Canadian Pizza Magazine

Secrets to staffing success

By Julie Fitz-Gerald   

Features Business and Operations Staffing

Canada’s food and beverage industry is facing a looming labour crisis
stemming from retiring baby boomers and low fertility rates

Canada’s food and beverage industry is facing a looming labour crisis stemming from retiring baby boomers and low fertility rates. Reports issued by the Canadian Restaurant and Foodservices Association (CRFA) in 2006 and by the Canadian Tourism Human Resource Council (CTHRC) in 2010 forecast huge labour shortages in Canada over the next 10 to 15 years. Like your pampered best regular customers, happy and engaged staff are more likely to loyally keep coming to work. With the number of available workers dwindling, employers must give higher priority to the retention of existing employees if their businesses are to survive.

A whopping 44 per cent of workers in the foodservice industry are under the age of 25.


The CTHRC predicts that by 2025, the food and beverage services industry will be hardest hit out of all tourism industries, projecting a labour shortfall of more than 142,000 full-year jobs. As you know, young Canadians make up a large portion of the labour force in the restaurant business. In fact, the CRFA report identifies the foodservice industry as the second-largest employer of youth in Canada, with 44 per cent of foodservice employees being under the age of 25. 


To ensure your business isn’t hard hit by a lack of staff over the coming years, you need to stay ahead of the curve by implementing strategies to better understand and engage your youthful employees. Ken Whiting, a human resources expert based in California, specializes in recruiting, motivating, educating and retaining teens and young adults of generation Y through his consulting business, WAVES for Success.  Whiting says that the biggest obstacle he sees in the workplace is managers who feel that employee turnover is just part of the business. 

“Indifference by some managers is probably the biggest single challenge that we see,” he says. 

The reality is that a high rate of turnover among staff is costly.  In reference to a study conducted by Coca-Cola Research Council that attributes a cost of more than $3,000 for every lost employee, Whiting explains that “the loss of money is due to a decrease in productivity and readiness.” The amount of revenue that a well-trained person will generate and the level of service will be much higher than with the untrained person: “They know how to suggestive sell, they’re quicker, line speeds will be faster and that can add up in a hurry. That’s the big cost of turnover.”

Discover Tourism, a website developed by the CTHRC as an online interactive resource for job seekers, employees and employers, expands on the costs of employee turnover, highlighting replacement costs such as job postings, interviewing and administrative processing as added expenses.  In fact, with so many costs associated with employee turnover, the small cost of investing in strategies to retain existing employees is clearly a better option.

One of the best ways to keep your staff content with their jobs is to celebrate their achievements. 

“The number one thing that employers should remember is that recognition equals attention. You must celebrate success,” says Whiting. “If somebody in the workplace has achieved a workplace milestone such as an anniversary or has set a sales record, make a lot of noise about that. Have a program in place that really celebrates that.” 

He goes on to note: “Prizes and incentives are excellent ways to do this. This is a “what’s in it for me” generation and there are a lot of win-win incentives that can be created to drive sales, but also give employees something out of it. It ought not to be viewed as an expense to the employer, but rather as an investment.”

Another great tip from Whiting is to offer flexible scheduling. 

“Most employers who hire high school and college-age employees promise a lot of flexible schedules, but it’s not delivered very well.”

Employees of this age group have busy social lives, often being involved in extracurricular activities. Giving your staff the freedom to plan their work schedules around their other weekly activities can set your business apart from the rest. Whiting suggests using an online scheduling system where employees can access their hours and easily trade a shift with another employee if they have conflicting engagements. Approval by a manager completes the trade and the employee feels satisfied knowing they have some control over how their weeks will unfold.

With youth making up almost half of the workforce in the food and beverage industry, it’s important to remember they are new to the workplace and thus learning from their experiences. Whiting says that allowing employees to learn from their mistakes will foster a strong working relationship between employers and their employees. 

“Allow some failure. Let mistakes be educational moments. Instead of chewing somebody out [for a mistake], that’s an educational moment where what occurred that was, in fact, wrong can be discussed. Second chances are key.”

Whiting is quick to add that third and fourth chances do not need to be met with such patience. He emphasizes that ongoing communication, reviews, coaching and accountability must be a part of continued training in the workplace. This will help business owners and managers identify problem employees who display negative attitudes in the workplace or who aren’t willing to be team players. If you have a problem employee who’s dragging down staff morale and causing chaos in the restaurant, the problem is best dealt with quickly.

“Hire slow and fire fast. If second and third chances aren’t possible based on the training that comes up, you need to move them on. Most teams are working right in front of the customers and if that employee’s not working for you, you need to get on it quick . . . . You need to pull the weeds and plant the seeds.”

One last thing to remember is that retaining employees doesn’t automatically mean that you need to fork out higher wages than your competitors. In Whiting’s experience, generation Y is a socially conscious group that puts great stock in businesses that are actively participating in global issues. For example, implementing environmentally friendly practices in the workplace may set you apart from the restaurant across the street and can be a deciding factor for many youth who are seeking employment. 

Whiting’s recommendation for business owners looking to outpace their competitors is simple. 

“Recruit the best, hire the best, retain the best and the rest will take care itself. You will become the employer of choice if you’re ahead of the curve on understanding today’s workforce and doing things to set your business apart
from the rest.”

Take-away tips

  • Celebrate the achievements of your staff in a big way with prizes and incentives.
  • Use online scheduling systems to allow for easier shift flexibility.
  • Higher wages won’t necessarily retain more employees. Consider the socially conscious nature of many of today’s youth. 

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