Securing new employees during a nationwide labor shortage, while bolstering the customer base, are challenges local restauranters are grappling with as they build their brands.
During the Florida Israel-Business Accelerator’s Tuesday hospitality conference at the Bryan Glazer JCC in Tampa, the biggest names in Tampa Bay’s restaurant sector shared their notes on how to retain top-tier talent by leveraging new technology and staying true to their grassroots.
Longtime business owner Matt Loder was one of the speakers. Loder, known for starting the Crabby Bill’s seafood restaurant empire in an 800-square-foot building on Gulf Boulevard and expanding it over time with additional locations and acquisitionsjoined Clyde Smith, general manager at Bilmar Beach Resort in Treasure Island and the Sloppy Joe’s on the Beach restaurant, and Greenberg Traurig LLP shareholder Katie Molloy.
The panel was moderated by Jennifer Corinis from the Greenberg Traurig law firm.
Chuck Prather, owner of the Birchwood Hotel and the Teak restaurant on the St. Pete Pier; Wayne Raath, general manager at Lone Palm Golf Club; and Ted Turner, a Chick-fil-A franchise owner in Pinellas County, were on a similar second panel, moderated by Tampa Bay Business Journal publisher Ian Anderson.
Takeaways on topics from Panel 1
The responses have been edited for clarity.
On the current labor market and recruiting tactics
Loder: “This is the most challenging time in the labor market for employers. We are doing everything we can to retain and acquire new employees and have a dedicated recruiter tasked with finding talent. Although we have over 700 employees, we are still considered a small company, and I do my best to remember everyone’s names to connect with them – even if I get their name wrong. We want to hire more employees, but we are not lowering our standards. It’s better to run a short staff than bring someone in who creates havoc or isn’t great with customers. We used to bring anybody in and throw them on the floor or in the kitchen.”
Smith: “We are at the mercy of the employee we are trying to retain, but at the same time, we want to have the right employees and look at it from a long-term perspective versus the short term. For example, if a valuable employee is having difficulty coming to work on time, we could be more flexible with their schedule. We are also making sure that during the training process, we are giving employees real-life scenarios.”
Molloy: “One of the most common issues we see are wage problems. With staffing shortages, we are seeing a lot of employees work off the clock and do overtime, and the employer still needs to comply with those wage laws. If an employee isn’t paid what they are owed, that employee can sue the owner for twice as much. The biggest issues are off-the-clock work, which are instant liability cases.”
On embracing technology and communication
Loder: “We have implemented a tech tool to electronically send schedules to employees. Through the tech, we can send and receives message with them and those messages are tracked.”
Smith: “We are using tech that sends us notifications when someone applies for a position. It is crucial that you get back to that employee as soon as possible because 10 other people want to hire them. We are also offering existing employees referral bonuses when they find an ideal candidate. Regarding employee evaluations, we send out a 25-question survey.”
Molloy: “Recent studies show that as much as 85% of employees would resign in response to one critical performance review. Business owners need to balance their accurate evaluations and not upset employees with overly critical comments; however, the worst thing to do is giving them a glowing performance review and then firing them two months later.”
Takeaways from Panel 2
On building customer loyalty
Prather: “Guests want superior service, creativity and fresh ingredients. When we are scheduling reservations, we include notes if the person is dining with us for a special occasion like an anniversary or birthday. We may put flowers on their table or serve a particular drink the guest typically orders to show commitment with these small touches. The workforce in the hospitality space is also shifting. A lot of us remember working as dishwashers or cashiers at restaurants during our high school years and thought of it as a stepping stone, but over the past five years, wages are increasing, and employees have health benefits and a 401(k) – offerings we never had in the old days.”
Raath: “We don’t exist without customer loyalty because it’s the same people returning to the club. I used to send an email twice a week to all members, but then we started a texting campaign. Every morning at 10:30 a.m., we send out a text listing the different specials for that day, which is a great tactic for building customer loyalty.”
Turner: “People are strategically choosing where they dine. The top factors are safety and genuine hospitality. The customer should feel better about their day after coming in. The iPad has been a game changer in taking orders and serving guests in the drive-thru, because you can still have those valuable face-to-face interactions.”