It’s no secret that the restaurant industry labor crisis is top of mind for most operators now and increasing wages does not seem enough anymore.
Average hourly wages for restaurant workers passed $15 for the first time this summer, and they keep growing, but job growth remains stagnant, according to the latest jobs numbers from the U.S. Department of Labor.
Many operators are looking beyond the paycheck to figure out how to attract and retain employees, including PTO, health insurance, and transportation benefits. But some operators are going above and beyond to address the labor crisis: from paying employees to do their homework to asking corporate employees to chip in.
Here are some outside the box initiatives both independent and chain restaurants are undertaking to address the restaurant industry labor crisis.
Xplore Restaurant Group in Arkansas is paying students to do their homework
There’s nothing like educational benefits to attract potential student employees. Hot Springs Village, Ark.-based Xplore Restaurant Group — which operates restaurants in three golf courses — is paying student employees to do homework as they struggle to fill shift slots.
According to Fox Business, students in high school can devote one hour of their shift to doing homework (and they will get paid at the same rate). Students will receive an extra $100 bonus if they receive an ‘A’ and an extra $20 for a ‘B’ grade. Executive chef Drake Bielert came up with the idea because he was tired of his dishwashers complaining that their grades were dropping because they were working.
The policy was put into place about three weeks ago and CEO Greg Jones said it’s already made a difference. Employees have told him that with the adjustment they have been able to keep both their jobs and their grades up.
“Obviously, this increases our labor cost,” Jones told Nation’s Restaurant News. “However, it also allows us to attract some great employees who might be interested in a culinary career in the future. It also is another way we can give cack to the community by providing good jobs, school support and teaching the kids a great work ethic.”
A Wisconsin Jersey Mike’s franchisee is buying cars for his employees
We’ve already written about companies like &pizza that helped finance Lyft rides for their employees to safely get to and from work, but one Jersey Mike’s franchisee goes even further.
Tim Downing, franchisee of four Jersey Mike’s restaurants in the Pewaukee, Wisc. area is starting a program to buy at least two cars for his employees, according to a report from Spectrum News.
Downing had noticed that his employees were struggling to find transportation to work and would sometimes grab an Uber or Lyft to get there in time. While sometimes Downing would spot his employees for unplanned ride sharing service expenses, he wanted to do more to help his employees and to keep them on staff.
He is currently looking into buying two used cars to start off with for employees that need it the most, and will expand the program if there is a need:
“I want to make sure that I have some baseline parameters,” Downing told Spectrum News. "How long have you been with me? Do you have great attendance? Are you making a positive impact on the company?”
Raising Cane’s is sending corporate employees to work in stores
When labor is extra-tight, it’s all hands on deck. Half of Raising Cane’s Chicken Fingers’ corporate team — about 250 team members — is working on the front lines at store-level, Nation’s Restaurant News reported on Oct. 8.
The staffing change is volunteer based as the chain struggles to keep up with labor challenges.
“This is obviously a very tough time, so it was a joint idea of everybody volunteering together to go out there and be recruiters, fry cooks and cashiers —whatever it takes,” said AJ Kumaran, co-CEO and chief operating officer for the Baton Rouge, La.-based quick-service chain. Kumaran is currently working at a Las Vegas store.
The goal is to keep the corporate volunteers coming until the company hires 10,000 more employees over the next 40 days or so.
Ted’s Montana Grill is closing on Thanksgiving and Christmas for the first time
Ted’s Montana Grill — the 39-unit, Atlanta-based restaurant chain founded by Ted Turner — announced that it would be closing for the first time on Thanksgiving and Christmas Eve to give employees a break during these challenging times.
Traditionally, Christmas Eve and Thanksgiving are two of the busiest days of the year for the environmentally-focused restaurant chain, but Ted’s CEO and cofounder George McKerrow
Wanted to extend his thanks to his team.
“Workers in the restaurant/hospitality industry have been the most impacted during these challenging times,” McKerrow said in a statement. “We are incredibly grateful for our team members who came back to work with a positive, spirited attitude and the genuine hospitality that our guests expect. Our team has helped us thrive by making our guests smile and more importantly, feel like family. Now they deserve to spend quality time with their own families this holiday season.”
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