by David Klemt David Klemt No Comments

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.


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.

Image: Fernando Venzano on Unsplash

by David Klemt David Klemt No Comments

Extend Your Reach with a Loyalty Program

Extend Your Reach with a Loyalty Program

by David Klemt

McDonald's French fries close up in package

It’s increasingly important to stay top of mind with your guests. Now more than ever, that means finding yourself on their screens.

For likely the one-billionth time, allow me to point out something we should all know by now: We’re all on our phones and tablets all the time.

From texts and emails to app notifications and social scrolling, there’s always a reason to check screens.

So, how can operators invade people’s devices? By collecting guest data via a loyalty program.

Fluctuating Support

Not so long ago, industry experts bristled against the mention of rewards and discounts.

Guests, the thought was, had zero interest in signing up for loyalty programs. People would soon frantically seek out “unsubscribe” links after receiving one too many marketing emails.

However, people are quickly thawing, warming to the idea of loyalty programs. Once thought of as too invasive, now marketing experts believe “too intrusive” doesn’t exist.

After all, businesses need to ensure they’re highly visible. Operators must meet guests where they are. Where are they? Their devices.

Rewarding Loyalty

Your staff aren’t the only people engaging with the incentive economy.

Today, it appears that a guest liking your brand isn’t good enough to ensure their loyalty. They want rewards beyond experience, consistency, and delicious food and beverage.

With so many brands competing for your guests’ dollars, you have to stand out to keep them coming back.

Now, there are still industry experts and operators who will tell you to avoid discounting at all costs. Offering a discount, they argue, starts you down the road of devaluing your brand.

Well, the great news is that when creating your own loyalty program, you can offer whatever you see fit. If you fall into the Never Discount camp, none of your rewards have to be discounts.

Free is Better than a Discount

So, let’s remain in the Never Discount realm. What else will encourage guests to sign up for your loyalty program—and actually engage with it?

We can use the loyalty program launched in July by a global fast-food juggernaut as a great example.

Over the summer, McDonald’s launched MyMcDonald’s Rewards. How successful was the launch? More than 12 million people opted into the program.

In exchange for signing up, agreeing to receive alerts, and handing over their data, guests received a free medium French fry.

McDonald’s selected 66 loyalty program members to receive one million MyMcDonald’s Rewards points. One lucky member also received free French fries for life.

Create Your Program

“But David,” I hear some of you arguing, “isn’t free even worse than a discount?”

The short answer is no. A discount can devalue a brand because guests get used to paying less for select items or entire visits. Over time, they perceive the lower price as the standard price. Soon, they’ll wonder when the next discount is coming. You’ll have to either further discount your food and beverage or work harder to re-engage your guests some other way.

If a rewards program is structured correctly, members will have paid for any free item they earn several times over. Most commonly, guests receive points in exchange for dollars spent. They can then exchange those points for a free menu item. This doesn’t devalue the brand, it incentivizes program members to become loyal, repeat guests.

Operators not quite ready to build their own apps can utilize text messages and emails. Of course, the former is the most intrusive (in a good way). Texts can inform members of promotions and encourage them to visit or place an order online. Emails can let members know their current balance and what incentive their close to earning.

Additionally, be generous. Don’t exclude your guests’ favorite items from the program. Why would a loyalty program member remain loyal if they can’t exchange their points for “the good stuff”?

Structure your program correctly and you’ll increase visits per guest and spends per visit. Couple your guest data collection with a platform like SevenRooms and you’ll truly supercharge your revenue.

Image: Brett Jordan on Unsplash

by David Klemt David Klemt No Comments

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

Can You Fire Staff for Refusing Vaccine?

Can You Fire Staff for Refusing Vaccine?

by David Klemt

Covid-19 vaccine vials

Can an employer terminate a staff member’s employment for refusing the Covid-19 vaccine? Current court cases seek an answer to that question.

Conversely, there are bills up for consideration in some states that aim to ban vaccine mandates.

