Combating the COVID-19 Labor Shortage, from a Restaurant CEO

    Competitive wages are always a major component of employee happiness, but they are not the only factor.

    Gold Star Chili exterior.
    Gold Star Chili
    Finding ways to make your organization attractive to top talent is critical for your business to stay successful.

    Everyone knows at this point that COVID-19 has severely impacted essentially every industry. The restaurant industry was among the hardest hit. From government mandates of reduced capacity to outright closures due to illness concerns, restaurants have continued to adapt and survive throughout the pandemic.

    The economy continues to recover, which is a good thing. However, what’s not so great is the elephant in the room that many business owners need to prepare to resolve: The current nationwide labor shortage. Depending on whom you believe, there are numerous possible causes for this current situation: current unemployment benefits, wage issues, vaccine mandates (or lack thereof), job safety, lack of childcare options or any combination of these and more. Like most challenges employers have faced over the past year and a half, resolving the issue will be difficult but not impossible—and arguing about the causes isn’t going to fix the problem.

    Yes, competitive wages are always a major component of employee happiness, but they are not the only factor. With current unemployment benefits set to expire in September and the availability of vaccines, more people will actively be seeking work. So, instead of pressing the proverbial panic button, companies should do something easy: self-reflect on ways to attract and keep employees.

    The two restaurant brands operated by my organization, GSR Brands, exist in a highly competitive market. We’re constantly pursuing ways to innovate­—even in good times—including how to find the best employees and keep them within our organization. We’ve seen the best success by deploying a “next person up” training and development strategy. This strategy includes finding new ways of providing consistent training and continuously building a culture that everyone can be proud of. We believe these practices can serve any business, no matter the industry.

    Continually Develop Your Bench, so the Next Person up is Ready

    Call them what you want—I’ve always heard the term “dead end”—but rarely is anyone rushing out to work for a company where chances to advance are slim to none. The restaurant industry notoriously has this stigma attached to it. That’s why we’ve made it a point to combat it. How? Setting up a system where anyone can go from entry-level to executive and/or franchise owner can make this happen. If an employee shows initiative and is ready to learn, they know we’ll build them up and reward them for their efforts.

    Members of our executive team range from previous line cooks to managers. How did our marketing manager get her start with our organization? She was a server in college, smiling and serving meals to customers long before ads and social media strategy were on her plate (no pun intended). Was I given my role as president and CEO? Hardly—I started as a dishwasher at my father’s restaurant. I worked in every position in a restaurant before moving into corporate roles and learning the different facets of running a restaurant and a business.

    We don’t just tell our employees there are advancement opportunities. Instead, they see it for themselves as they cross-train, allowing them to step in whenever needed or where they want to go. Building a diverse and robust set of skills is the first step in moving up. When the opportunity is available, we know they’re ready to get that promotion to a shift lead, a manager, a regional manager and more.

    Some of our most successful franchise operators started out working a drive-thru or a steam table before managing and eventually owning the restaurant outright. Suppose people don’t see similar chances in your business. In that case, it’s time to reevaluate the opportunities they have available and make sure they can clearly see a path for growth and success with your organization.

    Train People to be Successful and a Willing Workforce Will Find You

    Utilizing technology to train your workforce has many benefits—consistency among multiple locations, streamlining training tasks for a corporate training team, ease of access and use, and more.

    The benefits that often get overlooked are the ease in which employees can cross-train for multiple roles and how this generation is used to learning and consuming information via video. Utilizing a tech training tool like PlayerLync can make a world of difference and open your employees up to new possibilities to advance by learning and mastering skills quickly.

    Success in business doesn’t come from being stagnant, so expecting quality candidates to come work for a job where their growth will be stagnated doesn’t make sense. As so many companies have learned over the pandemic, opportunity is key to attracting and retaining employees; training them to see those opportunities in your company is a great means to achieve this.

    Company Culture: Your Key to Finding and Retaining Your Labor Force

    Let’s face facts: Employers will feel the effects of this pandemic long after it finally subsides. Remote work and online business are likely here to stay in many industries, which may see 25 percent more workers than previously reported switch to a new industry altogether.

    However, one thing that will never fade away, is the connection between a strong culture and employee satisfaction. All the money in the world doesn’t matter when someone dislikes the company they work for. Employees need to know they can be heard, and they want to work for a company that has a positive impact on their community. A culture of fear creates resentment, distrust and instability; a supportive one fosters hope, happiness and innovation. Company culture and values positively impact employee satisfaction, so if building a solid culture isn’t at the top of your to-do list, it might be time to add it.

    No organization can afford a labor shortage. Finding ways to make your organization attractive to top talent is critical for your business to stay successful.

    Roger David is the CEO of GSR Brands. David started his career at Gold Star as a dishwasher and now leads the organization that boasts two iconic brands in its portfolio as President and CEO of GSR Brands, the parent organization and franchisor of two successful brands: Gold Star Chili and Tom & Chee. David oversees a team of dedicated professionals working to continue building the Gold Star brand that the first generation of his family began more than 50 years ago. Since being named president and CEO in 2015, David has expanded the business to include Tom & Chee, the famous grilled cheese melts and soup restaurant chain that rocketed to stardom thanks to a successful appearance on ABC’s Shark Tank, and the creation of GSR Brands. Under his leadership, Gold Star has completed strategic updates to all areas of its business in order to drive success and growth for the next 50 years and beyond. A $25 million investment translated into a new restaurant look, menu and guest experience for its 80+ locations throughout Ohio, Indiana and Kentucky. David believes restaurant brands are built table side and has advanced the company’s training and development efforts, as well as a deliberate investment into facility efficiencies in order to build environmentally-friendly restaurants, which pays off for franchise owners who are realizing improvements in labor costs, energy usage and employee productivity.