How to handle labor issues in restaurants

May 2, 2019

BRADLEY COOPER — FastCasual, May 2, 2019 |

Labor is an issue that restaurants have struggled with since “time immemorial,” Scott Absher, CEO and co-founder of Shiftpixy, said in a panel at the Restaurant Franchising & Innovation Summit in Louisville, Panelists including Stacked Pickle COO Scott Goodrich, Taziki’s Vice President of Operations Mike Smith and Cousins Subs President and CEO Christine Specht, who spoke about how restaurants can handle issues such as labor shortages, culture, managers and other topics at the session.

Labor shortage and culture

Absher said that after the market crash in 2008, the U.S. Department of Labor made a new category: underemployed. This group, rather than going to restaurants, picked up their phones and joined organizations like Uber. This created a large labor shortage in industries such as hospitality and restaurants. Absher asked the group how they handled this shortage.

All panelists said that culture was key to attract and retain employees. Specht said her restaurant constantly tries to push their culture.

“It has to be an inviting place to work. Uniforms can’t be awkward,” Specht said. “You need to cater to their needs.”

Coaching also needs to be a part of the company’s culture, according to Smith.

“Employees think if you aren’t coaching them, you think they don’t exist.”

Having a strong culture can also help you weed out potential applicants that won’t be a good fit or won’t stick around.

“It starts with culture,” Goodrich said. “You can find the right employee but if they are not connected to productivity and customer care, they’re just a not a good fit for the restaurant business.”

Smith also said you should point out the importance of the work of restaurants.

“Don’t minimize what we do. We aren’t just putting food on a plate,” Smith said. “Think back to your favorite meals. You are brightening up someone’s day.”

Develop a good path

The panelists also said that in order to create and retain a good workforce, you need to have a clear path put in place.

“It’s also going to be about opportunity. People are driven to opportunity,” Goodrich said.

In order to inspire employees, the panelists emphasized that restaurants need to hold up successful manager stories as examples of how an employee can rise through the ranks and reach further heights of success.

“If we can want to people on the development path, we need exalt people and put them on a pedestal, let our own people tell their own stories of success,” Smith said.


Managers bear the brunt of the workload for restaurants, as they have to handle long work hours and a large group of employees. It’s difficult to get a good manager, and replacing a lost one can be very costly.

The panelists said that in order to retain good managers, you need to make sure to honor them with more than just a simple, “thanks.”

Specht said her business gives special titles and recognition at events to managers who truly step up their game.

“When managers do step it up, we give it respect. They’re acknowledged, given props they deserve,” Specht said.

Smith pointed out that if you want the best managers, you must not crush their entrepreneurial spirit.

“Don’t fire one because they spent 7 extra cents on napkins. Find out why they did it,” Smith said. “Empowered employers let managers make entrepreneurial decisions.”

The panelists also said that restaurants need to make sure to instill their culture into managers through multiple methods.

Taziki’s uses monthly webinars to teach managers about the culture and various other issues. Cousin’s Subs uses a variety of leadership meetings to bring together managers and franchisees so they can discuss problems and get a better grasp on the culture.

It’s about family

Absher summarized the panelist’s perspectives by pointing to the need to build up your workforce like a family. If your restaurant acts like a family, you will have a stronger workforce with less turnover.

In order to build this sort of family environment, Smith said you need to, “Live culture, refer to it, reward it.”

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