The Gray-Collar War: 5 ways for restaurants to remain competitive

The Gray-Collar War

By Gretchen Van Vlymen, Head of HR, StratEx


Workers in the restaurant industry are unique in that they don’t fall into the standard characterizations of blue collar vs. white collar. They fall somewhere in between; they’re gray collar.

Just like many other industries, the restaurant industry is experiencing a very tight labor market right now, and good talent is in high demand.

The rise of restaurant groups and hospitality chains is one of the big reasons for the lack of good talent. Additionally, a low overall unemployment rate means the labor market is in employees’ favor and businesses are forced to cater to employees in order to attract the best.

Despite these obstacles, below are five hiring and talent management techniques to help you win the grey-collar war for talent:

1. View talent as your competitive advantage

In an increasingly competitive and crowded industry, the most successful restaurants know that talent is key to helping them get ahead of their competition. The rise of big well-branded restaurant groups is making quality servers and restaurant staff more in-demand than ever since they can employ talent across many high-profile restaurants.

Attracting and retaining top talent is a lucrative strategy that often requires re-prioritizing other aspects of the business and cutting costs elsewhere…but the pay-off can be huge. People are going out to eat for the experience and top notch front and back of house service will keep them coming back for more.

2. Hire for attitude, not just skill

Attitude can’t be taught. It’s something people either have or they don’t have and it’s what matters most in restaurant staff. The skills required to work in a restaurant can be taught, but a warm, welcoming, hospitable attitude is much more difficult to teach. During interviews, make sure to focus on the person’s attitude and interpersonal communication rather than solely focusing on prior experience.

3. Develop career pathing

Employees in the restaurant industry no longer view a job in a restaurant as just as job, they’re looking at it as their career. They want to invest in growing and learning within the restaurant industry in order to move up in the space. Use this to your advantage by showcasing different career opportunities within your organization. Whether it’s management, marketing, or operations, make sure staff knows the different ways their career can grow at your restaurant or group. This way, you retain your best talent and keep employees engaged.

4. Get creative with benefits

It used to be unheard of for restaurants to provide benefits to hourly employees, but in a competitive labor market, restaurants are forced to get creative with the ways they attract and retain employees. Offering some sort of health insurance, even if it’s a high-deductible plan, is a good way to attract talent. Additionally, generous paid time off plans or a discount for your restaurant’s food for an employee and their family is a way to incentivize them.

5.Train managers well

Countless studies have shown how important managers are in retaining and engaging employees. With turnover being as high as it is in the restaurant industry, anything restaurants can do to reduce that is key to increasing profits. Provide training resources for managers, offer to reimburse them for management seminars or courses and show employees that being a manger is taken seriously. Empower managers to do what is best for employees and give them the tools they need to succeed. A good manager can help retain top talent and a bad one will drive them away.



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