Solving the Shortage of Good Jobs: Local Restaurants Get Creative to Attract Workers

Giant “WE’RE HIRING” signs hang on the sides of buildings in cities across North Texas. In the midst of a staff shortage, the questions for employers have become “How do I staff my restaurant?” and “How can I retain the experienced staff I already have?”

How about a fully funded three week sabbatical for every three years of service? Or, a progressive work-centric “manifesto” for your employees. Yes, at the restaurant. That’s what some local places are doing to attract and retain workers.

The restaurant industry has suffered great economic impacts since the onset of the COVID pandemic in March 2020. According to the Texas Restaurant Association, more than 80,000 members of the service industry workforce in the l state haven’t returned since then, perhaps because they found better jobs. Total restaurant employment continues to fluctuate, but has never reached pre-pandemic numbers.

But what’s happening in North Texas and elsewhere isn’t a labor shortage. It’s a shortage of good jobs. Long before COVID, many workers (especially women and people of color) experienced stagnant wages, poor working conditions, and unpredictable hours.

The service sector historically offers low wages and benefits on average and is known to have some of the poorest working environments.

“[A wage of] $12-15 an hour really isn’t enough to get started,” said Michael Finley, a member of the Diversity, Equity and Inclusion subcommittee of the Texas Craft Brewers Guild. “You have to pay people so you can retain your employees, primarily through how they’re paid, how they’re treated, and giving them flexibility.”

Service industry job fairs are on the rise in North Texas as restaurants large and small struggle to fill vacancies. Sugarbacon in McKinney is hosting a job fair to staff more than 50 positions for the opening of its new location. Finley and the Texas Craft Brewers Guild are also hosting a fair in hopes of boosting diversity within the brewing industry. Even places like Bar Louie are looking for help, offering a “revolutionary” benefits program for new general managers.

“But if people’s concerns are about a role, a job or more rights, related to lifestyle, then in my opinion, money gives you a temporary solution – it’s not the long-term solution.” — Tom Fricke, CEO of Bar Louie

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“Changing compensation structures are important, and of course the money is important,” said Bar Louie CEO Tom Fricke. “But if people’s concerns are about a role, a job, or more rights, related to lifestyle, then in my opinion, money gives you a temporary solution. It’s not the long-term solution.

Workers don’t just quit their jobs to stay away. Instead, they change jobs and perhaps even industries for better wages, benefits, and working conditions. For employers suffering from a shortage of staff, there is a solution: make a better offer to workers.

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Bar Louie has introduced a new benefits program for general managers.

Louis Bar

As part of Bar Louie’s compensation package, Fricke provides managing directors with a fully-funded three-week sabbatical, educational support, a quarterly wellness allowance and an annual vacation grant. Fricke said pay rates at Bar Louie had increased by around “10 to 15 per cent” since the pandemic.

“Our managing directors are the heart and soul of our business,” says Fricke. “We love our GMs, and so we were trying to find the right incentives to make sure our GMs stay with us, grow with us… we try to show our appreciation and support for the people who work with us.”

Things don’t get better for hiring managers, rather trickier. According to the latest report from the Bureau of Labor Statistics, in November the total number of quits rose to 4.5 million, up 379,000 from October. “Quits rose across several industries, with the largest increases being in accommodation and food services (+159,000),” the agency reported.

And a Lensa report in November ranked Dallas as the city with the most disgruntled workers.

After closing for an entire month due to the omicron variant and a worker testing positive before a shift, downtown restaurant and bar Alexandre’s announced this week that it was ready to reopen. The decision to close was taken by the employees by vote. All benefited from paid holidays during their free time.

In addition to the improvements to the space, Alexander wrote that they have also “finally completed a new 35-page Alexander Manifesto (manual) which is possibly the most progressive work-centric document to ever be on a place of work”.

So while some companies may struggle to find workers, the solution to this problem is in their hands: ending the shortage of good jobs.

Gladys T. Hensley