Restaurants are turning to the next cohort as millennials approach midlife. Generation Z (born mid–’90s through to early 2010s) is your future workforce.
If you’ve been doing things right, they may already make up a significant portion of your staff. Employment of teens and young adults in hospitality and retail is significant. Over 80% of Gen Z say they got their first paid job in a restaurant, and the majority (by over 70%!) would recommend the experience.
On the other side of the table, eating out is more popular than ever. (There’s also evidence that Gen Z exert greater control over food purchases.) The restaurant industry is projected for growth to the tune of 1.6 million new jobs over the next decade. Here’s the catch: Gen Z is not a large cohort. The young adult population most likely to work in restaurants is declining over the next decade, to the tune of 1.3 million positions.
That’s an anticipated shortfall of nearly three million fewer employees than needed. And since the robot revolution is not yet here, it’s already putting pressure on restaurants to get more competitive with their hiring and employee retention strategies. You need a plan to bypass the labor crisis and grow your business by connecting with Gen Z. Remember: most of them are already open to the idea of working for you. You just need to give them a reason to pick you over your competitor.
In a job seeker’s market, employees are less likely to put up with a work situation; especially if it doesn’t meet their needs. Gen Z award top points for workplace cultures that offer recognition, team atmosphere, and flexibility—and they may define these things differently than you do. Get strategic, get innovative, and make changes accordingly.
Gen Z is more likely to walk away from high stress environments. Kitchens are one of the hardest environments to work in. In some cases kitchen banter can be interpreted as abusive, bullying, or abrasive. For instance, being yelled at (as popularized by reality TV star chefs) is generally interpreted as severe personal criticism by Gen Z employees. They don’t like feeling judged, overwhelmed, or uncertain. But they do like guidance, mentorship, and feedback. Great leaders and supervisors will take you far.
A good team atmosphere doesn’t suppress the individual for the benefit of the whole. Rather, it equips each individual to bring a unique contribution. Recognition has to be sincere, individual, and preferably, tied to opportunity. Flexibility also needs to offer real work–life balance; Gen Z staff are more likely to simply quit when the job gets in the way of their other goals. And they want these benefits to be offered to everyone.
Even if you do everything right, don’t expect your Gen Z staff to stay with you forever. They grew up in an unstable world therefore they’re highly adapted to change. While more than a third aspire to grow in the industry, they’re also comfortable making frequent moves. Invest in excellent training and relationship building so former employees return, boost your reputation, or recommend you to your next hire.
Honest vision goes a long way. While Gen Z employees are keen on social and environmental causes, the important thing is to be genuine and consistent with your vision. Transparency and vulnerability will take you further than a slick line, and don’t be surprised when your Gen Z staff are the first to call you out if you do slip up.
While demand in the restaurant and food services sector is already high, it’s only going to become increasingly competitive. But making your restaurant a great place to work not only helps you beat the staffing shortage, it makes you more appealing to your customers—who will increasingly be part of that same Gen Z cohort.
“In the labor numbers, we were reporting about a $300 to $400 difference than what we were getting through Push!”
-Tara Hardie, ZZA Hospitality Group, 16 locations