The word "labor" has negative connotations that have no place in restaurants. People speak of child “labor,” sweatshop “labor” and “labor” abuses. We use "labor" to stress just how brutal and unappealing a job is. So I have to ask the question: why are we still using the word “labor” in the restaurant industry?
The word “labor” reinforces the mindset that restaurant workers are somehow expendable or machine-like. This attitude is insulting and self-defeating from a business standpoint.
It’s time that we practice “talent management” instead of “labor management.” As we drop the word “labor” and recalibrate the way we look at restaurant employees, we can start to apply the following management strategies that transform “laborers” into “talent assets.”
1. Hire for quality
Restaurants still have “labor” because they hire people as if they are disposable. With a turnover rate of 62 percent nationally, who can blame restaurant managers for assuming that workers won’t stick around?
The solution is to focus on hiring quality workers over quantity, and I would argue that the highest quality talent comes from referrals. As Jobvite found, referrals constitute 40 percent of hires, and they are hired 55 percent quicker than the other candidates. Moreover, 47 percent of referred hires will be around in three years, while just 14 percent of job board hires will stay that long.
2. ‘Millennialize’ training
Teach hires to be talent, not “labor.” To do this, adapt your training process to meet the style of Millennials, who will soon be the bulk of your workforce if they aren’t already.
The human attention span is now at sub-goldfish levels, thanks in large part to mobile technology. Therefore, you need to deliver training in the predominant style: small bites that can be read or viewed on a mobile screen. Don’t count on classroom hours to impart any lasting knowledge to Millennials.
3. Give employees choice
“Labor” implies that the boss can do anything and not worry about losing staff. “Talent” implies a more balanced relationship that enables choice and flexibility on both sides.
The most important choice you can provide is when to work. Employees who can swap shifts and design a personalized schedule are going to feel more empowered and care about their work in a way that’s not possible when it feels mandated. Employees with choice will simply be happier and stick around longer.
4. Provide incentives for making profitable choices
Restaurant employees can increase revenue when they are given the knowledge and incentives to do so. For example, employees should be educated on what menu offerings are most and least profitable. You could then offer up bonuses to servers who sell the most profitable items. Similarly, if you’re running a promotion on a menu item, you could also reward employees for selling more than a certain number.
The point is that a restaurant’s business strategy has to be shared with all employees if they’re going to think like talent instead of labor. Quality employees want your business to succeed and grow. Help them help you.
5. Document processes that matter
The devil is in the details, but the details are all in the air until you define them. As an owner or manager, you certainly have a vision of how the restaurant should operate. But until you write down and share that vision with employees (preferably via mobile tech, where they’ll actually read it), they can’t execute your version of success.
Documentation is crucial because too many tasks are open to interpretation. “Clear the sandwich-making station” is a really ambiguous direction. What exactly needs to be cleared? How often and when? If you believe a methodical way of clearing a sandwich station is important to your business, you have to codify the process.
“Labor” has no place in restaurants that aim to retain high-quality talent, provide a superior customer experience and develop employees into strategic assets. In the 20th century, restaurants viewed labor as a cost to be minimized. In the 21st century, my hope is that restaurants will see employees as drivers of revenue and growth.
The first step in this transition is to stop calling employees “labor.” If we abandon that word and its connotations, mindsets and management strategies will follow. Your restaurant can become a beacon for people who wish to build a true career in the industry.
Anthony Lye is c.e.o. of HotSchedules.