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    Laboring Over Labor: A Survival Must for Restaurants

  • Finding quality employees, and keeping them, is one of the biggest challenges facing any restaurant operator.

    If you’re opening a new location, get the “hiring” signs up as soon as possible.

    Recently we had to delay the opening of a Little Greek Fresh Grill location because we did not have the minimum staffing required to operate efficiently. Labor issues will continue to be an obstacle for all of us to tackle in this industry. This is one of the things that keep me awake at night. First, finding solid, talented employee pool, then the ongoing battle for retention of a solid good team. But not all is gloom and doom. If you feel the same way, I can emphasize with your quandary. Here are my thoughts on the current staffing climate, with its challenges, and hopefully some solutions.


    We are using Internet job placement sites, but, sadly, 80 percent of the candidates do not even show up for the interview. Locations in wealthy suburbs we’ve found are difficult to staff with full-time employees. Our experience with high school hires is that about only 10 percent work out for employment. Securing and retaining team members will unfortunately always be a concern. How do we combat heavy employee turnover?


    Never underestimate the power of “word of mouth.” It sounds very simplistic, but it is a great tool for new hires.

    The only thing constant in hiring is to persistently recruit with vigor, and get the word out in your location area, any way you can. We’ve found success with grassroots tactics such as handing out business cards when you interact with potential employees. Never underestimate the power of networking with your existing successful employees. Get referrals from them.

    If you’re staffing in an affluent neighborhood, bite the bullet and recruit outside the immediate area. Nearby universities and colleges are a great resource.

    If you come across a potentially good candidate, don’t hesitate for a minute. Hire them on the spot. If you don’t you most likely will lose them.

    Never underestimate the fact you are being interviewed, too. Sell the prospective team member on the job. Give them a tour. Emphasize the benefits of working for your organization. Introduce them to other employees. And most importantly, make them feel they are wanted and valued. Offer them a beverage and make them feel welcome and at home.

    If you’re opening a new location, get the “hiring” signs up as soon as possible. Be ready to commit to the hiring process, make it a top priority.

    Look up potential new hires on social media and utilize it to spread the word for your hiring process. We’ve found Facebook to be especially helpful. Twitter and Instagram are also helpful social media resources. Sites such as Shiftgig, Career Builder and Monster are good online hiring resources.

    Once you’ve secured that solid hire, take good care of them once they are on board. Keep them engaged and make them feel valued in your organization. Offer existing employees some kind of bonus or incentive if their referral results in a good hire.

    Your success rests on the shoulders of the employees who make or break a customer experience. Employee job satisfaction directly correlates to a positive guest experience, which positively boosts your bottom line.

    All of us lose staff to competitors. What’s the solution? We must be always working on keeping the great achievers on the team. Through the hard knocks, we’ve learned to “train the trainer.” Invest knowledge and empower your team. Never underestimate this. It’s another reason why they stay.

    When you spot a great employee candidate, grab them even if you don’t have an immediate opening. If they fit your mold of your organization, don’t lose them.

    Sometimes it’s worth taking a risk to garner the right employee. If they have a solid work ethic and enthusiasm for the job, the restaurant details can be taught.

    In fact, this gives you the opportunity to train the employee from the ground up in your mold.

    Don’t underestimate the power of your loyal customers. They may have a neighbor or friend that is looking for a job in your industry. If the referral results in a new hire, reward the customer with a gift certificate to show our gratitude.

    If your organization can, encourage and emphasize promotion from within. This creates an environment for employee retention and showing employees they are valued and have a growth future.

    What Have We Learned?

    To steal a famous line from the iconic “The Wizard of Oz” movie: “what did you learn Dorothy,” take the time, energy and effort to hire the best, top talent you can. While it can be time consuming, consider the dividends you will gain in the end. This can also create strong team loyalty, which of course is our ultimate goal. All of these tactics will help increase your customer traffic and bottom line. If you ‘labor’ over labor, your payback should help you succeed in a solid staff. Don’t get discouraged; take the “lemons into lemonade” approach. Stick to it.

    Nick Vojnovic is president of Tampa-based Little Greek Fresh Grill, a fast-casual Greek-themed multi-unit with an American influence.