environment: They don’t return.

Operators can’t expect their businesses to thrive (or just survive) if they focus solely on guests.

Putting these concepts to work can help operators succeed despite the Great Resignation of 2021.

Image: Shangyou Shi on Unsplash

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