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Restaurant Labor Issues: The unintentional outcome of a maturing industry.

Restaurant operators play a pivotal role in shaping society. Do you remember your first job? When was it…College? Highschool? Earlier? Did you know that 1 in 3 Americans choose a restaurant as their first place to work? That’s 33% of the population! Moreover, half of all adults have worked in a restaurant at some point in their life. That’s right, 50%! And a massive 64% of the population goes to a restaurant at least once a week. Did you know that only 9% of Americans watch baseball, and only 1 out of 4 Americans prefer apple pie? Americans have more in common with working in a restaurant than they do with Baseball and Apple Pie!

"Do you remember your childhood? The feeling of innocent wonderment, hope, and ambition? Alive with passion. Naïve to the weight of responsibilities that come with adulthood? The first onset of those responsibilities is often our first job, and in-turn, our first step into becoming an adult. Restaurants provide first time job seekers with a plethora of learning opportunities. After all, the restaurant industry is the only industry that encompasses every single aspect of doing business under one roof. One of the only remaining industries where you can grow from a part-time employee to CEO. So why, with all of this to offer, is the restaurant industry experiencing a labor shortage? I’ll give you a hint, it’s not the pandemic. Restaurants have been suffering a labor shortage for over a decade!"

Growing up is hard. Working in a restaurant is hard. Running a restaurant is hard. Running a restaurant group, even harder. Competition, changing consumer expectations, and rising costs further add to the challenges in restaurant operations. Restauranteurs have matured dramatically over the recent years. Increasing the size of above store teams, adding new departments, and are focusing more than ever on making data driven decisions. In the pursuit of efficiency and striving for a competitive edge, is it possible we sucked some of the fun out of restaurant operations?

You may have seen this viral meme making it’s way around the internet. The first time I saw it, I laughed. But, shortly after began to realize this is actually a HUGE problem. Maybe not for McDonalds, they’re doing fine. But for society. What teenager is rushing to go work at the fast-food equivalent to an office cubical. Yuck! Poor depressed middle aged Micky D’s. Is this what society wants?

You know what society loves…Disney World! Did you know that 74% of the population has been to a Disney Park…Why? The answer is right in their slogan and echoed in all of their content. Disney is “The Place Where Dreams Come True.” It reminds us of the good in life and stimulates the imagination of our children, while waking up the child that still lives inside us all. Up until recently, Disney has had no issues with finding and retaining staff. But what was once considered to be a prestigious job appointment with overflowing applications is now, not in demand as it once was. It’s easy to blame it on the pandemic, but is their new staffing problem a cause of their own creation? #BoycottDisney is trending. A quick search will show a wide range of topics the population seems to be dissatisfied with. There are comments about the brands political stance, lines, prices, customer service, and general lack of “magical” feel. Maybe Disney unintentionally “woke” its guests and employee’s up from the dream they once provided. There are also quite a few comments about their new customer facing business systems being the cause to the poor overall experiences.

In a different vein, take a look at Chic-Fil-A. Founded in 1946, it’s only 23 years younger than Disney. Unlike Disney, Chic-Fil-A only recently became a household name. To say “their growth was astounding” would be an understatement! If incredibly high per unit revenue was what rocketed their expansion, unparalleled service was the rocket fuel. It’s hard to find an article anywhere that doesn’t mention how happy their employees and customers are. Have you ever seen their onboarding video titled “everyone has a story.” If you haven’t, take 2 minutes and watch it. Make sure you have some tissue nearby.

The video does an amazing job of setting a foundation for their culture of caring for co-workers and guests. But, Chic-Fil-A is now also experiencing a labor shortage issue. Back in 2012 Dan Carthy, CEO of Chic-Fil-A, made public his anti-gay-marriage views. While it did generate a stir at the time, the coverage of the topic didn’t last more than a year. However, the “brand’s” anti-gay-marriage rhetoric began resurfacing in 2019 and media outlets continue to call attention to it today.

Read any article, ask any expert, and they’ll tell you that the way to combat today’s labor issues is through Culture, Training, and Brand Awareness. Disney and Chic-Fil-A are undoubtably best of breed companies in those 3 categories. Yet, they are experiencing a labor shortage problem like everyone else in the industry. While conscientious culture, best of breed training, and strong brand marketing has its place in employee attraction and retention…The proposed “fixes” are simply a treatment for the symptoms of the disease, and far from a cure. I’m no scientist, but I believe these two brand examples clearly debunk culture, training, and brand awareness as a solve.

There is only one true fix to the long-lasting restaurant labor issue. Brands need to look themselves in the mirror and make a course correction. Starting with profiling their target employee then adjusting their image and internal processes to match. “Be what you want to attract.” Look at the employee lifecycle. Employees enter restaurant operations as a first, or one of their first, jobs. They come into the industry as a blank canvas. From that entry point, they either move on to another industry to follow their dreams and goals, or they fall in love with this industry and begin to move up in the ranks. In either scenario, they were attracted to the job because they love interacting with people. Whether they are communicating with team members, interacting with guests, or behind the scenes preparing food, what they’re doing is feeding their love of service and hospitality while also feeding others. Your brand needs to be aligned with your employee interest…First from the Outside, and Second from the Inside.

From the Outside:

A brand needs to be attractive to the masses and focused on the fun, interpersonal aspect of working in the industry. You know what’s not fun to most teens…politics! Regardless of personal beliefs, what side of a topic seems most right, etc etc etc…when a brand begins taking sides, they’re eliminating potential market share of both customers and employees. Some think…“but it must be said.” While that passion is great, politics is the industry for that fight. Give customers and employees in the restaurant industry a break from it all. A restaurant needs to be inclusive of everyone, even those of differing points of view.

From the Inside:

A brand needs to be fun from the inside. This is for both the employees and the customers because they are one and the same. Give the employees an environment that allows for fun to exist. They will in-turn translate that energy to their guests and their peers. The outcome, happy returning customers and increased job applications. But you know what’s not fun? Obscene amounts of kpi’s, processes, and technologies. Did you know that a single restaurant can use 27+ technology vendors to help manage operations? 27! Managers now spend half of their work week on admin tasks. 50% of their time in an office, alone, not team building and touching tables. It’s torture for an extravert. Not fun and not conducive to running a people first business.

ZagOps was founded to stimulate a course correction for the restaurant industry in its entirety. To provide a new way of thinking and new ways of executing. To simplify the complex. To allow the fun in restaurant operations to exist once again! Our mission: As the world around us Zigs, always provide a Zag. If you’d like to have a conversation to see how Interoperability can impact the entirety of your business, we look forward to speaking with you.



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