People Matter

Thirty percent of Americans say their first job was in a restaurant, so Generation Z is a group to be recruiting.

Horrible hours. Physically demanding. Constant turnover. There’s no sugarcoating the realities of working in a restaurant.

Still, people remain passionate and loyal about working in this industry—at least according to the most extensive workforce study in decades that was released by the National Restaurant Association Educational Foundation (NRAEF) in September. The study reports nine out of 10 restaurant employees are proud to work in this industry, a whopping 75 percent believe the industry offers a strong career path and upward mobility, and seven of 10 restaurant employees say they would likely work in the industry until they retire.

That’s good news for restaurant owners and operators, who say time and again that the people working in their restaurants are the single greatest contributor to success.

Food is key. Location is key. But nothing is as important as people.

So, how can restaurants recruit the right people? One thought is to start young: According to the NRAEF study, nearly one in three Americans say their first work experience was in a restaurant. That trend likely isn’t going to decline, and since many people start their first job during high school, restaurant operators need to get to know the Gen Z crowd.

The jury is still out on the exact evolution of generation Z; some say Gen Z’ers were born as early as 1991, others place the onset of Gen Z births as late as 2001. Either date, the Z crowd is coming of workforce age and restaurant operators would do well to learn the Z culture. They talk with their thumbs, are always connected—hence the aptly earned nickname digital native—and multitasking is simply part of their DNA rather than an acquired skill.

Z’s could be a great hire—especially if you can channel their energies under the direction of a Millennial manager. Both generations fancy themselves independent thinkers, but in fact they are primarily information thinkers—meaning they use all that constant connectivity to tap into what everyone else is saying.

Savvy operators will leverage that proclivity to their advantage. For instance, reviews of working in restaurants are posted on websites like Reviews run the gamut from raves to rants and offer job-seeking candidates first-hand reports of every aspect of restaurant employment—from the ease of filing online applications, to interviews and training, to what employees with years of service have to say.

One last suggestion: Counter grumblings of low wages with a reality check. The NRAEF study found salaried chefs and cooks earned an average of $50,000; servers earned a median of $16.13 per hour when wages and tips were combined; and bartenders earned a median of $19.35 per hour.

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