Therefore, the current answer to the question of whether employer vaccine mandates are legal isn’t clear, yet.

It’s also important to note that this question is up for legal examination in Canada and America.

Are Employers Really Mandating Vaccines?

Of course. Well, some are. And it’s bound to continue until the question has been tested in court.

Looking at Canada, Ontario’s Ministry of Labour says employers can, in fact, make vaccines mandatory. They can also (for now, at least) demand proof of vaccination from their employees. Failing to answer the question or lying about can result in an employee losing their job.

However, the ministry acknowledges that legal and ethical issues come hand in hand with blanket vaccination mandates.

In America, the issue is no less thorny, to put it mildly.

Per a survey by Arizona State University and the Rockefeller Foundation, almost 90 percent of employers in the USA (and UK) have plans to “encourage or require vaccination for employees.”

Encouraging, of course, stands in stark contrast to requiring in a legal, ethical and moral sense.

That same survey suggests that most US employers—two-thirds—plan to use vaccination incentives rather than mandates. However, 44 percent say they’ll implement mandates if incentives don’t work. Just one-third of survey respondents say they don’t intend to require vaccinations as a term of employment.

Legal Challenges

Vaccine requirements and credentials (“vaccine passports”) have been banned in Arizona, Florida, Idaho, Montana, Texas and South Dakota.

Bills have been introduced in at least half of American states that seek to “limit mandatory COVID-19 vaccines,” per the National Conference of State Legislatures.

Lawsuits have been filed by workers in various industries in several states, including New Mexico and California.

It’s likely just a matter of time until the Supreme Court of the United States is at least asked to settle the matter of vaccine mandates.

Currently, attorneys and agencies say that employers need to inform employees of the consequences for refusing Covid-19 vaccination, including loss of employment; put a vaccination policy in place and communicate it with all employees; and include religious and medical exemptions.

That said, this matter is a long way from settled.

Could vs. Should

One thing is clear: It’s not clear yet whether employers can terminate employees for refusing vaccination. We can expect a flurry of lawsuits either way.

However, it’s important that operators realize this isn’t solely a legal question. This is in no small part a leadership question, and it’s a tough one.

As the saying goes, just because you can, doesn’t mean you should.

Operators must consider the ramifications of vaccine mandates. Moving forward, some guests may only support businesses that require vaccination for staff. Conversely, some guests may find such a requirement discriminatory and offensive, and they may boycott businesses with vaccine mandates.

It’s a difficult position for operators and staff. Our industry puts employees and the public in direct, close contact with each other. Team members are likewise in very close quarters. Close interactions for prolonged periods can spread any number of viruses, not just Covid-19.

The instinct to protect staff, their family and friends, and the public is common among operators. The past twelve-plus months have strengthened that resolve.

Incentivizing Instead

Requiring vaccination may exacerbate the current labor shortage.

Yes, there are some employees and potential new hires who will feel more comfortable knowing their coworkers have been vaccinated. However, there are also people who will refuse to work for an employer who requires vaccination. A mandate could damage recruiting severely as word gets around.

It’s reasonable to suggest that operators are best off implementing a vaccination incentive program rather than a mandate. Most people would likely agree that encouragement rather than requirement, at least regarding this topic, shows greater emotional intelligence, a cornerstone of leadership.

The CEO of the Cosmopolitan of Las Vegas reportedly hit their minimum goal of an 80-percent vaccination rate among staff last week. The resort’s incentive program offered bonus payments (among other incentives) for vaccinated employees set up in tiers:

  • 60 Percent Vaccination Rate: $50
  • 70 Percent Vaccination Rate: $100
  • 80 Percent Vaccination Rate: $250
  • 90 Percent Vaccination Rate: $350
  • 100 Percent Vaccination Rate: $500

That program helped the company hit their goal in just a few weeks. Operators can certainly use the Cosmo as a model for encouraging vaccinations instead of requiring them. Ultimately, the choice is up to the individual operator. It isn’t an easy one.


