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MRA Report: Best Practices on Retaining Workers

When I’m out speaking to groups, I like to ask how many people in the audience had their first job experience working in the hospitality industry. Not surprisingly, at least half of those in the room raise their hands. 

The restaurant industry has long been a primary training ground for new entrants—especially teenagers—into the workforce.  In my conversations, those who started out as a busser, dishwasher, host/hostess or server always comment about how they learned valuable life skills they still draw on today. That’s pretty awesome testimony about the value of a first job in the restaurant industry. 

Unfortunately, what’s worked in the past for restaurant owners and operators for filling open positions is not necessarily what will work in the future, especially in today’s highly competitive labor market. Understanding industry and demographic trends helps operators think creatively about hiring moving into the future.

According to the National Restaurant Association, Restaurant Trends Survey, the top 2019 workforce trends are: 

Recruiting and retaining employees is among the top challenges faced by many operators. More than a third of operators have job openings that are difficult to fill, with the biggest challenge finding applicants for back-of-the-house positions.

There has been a recent uptick in teenage restaurant employment but it may be short-lived, with long-term projections calling for a shrinking teen labor force in the years ahead.

Half of limited-service restaurant job openings and four in 10 tableservice restaurant job openings in 2018 were filled by either new entrants to the workforce or people promoted from other positions within the same restaurant.

Fewer teens, more older workers

Younger workers are expected to represent a smaller proportion of the labor force in the years ahead. The Department of Labor’s Bureau of Labor Statistics predicts that the number of teenagers in the labor force will decline by 600,000 between 2016 and 2026, and the number of 20- to 24-year-olds in the labor force will fall by 700,000. Due to historically being reliant on teen workers, this demographic trend may have larger implications for those in the quick-service and fast-casual dining segments.

With shrinking numbers, teenage employment is starting to be lapped with older adults (55+) becoming an increasingly important component of the restaurant workforce. The number of adults age 55 or older working in the restaurant industry jumped 70 percent between 2007 and 2018, an increase of 400,000 people. Older adults will be the fastest-growing age cohort in the labor force and by 2026, about 22 percent of the 65+ group will be working representing the highest participation rate since the 1950s. 


What’s an operator to do?

Don’t wait. Lean into the shifting demographic trends now and consider having a wider funnel for recruiting, including non-traditional avenues for sourcing employees. Understand what motivates prospective workers across the age continuum as it related to your organization’s culture. Very importantly, make sure your staff is aware you are hiring as your employees can be the best evangelists you have. 

Be sure to leverage your network and get advice from others. Minnesota Restaurant Association members are great at sharing best practices and find referrals invaluable in tackling labor-related business challenges. We have new realities of labor force and new realities of business. Make sure you know what’s coming, and you are staying ahead of the curve.

About Hospitality Minnesota: 

Hospitality Minnesota is the voice for hospitality in Minnesota, serving more than 2,000 hospitality businesses across the state. Formed in 1958 to serve as the management company for the Minnesota Restaurant Association, the Minnesota Lodging Association and the Minnesota Resort and Campground Association, Hospitality Minnesota advocates for the interests of business owners and their employees and provides opportunities for education and training to strengthen the hospitality industry in Minnesota. www.hospitalitymn.org 

Liz Rammer is the president & CEO of Hospitality Minnesota, which includes The Minnesota Restaurant, Lodging and Resort & Campground Associations.

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