Restaurants fight to keep employees

By Mackenzi Klemann -

LIMA – A period of low unemployment has created a dilemma in the restaurant industry: How do you convince low-wage staff to stay when most other places in town are hiring?

“You see every restaurant has ‘now hiring’ or ‘open interview’ (signs). These employees see that, and they know that they can just not show up on a Saturday night, and if they get fired, the restaurant on either side of where they’re currently working are (both) hiring,” said Scott Prater, franchisee of Godfather’s Pizza in Lima. “Unfortunately, with all the restaurants hiring all the time, the employees know that they can go get a job tomorrow with the food service industry.”

“We do see it a lot,” said Stephanie Clowers, a manager for Pat’s Donuts and Kreme in Lima. “People show up one day, and then they’re gone.”

For Clowers, the problem is most acute among adult employees.

“We get very few teenagers who come in here and only show up a few days and then disappear,” she said. “But we do have that with the adults who come in and might work one or two days. … They just never show back up.”

Why quit without notice? A more competitive job offer is one possibility.

Steve Musser, workforce development supervisor with the job center at Ohio Means Jobs-Allen County, said some people may have three to four job offers within a week. That means employers are the ones hustling for workers, unlike in years past.

For entry-level employers, Musser said it’s important to “highlight why people would want to work for the company. … It’s not a market where you can sit back and have people come to you.”

That’s been true for Prater, who said turnover is the worst he’s seen in his 20-plus years in the restaurant industry. His solution: Make employees feel valued.

“I think that goes a long way,” Prater said. “You hear so many people that come and apply, we get maybe 10 people a week. You ask them, ‘Why did you leave your last job?’ It comes back to, ‘My boss was an idiot.’ ‘They treated me like crap.’”

Re-evaluating standards

Joanie Krein, vice president market manager for Manpower Dayton, said the problem is not a lack of applicants for entry-level positions, but employers may need to re-evaluate their hiring standards.

That may mean considering applicants who have prior misdemeanor charges, but Krein said that often depends on the industry and risks associated with the job. When that’s not an option, Krein recommends re-evaluating drug screening policies or physical requirements.

Other employers are turning to automation to fill low-skill positions.

“You really only see that in low-wage jobs,” said Andrew Kidd, an economist with the conservative think tank The Buckeye Institute. “Most employers who are seeking workers now are seeking employees who have the skills that work well with these technologies.

“You see the cashiers at McDonald’s have slowly been dwindling away as they’ve been replaced with kiosks.”

Kidd said the focus should be on training displaced workers for careers less at risk for automation.

The opioid crisis is another compounding factor hurting employers across all industries.

“They have a lot of trained, qualified applicants but these potential employees may not pass a drug test … so you’re left with an employer who still can’t fill a job,” Kidd said. “Addressing this crisis is one of the key solutions to fixing this problem.”

By Mackenzi Klemann

Reach Mackenzi Klemann at 567-242-0456.

Reach Mackenzi Klemann at 567-242-0456.

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