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How to serve the needs of working parents and strengthen your restaurant in the process

Four ways you can take care of employees who are parents.

Like COVID before it, “The Great Resignation” — the latest staffing crisis to arise in the wake of the pandemic — disproportionately affects the restaurant industry. The challenge many owners and operators face is not a lack of available candidates but a lack of willing ones. In September 2021, the hospitality and leisure industry suffered the highest percentage increase (6.4%) of workers quitting — nearly 1 million people — with the majority coming from the accommodation and foodservice sectors, according to the Bureau of Labor Statistics.

Black Box Intelligence research recently revealed that 35% of hourly employees and job seekers are parents. Addressing the needs of working parents, who represent such a significant portion of the labor force, is critical to the restaurant industry as it continues to rebuild.

As a parent myself, and as a former restaurant operator and now founder and CEO of restaurant investment and development firm Full Course, I empathize with the challenges working parents face. And it’s why, as an employer, I know addressing those needs is key to the success of any business, especially restaurants. Below are four areas where, I believe, the industry can integrate empathy and flexibility into the business model, address the needs of working parents and ultimately improve the workplace overall.

Flexible Schedules: Increase Employee Productivity  

Flextime — a working schedule with flexible starting and ending hours — promotes work/life balance by allowing your team the opportunity to work a full schedule while also addressing their needs at home, dramatically reducing the need for workers to take off early or show up late. To make this flextime possible, cross-training your team is key.

Cross Training: Cover Your Bases

Cross-training your team — having employees learn multiple positions — creates a nimble staff that is able to adapt to changes more rapidly. It also empowers your team to continue learning and growing in their roles. In addition to one person learning multiple roles, another creative approach is two people balancing one role with job sharing.

Job Sharing: Two Heads Are Better Than One 

Job sharing — splitting one full-time job between two part-time individuals — increases problem-solving and decreases absenteeism when two team members with diverse skills and experiences are responsible for the success of one total job. In addition to scheduling, flexibility in compensation is equally critical.

Flexible Benefits: One Size Does Not Fit All

Flexible benefits — offering employees a choice between various benefits — creates more equitable compensation by understanding your team’s needs as individuals and offering benefits accordingly. One way to implement this: Offer a percentage match that can be applied toward a 401K, student loan or childcare costs. Meeting your team where they are sends the message that you understand and value them and increases staff loyalty and retention.

The restaurant industry cannot afford to lose working parents. It is time to shift the mindset and recognize through our actions the value these team members provide. Integrating flexibility into your business with solutions such as flextime, cross-training, job sharing and flexible benefits will go a long way toward attracting working parents back to restaurants, and more importantly, retaining them. And the best part? These solutions, rooted in empathy, benefit your team as a whole and your business overall. And that’s a win-win.


Lauren Fernandez is a working parent and leads Full Course, a non-traditional restaurant investment and development firm created for operators by operators that is changing the way new businesses grow their brands. The company partners with restaurants in the early stages of development to optimize existing operations, develop strategies for sustainable growth and bring the right investors or franchise partners to the table. Fernandez is a restaurant industry veteran with two decades of experience. She previously served as general counsel and head of franchise administration for FOCUS Brands and was co-founder, president and operating partner for multi-unit franchise developer Origin Development Group, acting as a strategic growth partner for brands such as Chicken Salad Chick.

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