A waitress holding food at Pluckers.

Pluckers hires employees for specific roles, but it often asks workers to take on different jobs as needed. 

Pluckers Defies Economic Downturn with Record Hiring Push

The wing chain is looking for general managers who can earn minimally $125,000. Assistant managers make up to $100,000. 

With a recession looming and news of layoffs in multiple industries, Pluckers Wing Bar is doubling down. The Texas-based chain is conducting its largest hiring push in company history, hoping to bring on more than 100 managers in the next 12 months. 

Dave Paul, co-founder and owner, says Pluckers is growing quickly in Austin and Dallas especially, but labor remains "very, very tight." Management in particular has been problematic. But as other business segments cut employees, Paul is seeing workers show interest in returning to restaurants. 

"I think when the economy is down, the restaurant industry is the benefactor of better employees and especially better management," Paul says. "People realize the tech world or sales world isn't for them and restaurant jobs will always be there and you can be whatever you want to be in a restaurant business. I think if you're smart and talented, you can probably rise up as high as you want."

Pluckers is targeting senior-level employees to fill general and assistant manager roles across Texas and Baton Rouge, Louisiana. Eighty percent of general managers make a minimum of $125,000 and assistant managers are eligible for between $70,000 and $100,000. Other incentives include 100 percent health, dental, and vision coverage, and free Pluckers meals. 

Thus far Pluckers has hired 30 managers, keeping pace with its objective. More will be needed. The company is opening six stores in the next 15 months, which Pluckers has to be careful about, Paul says. As soon as the brand announces an opening, a big pool of candidates apply, but the restaurant doesn't want workers leaving somewhere because they're unhappy. Paul would rather find someone who loves their job, but is enticed by what Pluckers has to offer. 

Although Paul felt Pluckers had a good hiring system in place, he and his leadership team believed it made more sense to use a senior recruiter to find the best talent. The company landed on Michelle Marz, a young professional in her mid-20s. Similar to hiring any other position, Pluckers added Marz because of her authenticity. That aspect was important, Paul says, because he knows management candidates see right through recruiters who throw out misleading claims, such as they'll only work 40 hours per week. He also wanted someone who could be trained on the wing chain's culture. 

Marz wasn't allowed to recruit anyone during her first three months on the job. First, She had to visit all of the stores and develop relationships with management at all levels. Paul wanted her to see what Pluckers was truly about before she sought new blood. 

And what is that culture exactly? Paul and partners Mark and Sean Greenberg have spent years trying to define it. The group says it's more of a feeling as opposed to any specific benefit. Although the term is used a lot, Paul believes Pluckers genuinely feels like family. One that's comparable to a sports team where everyone chips in where needed—all toward the single goal of winning over customers. Servers are asked to wait and bus tables or run the food. Sometimes cooks have to wash dishes if another person doesn't show up. Paul knows that doesn't necessarily work for everyone. But it's the key to building empathy. 

"We think that's great. We think it gives people a better perspective of other people's jobs," Paul says. "It creates a level of empathy that doesn't exist in a lot of other restaurants. I think it's just being genuine and authentic. Pluckers is hard work. It's very, very busy. I recognize that it's more difficult than most restaurant jobs. But I think the way we treat the people is much better than most restaurant jobs. So that's why we have people who work for us in the lower employee rank—servers, cooks—five, 10 years, and we've got most of the people in our corporate office who have been there 10, 15, 20 years."

The company uses thorough exit interviews to learn why people leave. It also gains knowledge from incoming employees about why they jumped from their previous job. Pay is a big sticking point; Paul says Pluckers is finalizing a financial and cultural package that will be one of the best in the industry. The restaurant strives to be in the top 1 percent for management pay. The industry veteran also understands that salary only goes so far. Work-life balance is important, too. Pluckers offers four weeks of paid vacation to upper management and is working on other programs like tuition reimbursement. If nothing else, Paul says Pluckers wants to be there for its employees—for everything in their life. The brand wants workers to view their role as a career, not as a transient job. 

"I want everybody who walks through the door, whether they're a server or a dishwasher, for us to get to them quickly, if we think they have a good personality, and make them think of it as a career," Paul says. "And it's pretty interesting to find that when you find a 19-year-old kid who started there as a server and then you start talking about it," Paul says. "‘I think you're amazing. You could be really great at this.’ They light up as a human being and realize this could be something that's actually a career versus waiting until they're 25 and it's like a last resort job. The industry I think has typically been, ‘Hey, this is my job until I get a real job.’ We want the people work for us to think more of like, ‘This is my career from the beginning.’ They're the kind of people we want."

For hourly-level positions, Pluckers paid non-tipped positions around $13 per hour pre-COVID, but that has increased to $17-$20 per hour. There are also multiple opportunities for team building. The chain sets up recreational sports teams, holds employee field days, and hosts a Christmas party. Additionally, Pluckers nurtures up-and-coming workers via training and development coordinators who give new employees a lifeline when they're struggling. 

Nationally, the restaurant industry is getting closer to pre-pandemic numbers. As of March, the food and beverage segment was 75,000 jobs short of February 2020. Pluckers, which is only in Texas, can only speak to what's going on in the Lone Star State. In Austin and Dallas, there's still not enough people to fill hourly positions. In Houston and San Antonio, there are fewer problems. 

The process is difficult, but Pluckers is willing to invest, Paul says. 

"Unlike a lot of places, we're willing to match the pay of anybody who would consider coming over to Pluckers for a year in a management role so they can get what we call Pluckerized while they learn the system," he says. That seems to be really working well with the management candidates, to know that they're taken care of—if they don’t want to take a leap of faith to come to Pluckers that they're not taking a pay decrease where a lot of jobs ask them to go through the ranks slowly and lose some money. I think that's something we found to be pretty successful."