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MRA Report: Your Association is Working for You

A popular interview question for journalists to ask is “what keeps you up at night?” I don’t have to guess how restaurant owners and operators would answer that question because I hear about their number one concern every day: “How can I find, hire and retain great people?” We are in the eighth year of an economic expansion and a very tight labor market. Minnesota’s unemployment rate for November was down to 3.1 percent, tied for 9th lowest in the country. That rate is the lowest since 2000 and is as close as a modern economy can get to full employment. One comedian quipped that the job market is so bad that even people who don’t want to work aren’t looking!

A recent report from the State Demographer isn’t at all optimistic about labor force growth through 2035:

Minnesota's total population is estimated to exceed 6 million by 2032 and grow to nearly 6.8 million by 2070.

In the coming two decades, the under 18 population will grow modestly, gaining about 32,000 between 2015 and 2035. Meanwhile, the state's 65 and older population will grow much more rapidly, adding more than half a million people (510,000+) over those same years. As a result of this growth, in 2035, the age 65+ group is expected to eclipse the under 18 population for the first time in our state's history.

The share of the total population that is ages 18 to 64 will fall from 62 percent in 2015 to 57 percent by 2028.

So how do restaurant owners cope?  There is no single magic solution.  There are some ideas you should consider.  This list is certainly missing some good concepts, so send your additions to dan@hospitalitymn.com.

Try to improve retention by thinking in terms of a career path for your employees. Careers last longer than jobs. Have you created, communicated and encouraged career paths at your operation?

Connect to young workers when you can and keep them on your team. There are now more than 3,000 high school juniors and seniors participating in our ProStart curriculum for culinary arts and restaurant management at more than 50 Minnesota high schools.  There is more information at

Ask your employees for referrals and for feedback as to why they work for you and how to use their reasons to recruit new team members. Finding and keeping talent is marketing!

Keep in touch with former employees that you’d welcome back if their life circumstances change.

Add a “careers” section to your website so that shoppers know you are also hiring.

Include hiring in your social media thinking. Finding guests is marketing and so is finding future team members.

The Minnesota Restaurant Association has a free online career tool for our members.  Posting resumes is free for everyone; posting jobs is free for MRA members.  Visit

Look in places you haven’t looked before. Consider sources such as:

The local workforce center

The bulletin board at the senior center

High school job sites or bulletin boards. Young workers take training but can be career employees.

The printed bulletin, website or bulletin board at your church or synagogue

Think creatively about how you pay your employees. Some MRA members are using retention pay to cut down on turnover. A new team member who stays with you for an agreed upon amount of time can earn a bonus or additional time off as a reward for longevity.

Attend upcoming MRA networking events to exchange ideas about recruiting and retention with other operators and managers. We can learn from each other! 

Dan McElroy is executive vice president of the Minnesota Restaurant Association and president and CEO of Hospitality Minnesota, which also includes the Lodging and Resort & Campground associations.

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