Canadian Pizza Magazine

Labour crunch

By Liz Lindgren-Kubitz   

Features Business and Operations Staffing

As Alberta’s economy booms, the pressures to keep staff in the foodservice industry also explode.

A bold, black sign stands on metal legs in front of a
small Calgary business that was forced to close its doors. The sign’s
neon letters were changed from “Help Wanted” to “No One Left to Hire.”
The grim icon represents Alberta’s labour market crisis.

Shortage of foodservice workers in Alberta “critical”

help-wantedA bold, black sign stands on metal legs in front of a small Calgary business that was forced to close its doors. The sign’s neon letters were changed from “Help Wanted” to “No One Left to Hire.” The grim icon represents Alberta’s labour market crisis.

Lindy Rollingson, president and CEO of the Alberta Restaurant and Foodservices Association, calls the shortage of workers “critical.”


“The restaurant industry has been very hard hit,” she said.

A 2006 report by the Canadian Restaurant and Foodservices Association (CRFA), found the province has a current shortage of 13,000 employees in the foodservice industry alone. The severe demand is expected to grow by 33 per cent over the next 10 years.

The resulting fallout comes in the form of poor service, frustrated customers, lost business and reduction of an operator’s investment. In an effort to combat this, some pizzaiolos have looked long and hard about their kitchen environment, and what it is that really engages their staff.

Keeping your employees engaged
Of today’s traditional pizzeria workforce – known to some as Generation Y – more than one-third does not see themselves in the same job within two years.

Turnover has always been a significant issue with the foodservice industry, but with wage pressures emerging from the Alberta boom economy, the challenge has become even greater to keep these 15-25 year olds motivated and working in your best interest.

According to the Business Development Bank of Canada, there are some factors that may help in keeping employees in-house and productive.

Make the job motivating
Pressed for time, few entrepreneurs prepare written job descriptions. The more accurate and realistic you are about specifications and job requirements for the position, the more likely that your people will feel motivated to do a good job. It’s important to:
• Get your employees involved in writing their job descriptions, so they feel they have genuine input.
• Build in clear goals so that employees can see visible progress and results.
• Ensure that the work is challenging enough for the employee: don’t hire somebody with too many skills for the job. Generation Y employees don’t like jobs that feel trivial.
• Give your employees enough leeway to be independent, which encourages personal and professional development.

Give employees feedback
Feedback allows your employees to evolve, improve their skills and do more for your pizzeria. It’s important to assess your employees’ performance regularly and fairly. Be open to suggestions that could improve the efficiency of your pizzeria. Ensure that you:
•    Be systematic about evaluation for every employee, no matter what level they are.
•    Link the evaluation to your compensation program, so that employees take it seriously.
•    Give feedback often – both praise and constructive criticism.
•    Encourage your employees to evaluate themselves. This provides an accurate picture of how they view their performance.
•    Establish realistic performance objectives.

Manage your top performers
Your star performers may be a little more demanding than your average performers. They tend to leave if they feel they’re not getting enough attention.

For those in this category, you may wish to consider the kind of input they can provide, and recognize that they may also deserve a higher level of praise and recognition. The caution in this is not to alienate them from the rest of the staff.

Finally, you may want to encourage your people to interact outside the pizzeria, at events such as sports events, theatre, or dinner at a new non-pizza type restaurant in the community. Keeping your employees engaged and feeling valued may be the difference in slowing the turnover tide.

“I try to make it as much fun as possible to work here and still get the work done,” said Wendy Radant, owner of Pizzaberg Café, in the town of Okotoks, just south of Calgary. “Hollering at students just isn’t effective.”

The crunch for Radant has come with wage increases, resulting from both an increase in the minimum wage and competition for workers. She pays almost double since acquiring Pizzaberg Café six years ago.

The combination of rising payroll and cheese costs, made it necessary for her to raise menu prices this year. Compromising food quality would never be an option Radant would consider as a way to counter rising costs of doing business here.

