Special Report | May 2011 | By Mary Avant

Making the Most of NRA 2011

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Baby Boomers Coming in Waves

QSR’s breakout panel, ‘The Silver-Haired Tsunami,’ addresses the way Baby Boomers are shaking up the foodservice industry. Are you ready?

Now that they’re hitting retirement age, more Baby Boomers than ever are looking to re-enter the workforce, and the foodservice industry could be their destination of choice.

Three industry experts—Mike Amos, president of the Council for Hotel and Restaurant Trainers (CHART); Barry Flink, executive vice president of Flex HR; and Brent Alvord, president of quick-serve chain Lenny’s Subs —are joining together for QSR’s breakout panel, “The Silver-Haired Tsunami,” to explore the challenges and advantages that Boomers will bring to foodservice and how brands should approach working with this age group. The session will be held on Sunday, May 22, at 1:30 p.m.

Baby Boomers are altering the landscape of the foodservice world, fashioning a workforce that runs from 16-year-olds working their first part-time jobs to 80-year-olds looking for a way to fill their extra time. This combination of generations can lead to an “interesting mix when someone at 18 years old is bossing around their grandma,” Amos says, adding that “the authority figure role is completely turned around” in these situations.

Flink says that the generational mix leads to employees of various age groups looking for different experiences within a quick-serve team. “You have to design a work environment that, if it’s to be effective, will [first] allow everybody to go after what they want and secondly, to get along even though their priorities and values might be a little different,” he says.

Alvord says that brands must “approach each person as an individual and make sure that [they’re] appealing to things that are interesting to them.”


From left: Blair Chancey, editor of QSR; Barry Flink, executive vice president of Flex HR; Brent Alvord, president of Lenny’s Subs; and Mike Amos, president of CHART.

Challenges aside, working with employees who are in different stages of their lives “brings a more colorful atmosphere and a broader range of personalities” that allow restaurants to form livelier connections with their consumers, Alvord says.

“When you have people with different sets of values, it gives you a diversity of thinking. And from a diversity of thinking comes new ideas and better ideas,” Flink says. “If we all thought the same way, we’d come up with the same ideas.”

So how should brands approach Boomers? Figuring out their motivations for joining the foodservice industry is the first step, Alvord says. Whether it’s for the money or to keep themselves active both mentally and physically, restaurants must make Boomers “feel like they’re adding value and doing something meaningful.”

Amos says brands must also determine how to help Boomers overcome what he calls the ‘FUDs’—fears, uncertainties, and doubts—that they may feel upon re-entering the workforce.

“There are fears back to middle school, back to high school, that come back” when it comes to diving into a new experience like joining a quick-serve staff, Amos says.

The most important thing for Flink is that brands not put too much emphasis on age when it comes to recruiting and working with Boomers, as well as other generations.

“Don’t even think of them as Boomers. Don’t think of them as Gen. Xs. Don’t think about the seniors,” he says. “Think of them all as individual contributors and celebrate what each of them brings to the workplace, and don’t worry about how old they are.

“Minimize the differences, and maximize the things we have in common,” Flink says, “because then we’ll all focus on the things we have in common.”

Next: 2011 Kitchen Innovations Awards