Canadian Pizza Magazine

Is money everything?

By Julie Fitz-Gerald   

Features Business and Operations Staffing

When it comes to hiring and retaining good employees, how much does the almighty paycheque figure in

Finding excellent employees is a difficult task, but keeping them is an even greater challenge. Recent data from Statistics Canada’s Labour Force Survey shows the number of employees in the restaurant industry is expected to rise from 1,165,700 in 2013 to 1,390,000 by 2023.

Finding excellent employees is a difficult task, but keeping them is an even greater challenge. Recent data from Statistics Canada’s Labour Force Survey shows the number of employees in the restaurant industry is expected to rise from 1,165,700 in 2013 to 1,390,000 by 2023. Combined with government warnings of a possible labour shortage and with recent changes to the Temporary Foreign Workers program, it is clear that restaurant owners must go above and beyond to retain good staff. But does retention always come down to money?

Factors such as the location of a business, company culture and career advancement are all significant to young employees.


The answer seems to depend on the age demographic of the employee. Ken Whiting is the founder of WAVES for Success, a California-based company that specializes in recruiting, motivating, educating and retaining teens and young adults.


“If it’s younger employees, pay does not matter the most,” says Whiting. “There are other benefits that rise somewhat higher and they might be as simple as flexibility of scheduling.”

Factors like the location of the business, the culture of the organization, how the company is perceived by others, advancement opportunities, and enjoyment in the role and workplace are all significant to young workers.

“Clearly pay is of significance, but most students have a level of understanding that they’re coming in at an entry-level wage,” says Whiting. “However, if pay is number five on a list for a younger student, it is going to be number one or two for an older employee. I think the points about culture and opportunities for advancement still matter, but the need for flexibility isn’t as high. Pay is clearly a driver in this age group because they have bills to pay; they’re contributing to family finances.”

Hugh Johnston, based in Toronto, Ont., has been in the foodservice industry since 1998, consulting in the areas of strategy, marketing and advertising, and finance. As former CFO of Bento Sushi, Johnston is proud of what he calls “an industry-leading low turnover rate” among the company’s 400 locations across Canada. Johnston has learned that a sense of accomplishment and pride in a job well done are much more important factors to employee satisfaction than the amount of pay being received.

“I think you just have to take it off the table,” Johnson says. “You have to pay them enough to take it off the table as an issue. Then it’s all about engagement. Do they enjoy what they’re doing? Is the employer fair?”

Johnston says that for employee contentment to soar, there are two things employers must accomplish: 1) select employees who are the right fit for the job, and 2) have great leaders.

“People don’t leave companies, they leave bosses,” he notes. “One of the big secrets for low turnover and high retention is great frontline leadership. A person who ran a big chain once said to me, ‘If you want to see what a manager’s like in a store, just watch all the employees. They’re just like the manager.’ Good frontline management is number one.”

Building a positive environment and culture where employees can thrive is a concept that rings true across the industry. Managers who can motivate their staff, listen and understand their concerns, and bring all employees into the team fold will achieve much higher rates of success where employee retention is concerned.

“If you’ve got a manager with zero understanding, appreciation, and tolerance of the needs of a teenage employee, then you’ll have increased turnover simply because of that manager’s attitude,” says Whiting. “You need to hire people who are committed to make the work environment different and to understanding young people’s needs.”

After all, high turnover comes at an enormous cost to business owners by way of both time and money. And it’s a cost that many operators simply cannot afford.

“Every time you turn an employee over, it costs you a lot of time, money, and productivity-loss until they get good at what they do,” says Johnston. “Then there’s the cost of customers who are being served by employees who aren’t good at their jobs yet, who aren’t engaged, who aren’t happy. When they’re not happy, the customers aren’t happy either.”

While some turnover is inevitable, business owners must strive to minimize the damage each and every time it occurs. “It’s pretty easy to measure the hard costs of training, materials and uniforms, but it’s the loss of productivity and service to the customers and you don’t overly know the real impact of that. It can be huge if all of a sudden service levels have decreased because of a team that’s less experienced,” adds Whiting. “The cost can be huge; thousands of dollars per employee.”

