There are over a million restaurants in the US, and over 14.7 million people working in the industry. As more Americans try to balance their busy lives, eating out has become the norm, making food service one of the fastest growing segments of the economy.
With the industry booming, managers and franchise owners are recognizing the impact that their frontline workers have on their success. The customer experience, from the parking lot to the counter or table and back, will determine whether a patron raves about the food on social media or pans it in a scathing review on Yelp.
From the host at the door to the server to the cooking staff, most positions are entry level, minimum wage jobs. Median pay for the industry according to the Bureau of Labor Statistics was $9.81 per hour. And beyond the low pay, restaurant work has a poor reputation, often seen as short-term, stopgap work for college students or as a job for the entirely unskilled.
While the public perception of these roles has not changed, behind the scenes, the industry is shifting to recognize the value and the contribution that frontline workers in service roles are making for their employers. In most parts of Europe, the reputation of food service workers is quite different. Far from being a high-turnover, entry-level job, restaurant work is considered an excellent career. Servers, sommeliers, chefs and bakers are viewed as professionals, and are compensated as such. The difference in perception is significant.
There is evidence that American restaurants are perceiving the value, as well as the competition for talent, and are responding with changes in their approach to recruiting and retaining their people. The most obvious option to attract great talent is with higher wages, but for many restaurants and coffee shops, the cost structure is such that raising hourly rates across the board is simply not feasible. Yet the impact that frontline workers have on the bottom line is significant, so many larger organizations are finding ways to provide other benefits to their employees.
McDonalds recently announced a significant uptick in their tuition reimbursement programs in an effort to attract and retain more qualified workers. Starbucks also offers support for college, as well as a host of other benefits. And while food service is often derided as a dead-end job, 9 out of 10 restaurant managers and 8 out of 10 owners started out in entry-level positions.
The challenge in attracting and retaining great staff (which applies to all organizations in the service economy) is often the schedule. Fast food restaurants are often open long hours and nearly every day of the year. They also experience bursts of demand around mealtimes, making it challenging to create stable shifts.
While technology has had an impact in the food service industry, it has most often been in the form of back-office improvements rather than in replacing frontline workers. You can order your burritos online, but they are still made by a human, and you will most likely either come into the store to pick up your dinner or you’ll interact with a person when your food is delivered to your door.
The people are, in many cases, the lynchpin of success for restaurants, from local counter-service diners to five-star steakhouses. And as Americans eat out more and more often, restaurant owners are recognizing the need to focus on the customer experience. This, in turn, is driving the recognition that every employee has a role to play in creating a positive experience.
With the restaurant industry booming, managers and franchise owners are recognizing the impact that their frontline workers have on their success and responding with changes in their approach to recruiting and retaining their people