Ingredients for an engaged foodservice workforce

Based on this type of supporting data, it is evident that recruiters need to look at non-traditional labour pools (new Canadians, phased-retirees, and Aboriginal Canadians) if the industry is to see any sustainable growth. This requires new tactics in where to find employees and how to prepare our businesses to bring aboard these new recruits in a manner that will ensure success.

Non-traditional demographic groups get information on job opportunities in very different places than Gen Y. The internet is not necessarily the primary source for this information for these non-traditional groups; it is often community papers, community outreach organizations, Band Councils, and positive word-of-mouth. Once hired, employers can make small adjustments to new recruits’ training plans to ensure engagement. Resources like Canadian Workplace Essentials or similar programs can help ensure new recruits have the essential skills that can help them thrive in a new work environment.

Compensation an integral part of strategy

It will also become increasingly important that businesses offer adequate compensation in order to attract new employees and retain their current workforce. However, the issue of fair pay is not the only factor when considering compensation. More pay does not necessarily equal better performance and better pay will not convince people to stay in a poor work environment.

Canadian employees consider health and dental plans, as well as short- and long-term disability benefits the most important benefits employers can offer. In 2012, nearly half of food and beverage businesses offered their employees flex time, while a lower percentage offered health/dental coverage, long-term disability and short-term (eg. sick leave) coverage. On the other hand, most businesses offer some form of employee discount or free services to their employees. While these types of perks are highly valued by young employees, they are less important to older workers.

Workers, particularly young employees, also place a high value on the opportunity for advancement. In fact, when considering an offer of employment, Canadians aged 18 to 24 who were looking for work considered potential advancement to be more important than a competitive wage or salary.

As young workers shrink as a proportion of the labour market, offering such career advancement perks  may become less beneficial. Going forward it is important to maintain an awareness of the items that workers value in order to offer the best possible compensation package.

The importance of employee benefits

Benefit / PerkPercent of Businesses OfferingImportance to Employees1
Employee discounts / free services81%5.80
Communications technology (cell phone, PDA)50%4.86
Company car / mileage allowance49%5.16
Flex time45%7.15
Group health / dental insurance244%8.23
Employee / dependent life / insurance37%7.41
Tickets to events35%4.12
Long term disability28%7.79
Association memberships26%4.42
Short term disability/sick benefits21%7.83
Maternity/parental leave220%5.07
Telecommuting/home-based 16%4.79
Registered pension plan14%7.40
Group RRSP12%5.94
On-site amenities 4%4.63
Opportunity for advancementNot asked8.26

Source: CTHRC
1 Rated on a scale of 1 to 10 where 10 indicated the perk or benefits was “highly important”; 
2 Benefits additional to legislated requirements

Non-wage considerations important

Foodservice businesses are not only competing with one another when it comes to attracting and retaining staff – they are competing with other industries. Depending on the competing sector or industry, the ability of foodservice operators to compete head-to-head on wage may be a substantial challenge. Therefore, highlighting the non-wage benefits of working in the sector is key to a successful attraction and retention strategy.

If workers only cared about the wages they earned, one could assume that giving raises to employees would result in higher retention rates. But a recent global survey from the iOpener Institute for People and Performance found there was no correlation between pay increases and retention rates. Employee engagement was identified as more important in retaining staff. This was particularly true for the younger Gen Y generation.

Projected labour shortages in food and beverage services by province (2030)

Projected labour shortages in food and beverage services by province (2030)

Happy workers stay the course

The iOpener findings matched a recent survey conducted by the CTHRC’s Workforce Matters Panel. The survey of anonymous responses found a very high level of employee engagement among respondents (72 per cent indicated they were very engaged). When asked about specifics in their job, a large majority also indicated they had a positive relationship with managers and peers, good levels of workplace communication, believed that their input mattered and had the resources available to do their jobs. Yet, despite the fact that approximately one-third of respondents felt they were not paid fairly for the work they were doing, this group had slightly higher engagement scores than the majority who indicated they were paid a fair wage. This may have been due in part to respondents who worked seasonally in the tourism sector and for whom other factors such as flexible hours may have influenced their response.

The results show that good management, training, flexible work hours, and positive work environment are all things that attract employees in the first place and keep them from leaving once they are there. Highly engaged employees tend to stay with the company longer, work harder and call in sick less frequently compared to their less-engaged counterparts. Offering an all-round employment package that hits the areas of interest for the target labour market along with a positive, well-managed work environment will save on recruitment and retention costs as well as build an engaged, happy workforce to serve customers.

Quality training is essential

Tourism employment - 2006

Most restaurant-goers would agree that one of the keys to a positive dining experience is the quality of service. Without good food prepared by skilled kitchen staff and presented by pleasant servers, an establishment is highly unlikely to build a regular and loyal customer base.

An article by industry consultant Geoff Wilson 20 key factors to success in the restaurant industry. Empowering staff, controlling labour costs while providing quality customer service and flawless execution are included in this list. Providing quality food with a winning attitude is also mentioned. The main theme of all the factors though is strong human resource management. And a major component of strong HR management is ensuring staff has the skills, knowledge and training to deliver high quality products and services in an efficient way.   

Staff training benefits employer and employee

Training can be tough to fit into already tightly scheduled resources. It costs money and high turnover rates can discourage employers from investing in current employees. However, as Zubair Siddiqi, general manager of the Delta Prince Edward, said in an interview that “when done properly, training helps employees grow their skills and enhances what they are capable of. Training reduces turnover and creates an incentive for employees to stay with you longer.”

From the employees’ point of view, training goes a long way in helping them deliver the quality service that contributes to a restaurant’s success. In the words of one food and beverage server interviewed, “I used to be driven to tears by angry or rude customers, but since becoming an Emerit certified food and beverage server, I learned to set boundaries. I now have the confidence to explain to a customer exactly what we are willing to do to address their complaint and leave it at that.”

Looking forward, there are a number of challenges and opportunities facing the foodservice industry in Canada. Standing still and not recognizing the seismic demographic changes that are afoot guarantees being left behind while this vibrant sector increases its role as an integral cog in the economic engine of the country. The best way to prepare and start making the incremental changes required is to gain a good understanding of the factors at play in the industry. Becoming aware of the demographic shifts in the foodservice labour force as well as learning about the vital role non-monetary compensation plays in recruiting and retaining staff are crucial factors in developing that understanding and can help lead to greater business success.

See also:

About the author

Jon Kiely is Vice President, Product Innovation and Marketing, Canadian Tourism Human Resource Council. For more information, visit or

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