This content is for informational purposes only, and should not be used as legal or other advice. This article does not constitute legal advice, nor does any information constitute a comprehensive or complete statement of the matters discussed or the law. This information is of a general nature and does not address the circumstances of a specific individual or entity. The reader of this information alone assumes the sole responsibility of evaluating the merits and risks associated with the use of any information before making any decisions based on such information.

Image: Braňo on Unsplash

by David Klemt David Klemt No Comments

The Reality of Hiring Right Now

The Reality of Hiring Right Now

by David Klemt

Help Wanted sign taped in window

Operators can add recruitment, hiring and retention among to the growing list of challenges they’re facing due to the pandemic.

Labor struggles aren’t exactly a shock to the hospitality industry.

However, the speed with which the many stark predictions of labor shortages and challenges across North America has caught some by surprise.

Outlook: Brutal

Fast-casual to fine dining. Independent to chain. Regional hospitality group to multi-national powerhouse.

No operator, no concept, no market appears immune to today’s recruitment, hiring or retention challenges.

It’s not the only reason but the federal boost to unemployment is exacerbating the situation. Restaurant operators across America have been reporting that their workers are making more on unemployment than they would make returning to their jobs.

It’s likely the hiring situation won’t improve until the end of August or start of September; the federal boost to unemployment is set to expire on September 6.

Of course, that points to another glaring industry issue: livable wages and benefits.

The pandemic didn’t cause the labor shortage and hiring problem on its own, but it certainly hasn’t helped anything. Some operators throughout North America say they’ve been hunting for workers for all positions for months.

Incentives & Bonuses

Operators are fighting for workers. To many reading this, that’s not a surprise. However, many operators report fighting to even get candidates to show up for interviews.

Famously, one McDonald’s franchisee in Tampa, Florida, is using a $50 incentive for interviews. If a candidate manages to follow through and show up for their interview, they walk away with $50.

During a recent conversation with Chef Brian Duffy (which we’ll be releasing as episode 33 of the Bar Hacks podcast), interview incentives came up. While it’s no $50 bonus just for showing, Chef Duffy has offered candidates free lunch for appearing for their interviews. And yes, he still struggles.

Interestingly, appearance incentives don’t appear to be working. What does appear to be working? Increasing starting wages, referral programs, apply-via-text functionality, and all manner of signing and performance-based bonuses.

The bonuses run the gamut. Show up for all your shifts for three or four months and earn a $500 bonus. Paying down student loans. Fronting the bill for culinary school. One restaurant in Alabama is offering an SUV to their top-performing worker later this year.

In addition to bonuses, wages are seeing a boost. Jobs that would normally start at $12 to $15 per hour are now offering starting wages of $16 to $18 dollars per hour.

No matter how one slices it, the situation leads to cost hikes across the board for operators. When costs increase for operators, prices increase for consumers. Margins shrink, the old cycle continues, the industry struggles.

Reality Check

Now, it’s simple to blame the pandemic for the current situation. To say it’s not a major factor would be incredibly disingenuous.

That said, the struggle to find and keep workers is also a culmination of decades-long, industry-wide problems.

Lack of diversity, inclusion, equality, living wages, opportunities, and transparency; failure to address social issues; inexcusable, threatening, and outright illegal behavior… All of this and much more contributes to the industry’s hiring and retention challenges.

That’s a criminally shallow summary of the situation—I’m well aware. Doug Radkey, president of KRG Hospitality, addresses the need to review and reset the industry in his book Hacking the New Normal. He takes a deep dive into rejecting the status quo in this industry.

My point is that operators can’t blame their woes solely on the pandemic, absolving themselves of responsibility.

Operators must take a hard look at themselves and their operations, and ask difficult questions. Doing so can be uncomfortable. But neither positive change nor growth come from resting in the comfort zone.

Image: Tim Mossholder on Unsplash