With 2011 marking the year that many Baby Boomers hit retirement, the foodservice industry is set to see droves of Boomers joining its ranks.

At this year’s annual NRA Show, which takes place in Chicago from May 21-24, QSR will host “The Silver-Haired Tsunami,” an education session on Boomers working in the foodservice industry.

Mike Amos, president of the Council for Hotel and Restaurant Trainers, is one of the “Silver-Haired Tsunami” panelists, and here he’s sharing a sneak peek of what’s to come in May.

Q: Can you tell us a bit about today’s workforce? I understand there are more generations working together now than ever before.

A: There are four distinct generations now working in the workplace for the first time in forever. There’re some definite dynamics to all four being in the workplace, and as an entry-level employer in the hospitality industry, we have opportunities to embrace all four. It’s an interesting mix when someone at 18 years old is bossing around their grandma.

Q: What challenges does that present?

A: The challenges are many. Again, [there’s] a teenager in certain settings as a supervisor of someone in their sixties, maybe even in their eighties, so the authority figure role is completely turned around. Some of the challenges for the Boomers and above are technology-related, whereas younger generations embrace it.

People text and tweet instead of converse in the younger generations, and in the older generations, there’s a whole different medium, whole different implications to technology. …So somewhere, that needs to be managed in our training processes. We have to change and adjust and change some of our practices or relate them to multiple generations.

If an 18-year-old is very proficient at point of sale, someone that’s in his or her sixties may have a lot of apprehension, may have a lot of issues with … ‘I can barely turn on my computer at home, how am I supposed to run this?’ And they can share and build one another up because the Boomer and beyond [are] generally good conversationalists, good story tellers, love being around people, don’t talk through their smartphone or a texting device. And in customer service relationship building—making raving fans—we need the interaction with the guests. Multiple generations can help each other out in those regards.

Q: What kind of advantages does that present?

A:  If Boomers and beyond come into the workforce, what we’ve found—particularly with our younger, entry-level employees—is that there’s a calming effect, there’s less cussing, to put it bluntly, which is wonderful, as many of our environments are fish bowls where we have an exhibition kitchen or we have a lobby that’s open to the public. It makes a difference. There’s a calming effect and the language is improved dramatically, and that’s one of the assets, one of the advantages that I don’t think anyone could have predicted.

The other [advantage] that I’ve noticed is there’s an improved dependability. There’s an improved reliability. I’m a Boomer—when I grew up … if you’re scheduled at 9 o’clock, you’d be there at 8:45. If it’s 9 o’clock, you’re 15 minutes late. Well, for some of our younger staff, 9 o’clock means I get in, I clock in, and I go put my work shoes on, I get dressed, I put my nametag on, I comb my hair, and 15 minutes later at 9:15 is when I hit the floor at my work station. So that dynamic helps out the employer, it seems, because the Boomers and beyond have been much more dependable, much more reliable, much more dedicated than the younger generations, which is a good thing.

Q: Each generation has different motivations in the workplace. How can operators keep Boomer employees motivated?

A:  Certainly, pay, benefits, disposable income, being around a team, being around people, for the Boomers is a terrific thing. For our guests, even, it’s a terrific motivation because Boomers know how to create regulars for us. People come in and ask for ‘Bill’s’ station because ‘Bill’s my favorite server, and Bill always asks about my kids and my grandkids, and I always ask about his, and I get a good meal and I have a nice experience, but I come to see Bill as much as I do the restaurant.’ There are great opportunities to create regulars with the Boomers and beyond. The familiarity is terrific, it’s been an amazing synergy. We’ve got some guests in our world that come back three times a day, six or seven days a week for their social experience and also their meal. But they come back for the high touch that they get from Boomer Bill.

Q:  Some boomers can’t work long, demanding shifts. Are there other roles these types of employees would be good for?

A: Certainly, we’re accommodating. Get a chair or a stool, and someone could sit at a cash stand or sit at a bakery or sit at a station and help direct others in a friendly way where they might not have to be up and moving or unloading boxes or carrying heavy trays or luggage up to a room. And they can still produce—still be interactive—and don’t have to be standing on their feet all day necessarily. A chair or a stool or some place near or behind the counter, that’s a wonderful accommodation, but they can still use their attitude and their abilities in a wonderful way to help us create raving fans, return guests, and yet not wear them out.

Q:  What advice do you have for brands thinking of recruiting these types of employees?

A:  Figure out a way to overcome the ‘FUDs’—what I effectually call fears, uncertainties, and doubts. [For] someone coming back in the workplace who has been retired, who’s been an at-home spouse and at-home giver … there are concerns. They have fears, they have uncertainties, they have doubts. ‘Will they like me? What will I have to wear? What will all these young whippersnappers think of me when I’m there?’ There are fears back to middle school, back to high school, that come back in a flood of feelings. These FUDs overcome them. We need to find more ways to overcome the FUDs in our industry, and we will get more vibrant Boomers coming into the workplace.  

"The Silver-Haired Tsunami" education session will take place on Sunday, May 22 from noon to 1:30 p.m. For details on how to register for the 2011 NRA Show, visit http://show.restaurant.org.

By Mary Avant

Business Advice, News, Outside Insights