It’s a time-worn story in foodservice with too many job openings and not enough workers to fill them. And since the spring of 2020, the pandemic has exacerbated the already massive labour shortage for restaurants. As more and more restaurants are returning to normal operations and capacities, many are struggling to find workers. The reasons are myriad: worries about Covid exposure and unvaccinated customers. Many employees have gone back to their hometown and have started small f&b businesses while others have left the restaurant industry for jobs that have boomed during the pandemic, like retail fulfillment.
It’s tempting to conclude that the only answer is to offer more wages, but that might seem impossible for many operators coming out of 18 months of low revenues. So what else can you do? Regardless of the reasons for the employment crunch, restaurants can still attract and retain employees during this critical time using one key strategy: adopting an employee-first culture.
Show some empathy
Kunal Motwani Owner of Nori Delhi feels that employee-first culture is very important as there are multiple restaurant/startups opening every day, thus there is a need to make sure the staff is satisfied and stays loyal. “Maintaining a good employee retention rate is equally good for brand management,” he commented informing further that at Nori, the employee retention rate is between 80 to 90 percent.
Year over year, studies reveal that empathy plays a role in helping employees decide where to work. During times of upheaval, an empathetic workplace is critical to retaining talent, and it’s becoming an increasingly important factor for younger workers. Especially, considering the current situation, understanding the Covid trauma of the employees should be of utmost importance.
At Ardor 2.1 in New Delhi, the owner Suveett Kalra claims that their employees’ retention rate is 100 percent, working with them for more than a decade now. He dedicates this success rate to the culture of mutual love and respect, between all employees and owners. “Be it their medical fitness and taking them to camps for Covid vaccinations, we try our best to keep them healthy and fit. We treat them as family,” added Kalra.
As much as ages play a huge role for employees, especially after potentially being unemployed for a long period of time because of the pandemic, there are certainly other factors too. According to Aman Talreja, Owner at Murphies, Pune, the training and assistance offered to employees when joining, job security, guarantee that their job will be retained even if the pandemic churns out another wave plays a huge role.
Correct training with a farsighted vision may attract employees who want to gain experience and is interested in a particular job role. “Proper training and orientation help them get in sync with the culture and rules while making sure new joiners are treated well and not bullied by senior staff members,” Sandeepraj Salian, Co-Owner of Farmaaish Lounge and Bar further said.
Staff is easily available at all times, what an organization need is dedicated and efficient people. “People or staff who have those traits, don't always fall for lucrative packages, it's a good working atmosphere and growth that they always looking for. I always felt that staff has always opted for an organization with an excellent reputation to take care of their employees,” Eshita Deoskar, Co-owner at Kynd Cafe and Bar in Pune stated.
Berkeley research found that hourly workers with highly unpredictable schedules report higher stress. At the same time, retooling scheduling tactics, like eliminating ‘clopening’ shifts (two shifts with fewer than 11 hours between) and increasing advanced notice of shifts is associated with improved employee wellbeing.
Commenting on flexibility, Salian said, “One of the key ingredients for a happy employee is work/life balance. We as owners have to assure our employees about their weekly off and paid leaves. This helps them relieve work stress and tiredness from the week.”
Emphasizing flexible scheduling in a job posting can also be very attractive to potential employees. In a recent MyWorkChoice survey, half of the hourly workers reported that job flexibility was important or very important to them.
Salian further added that the biggest motivation for their employees is a busy restaurant. Over the years he has noticed that when a restaurant isn't attracting customers, the employees get lazy and demotivated. Because of the pandemic, the restaurant had to keep many of its employees on standby; however, they were called in to help in other departments so that they are engaged in some work at the restaurant.
Is India ready for employee-first culture?
International markets have had started the trend of employee-first culture, which involves, a fair environment, the right to speak up, healthy work culture, etc. In these tough times, much hasn't changed in India and universally. “It's just that now it's owners driven market, most affected business have shut. Only the most effective people or staff have been retained and it's time that those staffs have to work harder with restaurant owners to come back to stability,” Deoskar said.
Employee-first culture would help brands to not only get more employees and keep them but also to save themselves from losses of time, money and effort of re-training new employees. In a restaurant, it is important for the employees to feel loyal towards their employer and the restaurant. “And to make this happen owners make sure to hear their employees out to know their viewpoints, opinions, ideas and understand what we need to change to bring employee and customer satisfaction,” Salian commented.
Having said that, becoming an employee-first restaurant is not an overnight change, it’s a cultural shift that needs to be adapted, accepted and followed. The success of any restaurant isn’t determined by its structure top-down but by its values integrated inside-out.
After all, in a tight labour market made even tighter by the pandemic’s challenges, any restaurant would want current employees to enjoy the peace of mind and reassurance one can provide. And sometimes, reassurance is much more than a pay cheque.