Designing foodservice operations to meet the expectations of Millennials and other emerging generations remains a topic of constant discussion. Equally important, though is recruiting Millennials to become the next generation of restaurant and foodservice industry workers.
In about 10 years, Americans aged 18 to 24 years old will surpass Gen X based on workforce numbers, according to Pew Research. At that time, Millennials will hold 75 percent of the nation's jobs. There's no escaping the fact that recruiting, training and retraining this younger generation remains in the foodservice industry's best interests if its individual members wish to keep their businesses stable and even grow over time.
Not to mention, Millennials offer businesses many benefits from the employee-employer relationship side of things, according to Sandra Sydnor, assistant professor of hospitality and tourism at Purdue University, who often speaks on the subject of recruitment. "There is a growing opportunity to leverage technology and the creativity of Millennials," says Sydnor.
Take, for example, the healthcare industry. Hospitals must meet higher customer satisfaction goals than ever before thanks to the Affordable Care Act. Introducing fresh faces and ideas to an often outdated foodservice approach helps foodservice directors in healthcare facilities and other industry segments improve their food, service and ambiance.
"Most of the higher ranks in healthcare foodservice are filled with Baby Boomers with many nearing retirement in the next three to five years," Sydnor says. "But foodservice has changed so much in the last 10 years; people are demanding and have a higher expectation of quality and service, even in settings like hospitals where they might have fewer choices. The people coming up through the ranks are mostly registered dietitians, but they mostly work on the clinical side. Now, healthcare institutions are looking for professionally trained, younger chefs with dining experience outside of healthcare who can bring creativity and management to the team."
Still, Millennials differ from Gen Xers and others in the nature of their work and career goals. Here's a look at what this group wants when it comes to workplace culture and conditions.
Millennials, more than other generations, view work-life balance as incredibly important and are less willing to sacrifice family, days off and vacation for long, drawn-out hours at work. They're more interested in working hard and efficiently for shorter periods of time with regular periods of rest. Some experts say Millennials integrate their work lives with their personal lives in a much deeper way than any previous generation.
"For Millennials, the value proposition of working in healthcare or non-commercial foodservice in particular is that they can have more of a life without the typical 70- to 80-hour workweek and weekend work required by many restaurants and hotels in the first five years," Sydnor says. "In healthcare, there is also the capacity to learn and progress through different levels of leadership that Millennials might not have though possible."
Moreover, healthcare foodservice offers a purpose larger than fueling food enthusiasm. "Dietary nutrition is a big part in helping people and patients heal," Sydnor says.
When it comes to typical restaurant work, with new overtime rules, it wouldn't be surprising if operators began stepping away from overscheduling and adjusting hours and shifts to allow younger staff to work more efficiently while avoiding too much overtime pay.
Some businesses have turned away from hierarchical structures to more cooperative ones that allow employees to develop their own shift schedules. The Schedules That Work Act was proposed to push more businesses, and especially restaurants, to alleviate the stress often faced by restaurant staffers who ask for changes to their schedules or look for more predictability because of childcare and education but face lost wages and other penalties when doing so. The Act aims to give workers in target industries, like retail and foodservice, at least two weeks advance notice of their schedules.
Some cloud-based employee relationship management platforms allow restaurant servers and staff to post preferred shifts before the manager makes up the schedule, and then work with other servers online to swap shifts if necessary. These tools make scheduling more predicable for staff and less cumbersome for managers.
Millennials tend to have a strong sense of independence and autonomy, but they also enjoy a positive and social working environment, experts say. They will happily do what asked, but they'll ask "why" first.
Recognizing this, Iowa State University developed a food safety app a few years ago geared toward this younger generation (26 to 34 years old) of restaurant staff, and it includes a Spanish translation. The Do Your PART app couples age-specific training addressing motivations for handling food safety along with a "customized" delivery method. The letters in PART stand for Plan, Act, Routine and Think.
Team members will "Plan" to be more efficient in the kitchen, leading to use fewer gloves and avoid cross-contamination; "Act" on that plan by organizing a work area and setting up stations with all needed supplies; make a "Routine" by developing their own system and increasing practice, and "Think" about their actions through continuous challenges.
Millennials also look to mentors and peers for career improvement, and they shy away from old-school micromanagement. Nick Sarillo, owner of Nick's Pizza & Pub in Crystal Lake and Elgin, Ill., responds to this notion by developing peer-to-peer training and coaching programs, pairing up newer team members with seasoned ones to learn the ropes.
"Through our peer-to-peer training and coaching programs, our team members have the autonomy and freedom to give each other feedback in a comfortable, open environment," says Sarillo. "We stay away from micromanaging; managers won't stand over someone at the grill, for instance. But at the same time, if our team members have a problem or need help or direction, our managers are always available to them."
Millennials, aka "digital natives," are used to real-time feedback, instant gratification and constantly flowing information, thanks to the advent of texting and social media. In fact, silence can be alarming.
As such, this group looks for regular feedback in their work — both from managers and other peers. Realizing this, Sarillo makes sure his managers start off every shift meeting noting positive successes from the week and praising exceptional employees who have done a great job. He uses "we" not "you" language to create a team mentality. And he regularly encourages other opportunities for feedback.
"It's important to share mistakes and learn from them to build trust among our team," he says. "Even owners and top managers make errors; it's important to own up to them. This creates a comfortable environment where team members can easily communicate through challenges."
Just as Millennials want to know where their food comes from and demand transparency from their favorite restaurant brands, they expect the same from their employers, too.
At Jersey Mike's, potential new recruits spend time learning the ins and outs of the restaurant as part of the interview process. "We've gone back to an older way of hiring," says Michael Manzo, chief operating officer.
"No longer do we simply review a written application. It's more about having a dialogue with the person. We have the interviewees and new employees walk around with the interviewer to make them feel like they are part of the restaurant. We want to hire business partners not just staff members so we take more of a personal approach."
Technology is more important to Millennials than to any other generation. Foodservice businesses need to incorporate technology into their systems, not only to improve efficiencies, but also make their workforce literally feel more comfortable.
In healthcare, "healthy eating, diet and weight loss apps are here to stay," says Sydnor. "Millennials are comfortable with these apps, both as diners and as foodservice staff." This familiarity with technology allows Millennials to help older generation managers and directors get up to speed.
Even when it comes to newer equipment models, Millennials have the advantage. "Some of the new equipment on the market can be very high-tech, with state-of-the-art programming," says Sydnor. "Many recent hospitality and tourism grads happen to also be Millennials, and they are the ones who have that kind of current training and exposure."
By learning and understanding the needs of Millennials, consultants can help operators, and operators can help this next generation of foodservice employees achieve their maximum potential in the workforce.