January 1, 2016 |

Respecting the Craft: Staffing and Retention

By Tony Gemignani

Talent pool suffers in a strong economy


Tony Gemignani World-champion Pizzaiolo and Pizzeria Owner

Tony Gemignani
World-champion Pizzaiolo and Pizzeria Owner

As a follow up to last month, let’s examine other reasons for high turnover:

• Higher housing and rising inflation. The fluctuation and increase in rent in big cities where the housing market has skyrocketed hasn’t helped employees at all. In fact, more potential employees have moved out of big cities and into markets that are more affordable. Now that contractors are building again and more restaurants are opening in suburban towns you see less and less of the bridge-and-tunnel employee coming into big cites for work. This has made it very difficult to find management positions where the cost of living is too high. Some $50k and even $70k salaries are meaningless. Very sad and very scary.

• Fewer employees. Lower unemployment rates means fewer employees coming in to apply. Typically, you get a group of employees that are called leftovers — the small percentage of people who don’t get hired. Usually they are not the best employees or they’re just in the wrong industry without any applicable skills. I have asked restaurateurs and chefs in California and other areas about this problem. It seems that it’s slim pickings for all of us — and we’re all hiring!

The leftovers, like I mentioned, are easy to figure out from their references and short-term employment elsewhere. I’m not a fan of an employee who has worked at eight restaurants in two years. Nope!

• Wrong concept for the age of the employee. Fast causal is gaining more and more momentum each year. So many pizza places are trying to copy the Chipotle concept. Well, as Chipotle has grown, I personally have noticed a very big change in their employees. The biggest difference I have noticed is their age. I frequent Chipotle and have seen more teenagers to 22-year-old employees working. Just a few years back I typically saw employees who ranged in age between 30 and 50 years. In my opinion, as the company has grown, this model has been labeled “fast casual”. This concept draws in a younger employee which, in turn, could mean a higher rate of turnover. In the pizza business, when you have a slice concept and/or fast casual you will see your staff become younger and younger. It’s not necessarily a bad thing, don’t get me wrong, but when you see more employees applying down the line they will be younger. I see this at my Slice Houses where my employees range from 18 to 25. It’s a rarity I will get someone that’s middle aged. I wish it could be more of a mix but it’s not, typically 90/10. I always look for long-term employees and sometimes when we build our restaurant into a fast-casual concept we attract a fast-casual employee. Hope and pray they stay with you for a while. The more of these concepts that we build the more saturated the pizza industry gets, which means less employees to choose from.

• ‘Help Wanted’ sign not enough. Sometimes you really get some bad applicants from putting a sign in your window or running an ad in the paper or on Craigslist. Sometimes you may get lucky and other times it can be a nightmare. Internet companies such as Proven, Indeed, Poached and LinkedIn have been great sources for locating employees geared for our industry. These companies are way more advanced and you can work with a representative to tailor an ad to your needs.

If you are experiencing high turnover, you may not be doing something wrong. There could be a lot of variables involved. We can treat our employees like gold and it still may not be enough. Or in other cases we do all the right things and everything is golden.

RESPECTING THE CRAFT features World Pizza Champion Tony Gemignani, owner of Tony’s Pizza Napoletana in San Francisco and Pizza Rock in Sacramento.  Tony compiles the column with the help of his trusty assistants, Laura Meyer and Thiago Vasconcelos. If you have questions on any kitchen topic ranging from prep to finish, Tony’s your guy. Send questions via Twitter @PizzaToday, Facebook (search: Pizza Today) or e-mail jwhite@pizzatoday.com and we’ll pass the best ones on to Tony.