« October 2007 Table of Contents
Trend Watch: Talent search
The foodservice industry strives to identify and retain quality employees
By Lauren Kramer
October 01, 2007
One of the biggest challenges the restaurant industry faces
as it enters its 10th year of continued growth with an average
of 250,000 jobs added each year is recruiting and retaining
According to the National Restaurant Association's 2007
forecast, 46 percent of quick-service operators and one-third
of full-service operators report seeing fewer applicants for
hourly positions and a decline in the number of qualified job
applicants than they did two years ago. That means it is taking
longer to fill job vacancies, a concern given the industry's
An estimated 12.8 million Americans will be employed in the
foodservice industry in 2007, up from 12.5 million in 2006. The
NRA projects that 2 million jobs will be added over the next
decade, with employment reaching 14.8 million in 2017.
So, where are all the job applicants? In part, the shrinking
labor pool can be attributed to changes in the teen labor
force. Half of the restaurant industry employees today are
under age 25, and 30 percent are between 15 and 19 years old.
But only 43.7 percent of 16- to 19-year-old Americans
participated in the workforce in 2006, about 10 percent lower
than a decade ago.
"That piece of the pie is predicted to grow 0.3 percent in
the next 10 years, literally no growth at all," says Teresa
Siriani, president of People Report, a Dallas business
analytics company focused on the restaurant industry.
"This group of people is opting out of the workforce because
of all the choices they have. They're facing extreme
competition to get into college, but their parents are also
allowing them to choose not to work. Sixty percent of
present-day boomers were working at that age, but today in the
same group we're in the 40 percent range. That's a huge issue
for hospitality because the 16-to-24 age group constitutes 50
percent of the workforce."
Chip Bone, VP of the Florida Restaurant & Lodging
Association Educational Foundation, suspects the problem may
lie in a negative perception of how people get treated in the
To counter this perception,
in 1997 the NRA launched
ProStart, a program for students in grades 11 and 12 that
explains the value of a foodservice career. Approximately
45,000 high school students in 45 states and territories are
involved with ProStart, which gives high school students some
restaurant-type training so they can graduate to assistant
restaurant managers and do a better job of managing employees
later in their careers.
"Restaurants are growing so fast, yet there is a low
perception of restaurant jobs, and restaurant training is not
where it needs to be," Bone says. "ProStart is about combating
that, providing motivation for young people who are considering
going into this field."
Florida's ProStart program is the largest in the United
States, with a $1 million budget and 18,000 students enrolled
in 192 high schools. The schools purchase a two-year curriculum
that covers everything from marketing to accounting, culinary
to dining-room management. ProStart partners with culinary
schools and restaurants to provide paid job experience
opportunities for those students, as well as training for their
"While we have no quantifiable numbers, we have heard
anecdotally that this program is improving restaurant
recruitment and retention in [Florida]," says Bone. "Our
restaurant members are telling us that these students are
coming to work for them, and that this program is really
affecting kids' lives."
At Legal Sea Foods, Executive Director of Recruiting and
Development Janet Sotheby says the 3,600-employee company is
trying to adapt hiring practices. "In the past we looked for
people with similar experiences to what we needed, but now
we're looking for more talent-based selection," she explains.
Legal hired Kenexa to conduct in-company research and identify
traits that were common among its successful employees.
"As of spring 2007, we look for those traits and talents in
our interview and selection process," she says. "For example,
one of our big focuses is on guest relationship. If you've got
that talent, we'll teach you the mechanics of waiting tables.
We're opening it up to all sorts of industries and age groups,
including older and mature people, not just college kids
looking for part-time work."
To attract and retain employees you have to create a company
culture that embraces its staff and provides quality incentives
for them, says Aaron Noveshen, founder of The Culinary Edge, a
restaurant industry consultancy in San Francisco.
"Look at In-&-Out Burger," he suggests. "The chain is
renowned for paying some of the highest wages in the industry,
and gets some of the highest ratings for happiness on the job,
treating employees with respect and creating a fun workplace.
Higher pay often does equate to a better experience for
Daily communication and recognition are other keys to a
happy workforce, according to Mary M. Adolf, president and COO
of the NRA's Educational Foundation.
"Bubba Gump Shrimp Co. promotes its open-door policy as a
way to ensure that staff is informed on what is going on around
the company, as well as how they are developing personally,"
she says. "Twice-daily shift meetings, weekly manager meetings,
bi-weekly trainer meetings and regular round-table meetings are
all of the ways
Bubba Gump keeps their employees
The NRA's Educational Foundation SPIRIT Awards program
recognizes foodservice operations with exceptional employee
programs in place.
"Emphasize the importance of your workforce to your bottom
line," she advises restaurants with recruitment and retention
challenges. "Acknowledge that without them, your company cannot
succeed. Make sure you are providing your employees with a
career and not simply a job by providing them with the tools
they need to succeed both professionally and personally."
Siriani agrees. "Churn and burn is a stigma of our industry
that we don't believe has to be a part of it. The issue is:
What are companies doing to reach the workforce and engage
their hearts, heads and minds? This is a great time for the
restaurant industry to talk about the beauty and flexibility of
working in the industry."
Contributing Editor Lauren Kramer lives in British