Operators Need to Stand Out From the Crowd to Attract and Retain Talent


According to Restaurants Canada, labour issues remain the top challenge for foodservice operators, with 59 per cent of those surveyed reporting the shortage of good talent is keeping them up at night.

Ryan Smolkin, founder & CEO, Smoke’s Poutinerie Inc., says staff turnover, along with the higher minimum wage, “has been a big hit to our entire industry. Our labour costs increased by 30 per cent and we also find ourselves competing with more players [for staff].”

Restaurants Canada’s Restaurant Outlook Survey Q3 2019 states “turnover is also a constant problem for restaurants, especially with a low unemployment rate. While some roles have a low annual turnover rate, it can be as high as 300 per cent for some positions. There are also the hidden costs around finding and replacing employees that must be considered.”

“That puts pressure on management — especially in quick-service operations — to be more operationally involved in the business than I’ve ever seen in my 30 years [as a recruiter],” says Michael Sherwood, VP Recruitment Lead (Consumer Goods/Foodservice) at Toronto-based Anything Is Possible (AIP).

Smolkin agrees, saying managers need to be even more self-aware in today’s climate, ensuring employees feel nurtured and valued. “We should be doing that anyway,” he clarifies, “but it’s even more evident now because there’s zero loyalty [among staff] these days as [employees] are always looking for the next, better job.”

And, while smaller operators are hit even harder by the labour challenge than larger chains with the budgets to invest heavily in hiring and human resources, Smolkin says the entire foodservice industry is facing the same challenge — with competition coming from within the industry, as well as from outside competitors, including retail chains and
grocery stores.

“[Restaurant operators] realize everybody’s up against the same [labour] challenge,” he says, noting hiring practises need to change to address the problem.

Sherwood agrees. “The days of posting a job on a whiteboard and expecting to find that individual — especially in the restaurant space — is impossible.”

While better benefits, work/life balance and increased employee engagement are all key to keeping staff, finding them to begin with is another matter entirely. For some outside-the-box thinkers, the shortage of home-grown talent has offered up the opportunity to look farther afield for qualified labour pools.

Starbucks, which has a long-standing history of working with social agencies and government bodies to create hiring programs, developed the Opportunity For All Youth coalition. In Canada, the company announced in November of last year it would hold a first-of-its-kind refugee hiring event. “Starbucks is the leading employer of refugees and made a commitment to hire 1,000 refugees by 2020,” says Luisa Girotto, VP Public Affairs for Starbucks Canada. “We’re currently ahead of our five-year goal, having hired about 500 refugees in less than three years.”

Closer to home, word of mouth and using your existing team as recruiters can also be a good way to attract new staff, says Sherwood. “If your organization is successful, vibrant and doing all the right things, then it goes without saying you’re going to have referrals [from existing staff]. They become your brand ambassadors.”

Post-hiring, Smolkin says it all comes down to training — and doing it in a way that appeals to your staff. Gone are the days of training manuals and written tests. Today’s foodservice workforce is younger, more tech savvy and has been raised on digital.

At Smoke’s, management is seizing the opportunity speak to their employees in new ways by introducing online training modules. “It’s not standing up with a PowerPoint slide — it’s all interactive. They’re on the [iPad], passing modules and tests. We can grade them and give them [online] badges for doing well,” explains Smolkin.

Kevin Hulbert, recruitment specialist at AIP, agrees recognizing the current generation of people entering the workforce is drastically different in terms of how they communicate with one another is key to keeping your staff engaged. He says operators need to find ways to incorporate technology into the workplace to engage staff.

“It sounds trite, but their cell phones are their world,” he says. “There’s vastly different approaches to how people communicate and the way they connect with one another.”

Smoke’s has also incorporated Winnipeg-based 7shifts into its operations to manage its labour across its franchise network.

With the 7shifts app, staff can communicate with each other directly to swap shifts or managers can leave notes about tasks needing to be completed. Smolkin says it goes beyond just a scheduling and labour-management system.

“It also has the engagement and communication that demographic loves. They love to voice their opinion, they love messaging back and forth. But the underlying part of it is their manager/franchisee will be using it as an instructional tool as well.”

Beyond engagement, Smolkin says it’s important for operators to understand employee goals and help them achieve them.

“What [do your employees] want to get out of [the job]? What was their goal on day one — do they want to be a supervisor or a manager? Do they want to own their own franchise someday? Our employee demographic wants to see that you genuinely care about them and want to see them advance. You’re not going to be naive and think they’re going to be there for five years — it’s a stepping stone to put themselves through school a lot of times. You need to show them you want to help them get there and there’s no hard feelings when they’re ready to go.”

Hulbert agrees clear opportunities for growth or “even something as simple as a title change — some sort of responsibility shift — can be motivating for some people.” He also notes the importance of “not just leaving staff in a position forever so they feel they have to go somewhere else to advance.”

He says chains such as Joey and Earls have really embraced this philosophy, offering training, advancement opportunities and even the chance to relocate to new parts of the country to work in their different restaurants.

“They’re moving their people around, they look after them as well,” says Hulbert. “They’re impacting the industry — that’s the bar they’ve set [for the rest of the foodservice industry].”

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