Restaurateurs have increased wages from 20 to 50 per cent within the past couple of years in an attempt to retain or attract staff. Employers are often forced to take what help they can get, when they get it, if they can get any at all. Employees carry exceptional clout, calling the shots on the hours and wages they’ll accept.

“You either agree with their rules or they’re gone,” said Stacey Polychronis of Plato’s Restaurant and Bar in Calgary.

“You know staff are helping themselves behind the bar – drinking on the job and ripping you off,” she said. “But, you can’t say anything or they leave you. The next one you get will likely be worse.”

The family business has been in operation for 27 years, and has never seen the labour market this bleak. “We were without a dishwasher for a long time this past summer,” Polychronis said. “When we did find one, he told us the terms he’d be willing to work by.”

Reducing hours of operation, opening later or closing earlier, is one way restaurants have attempted to manage. Other creative measures include offering bonuses, full benefit packages, moving expenses, housing rental assistance or offering freebies, like new iPods.

Jamal Dalleb, owner of Calgary’s Olive Grove, said finding delivery staff is his biggest challenge.

“Before, we paid drivers $7 per hour. Now they get the full delivery charge as well as $10 per hour,” said Dalleb. “It amounts to an increase of $5 to $6 an hour.”

“I try to make this a fun place to work,” Cory Medd said of his own challenges in maintaining staffing levels. The owner of Two Guys & A Pizza Place in Lethbridge added he’s thankful to have his business where there’s a large student population, and hasn’t been as dramatically impacted as his fellow pizzaiolos closer to the oil sands.

The Canadian Federation of Independent Business has found that more than 80 per cent of business owners in Alberta have experienced difficulties in hiring employees over the past three years. They also report that 65 per cent of the owners say they’re unable to pay higher salaries and benefits to attract workers.

However, workers who feel their contributions are appreciated and supported are likely to give back when it comes to loyalty. A pat on the back, a generous dose of respect and a good flow of humour can make all the difference to an employee who might otherwise walk across the street and get another job.

With many restaurant employees falling into the “Nexus” or “Y” generation (people born between 1975 and today) it can be beneficial to gain a little knowledge about them.

“It’s also important for organizations to understand what makes the Nexus generation tick,” said Dr. Linda Duxbury, a renowned authority on workplace and employment trends and a professor at Carleton University’s Sprott School of Business.

When employing someone from the Nexus generation, know that they seek variety, constant challenge, independence, and fun. And if an organization doesn’t deliver, this employee will walk, Duxbury warned.•

Not just an Alberta issue anymore
By Cameron Wood
Anyone who takes a good look at the labour situation in Alberta can get a sense of just how desperate foodservice employers have become, according to Chris Elliott.

“They’re offering free iPods, trips to Mexico, tuition … a $3,000 signing bonuses at a McDonalds in Edmonton. They’re going to great lengths,” the Canadian Restaurant and Foodservice Association economist said.

“There’s a growing number of ‘Help Wanted’ signs, and it’s not an isolated issue.”

Elliott said the western province’s economy has outpaced the rest of Canada in the past 10 years at an almost double amount. And while this is a result of rising disposable incomes, combined with the lowest unemployment rate in 32 years, “it creates a lot of pressure on wages.”

Wages in Alberta have increased in excess of 10 per cent. In order to keep pace, the foodservice industry – often at the bottom of the scale – has raised the average wage 21 per cent in an effort to keep staff.

“We see restaurants closing down at lunchtime because they can’t find any staff. But, the big question is, will this happen outside of the boom in Alberta?

Elliott believes so – and not just due to competitive wage issues.

But while the major impact won’t be felt for the next 10 years, the economist says some strategies need to be put in place now, in order to adequately prepare for the impact.

Elliott believes the provincial education ministries need to invest in more hospitality programs, and recruit to fill those additional spots. Adding to this, he says the government needs to look at improving immigration migration, encouraging new Canadians to seek opportunities outside of the large urban centres which have traditionally drawn them.

Equally so, he says the government needs to revisit the Canada Pension Plan to allow retired people the opportunity to work part time without penalty. “The trend will have to change from hiring 15 to 25 year olds to fill these jobs.”

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