Welcome to the Biggie Leagues


Finding and keeping employees takes the right motivation, and it’s all within your control. 

Our economy is on the move. That means we’re going to be reading a lot about foodservice employment issues in the coming years. Be prepared for a raft of stories about employee shortages and the dire implications it will have for our industry.

In the restaurant world, some industry giants are already anticipating the worst: Carl’s Jr. and Hardee’s are making noises about going “employee free” and McDonald’s is trying to sell entrées through vending machines. 

I advocate a different approach, one that’s well-suited for healthcare dining. Let’s assess our environment logically and determine what’s working with employees now and how it’s changed over the past few years. It’s certainly true that more opportunities are available in the marketplace and some people are heading toward higher-paying jobs.  


Not every foodservice operator is experiencing an employee-finding or employee-keeping crisis. The operations that are continuing to thrive have accepted that keeping employees happy takes just as much attention as keeping customers happy.   

Think of the way you approach your food menu. It has to be diverse, with a blend of favourites and exciting new ideas. And it has to be periodically reworked and improved to match the changing tastes and expectations of your diners.

Practice adaptive leadership 

It’s just as important to adapt your leadership style to meet the evolving concerns of your employees. What worked today won’t necessarily work tomorrow. But the good news is that there are certain universal needs at the foundation of every employee desire, demand and complaint, from the back of the kitchen to the corner office. I call these needs “The Biggies.”  
The way you address these needs may vary as you deal with different economic conditions and age groups, but they should always be top of mind when you’re strategizing recruitment and retention strategies. 

The Biggies are all under your control—and they’re likely what you want from your job as well, so you’ve got a leg up in translating them into effective policies.

What all employees want 

Looking to maintain good morale and prevent a revolving door of staff turnover? Achieving this is easier than you think.
Fair payment. Keep in mind that money is ultimately a “dissatisfier” because anyone can always find a higher-paying job if that’s all they’re looking for. (It rarely is.) Compensation doesn’t have to be superior, but it has to be competitive. The best way to determine prevailing local rates is via chambers of commerce, the internet and surveys.

A sense of value. Being valued equates to feeling you’re an essential part of the employment partnership. The employer provides the job, the employees provide their skills; it’s a mutually beneficial relationship.

A trusting relationship. The best example I can provide on how to earn and keep trust was given to me by one of my first mentors many years ago. “Kenny,” she said, “always remember, if a dog will bring you a bone, he’ll take one away.” That means you should talk about my work only with me. Don’t talk about my work to someone else or talk to me about someone else’s quality of work. That will destroy trust—and loss of trust is No.1 in Patrick Lencioni’s book, The Five Dysfunctions of a Team.

A positive environment. This isn’t about giving me a new job; it’s about letting others know your positive thoughts about me.

Appreciation. Saying “good job” is never enough. Tell me exactly what I did and why it mattered. Great affirmation must be positive, timely, concise, vivid and descriptive. “Mike, you rocked our world today; pitching in to help plate dishes when he was falling behind prevented a disaster.”

Mentoring. People who consider themselves happy in their roles can almost inevitably point back to a boss or two who took a special interest in them and showed them the ropes.

Inclusion. While it isn’t appropriate to share everything with everyone, it is always appropriate to ask people for their opinion on issues that concern their role. The best improvement suggestions always come from those doing the job. It’s hard for any of us to complain about an idea that was ours. Feeling involved extends beyond your four walls: Choose a charity, form a committee, raise dollars, give time; it’s a great camaraderie-building experience.

A challenge. Think about this in bigger terms than goals and contests. Imagine how powerful it is to be asked to help make the entire operation better. It opens a world of possibilities for you and your employee.

A mission. Missions have to be repeated—often. Pre-shift and post-shift meetings are about focusing the team on what needs to be done and motivating them to accomplish it.  

Empowerment. Knowing that I don’t need to go to my manager for every decision builds my self-esteem.

Let others worry about potential labour shortages. Focusing proper attention on The Biggies is a much more productive use of your time. You’ll establish a reputation as an employer of choice, and that will serve you well in any labour condition.

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