The goal then must be to reduce turnover rates by boosting employee contentment, which will ultimately translate into better customer service. There are several cost-effective ways this can be done, such as fostering open communication among team members, offering opportunities for advancement, implementing incentive programs, and ensuring everyone has fun.

Steve Silvestro, corporate executive chef with Scaddabush Italian Kitchen & Bar, believes that communication between managers and staff is crucial to employee retention.

“We have shift meetings every day, sometimes twice a day and we talk about our values and promises,” says Silvestro. “Good managers will be using these tools on a constant basis.”

Shift meetings provide a platform for employees to ask questions, raise concerns, and motivate one another through common goals for that shift. It’s an important team-building opportunity that should not be overlooked.

“In some work environments you clock in and go to your work area,” says Whiting. “You may not even have one co-worker, supervisor, or manager communicate with you. The other option is to be welcomed when you come into work. Younger age groups are highly stimulated. They need to be informed and welcomed. They’ve lived a lifetime of social media and have been fully informed with everything that’s important to them, so communication really matters. It’s really key to how they feel about the company.”

Dave Manno, co-owner of Buon Gusto in Guelph, Ont., keeps the lines of communication open at his establishment by offering weekly wine seminars and regular shift training to his staff.

“We make sure that all employees know what to expect from us,” Manno says. “That’s key. We spend a tremendous amount of time in training, particularly in product knowledge, which is paramount. We feel knowledge is power and we want our front-of-the-house and back-of-the-house staff to be very familiar and knowledgeable so they can engage with guests.

Manno says “when people stop learning and become stale, that’s when we lose them. Our job is to instill our passion for excellence in our team.”

The opportunity for advancement is also an important consideration for employees, often being a reason why they’ll stay instead of looking for a higher-paying job elsewhere.

“Promoting from within is a great way to build your culture and control your cost. We talk about it every day. Lately we’ve been really successful at promoting from within and team members see that and want to discuss career development,” says Silvestro.

Incentive programs sweeten the pot even further for employees, while boosting productivity and sales. In short, incentives are a win-win for operators and staff, whether you’re trying to reinforce company procedure or boost product sales.

“You can ‘incentify’ anything,” Whiting says. “It might be for perfect attendance, a perfect safety record, positive comments for service provided.”

He says that “every time someone’s recognized for doing something well, they can be entered into a draw or receive points. They’re little things but they keep people engaged in the process. It also gives managers a tool to reinforce what they want to get done anyway.”

The incentive doesn’t have to be overly expensive to be appreciated either. The reward can be as simple as a gift card to a movie theatre or coffee shop. Silvestro recently handed out tickets to the Toronto FC soccer game.

“Our leader gave me six tickets to a soccer game, so I gave those to the chef and he rewarded six people with them,” he says. “The effect it had was amazing. Everybody was so happy to be chosen to go to a soccer game. It’s not the most expensive thing, but it had the desired effect. It was a culture-building moment.”

At Buon Gusto, Manno and his partner, Bernie Dyer, work hard to hire the right staff and keep them. They often hold wine and sales competitions with gift cards as the reward, as well as higher-cost perks.

“It’s not always about wage, although we do offer better than competitive wages to sort through the clutter and get more experienced people,” says Manno. “We offer benefit packages for our employees and we also have gym memberships available.”

While the above strategies are wonderful ways to help retain staff, perhaps the simplest and most overlooked way to keep everyone smiling is to make it fun. The foodservice industry is a dynamic, fast-paced setting where having fun is crucial to getting through a busy shift. It’s important for staff to enjoy their time together, working toward common goals. One mistake that can zap the joyful atmosphere in a workplace is to under-staff the shift.

“The best way to make sure somebody has no fun when they’re working is to under-staff the store when it’s busy. They can’t do anything well when there aren’t enough people to do the job right,” Johnston warns.

By following these proven staffing tips, you can successfully develop a devoted team of employees who value the workplace culture you’ve created – far above a simple wage.

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