Despite the innovations in noncommercial foodservice, there remains for many culinary graduates a stigma associated with working outside the glamour of fancy restaurants, luxury hotels and resorts. As a result, noncommercial operators need to work harder to lure good people.
For many contract companies, recruiting and retaining top-quality talent means emphasizing professional development, career advancement and personal fulfillment. In other words, noncommercial foodservice offers not just a salary but a better future.
For some companies, name recognition goes a long way toward leveling the playing field. For example, Garry Garretson, recruiting manager for Aramark’s Healthcare division across 12 Western states, says the Aramark name and reputation more than make up for any perceived lack of panache.
"From our perspective," says Garretson, who has been with Philadelphia-based Aramark for 35 years, "the key to keeping good people is the company’s integrity, the upward mobility potential, sponsorship, training, development and team building."
Another factor working in Aramark’s favor, suggests Garretson, is geography. "We recruit for a variety of [locales], from Montana to Hawaii to San Diego. That can make it easier because you have some attractive places to work in."
Challenging: Recruitment and retention "can be challenging," concedes Bonnie Scott, vice president of staff development for contractors Cura Hospitality and Parkhurst Dining Services, "and it requires a constant effort."
Orefield, PA-based Cura has about 1,000 employees across 75 accounts. Management staffers are recruited by a manager working out of the firm’s corporate office. Hourly associates, on the other hand, are recruited at each location by the on-site manager.
As for retention, says Scott, "We try to engage people with job enrichment and reward and recognition programs. We also assist them in cross training."
Beyond that, Cura operates culinary, service and human resources "colleges" as well as a first-line supervisor training program “so that people are always learning and growing," Scott explains. "Hopefully they will feel that we are investing in them so that they can have a good career here and move up through the ranks, and that there will be opportunities for them." The company also maintains a recognition and service award program to reward longevity.
Cura also has developed a task force to help managers recruit more effectively at the unit level, and it has designed recruitment kits to teach managers how to interview effectively.
Hang your hat: Steve Renz, executive vice president for Creative Dining Services Inc., Zeeland, MI, says his company tries to combat restaurants’ "glamour factor" by playing up some less-tangible benefits such as better working conditions and fewer hours.
Creative targets people with a few years’ experience, who may have grown tired of the glitz, and all the work. "Once people decide, 'I really enjoy the foodservice business, but there has to be a good balance between my private life and my work life', then I think that our side of the business can offer that," Renz says.
A lot of Creative’s recruiting is through referrals from current employees. In addition, rather than engaging in national recruiting programs or advertising, the company works with local culinary schools and hospitality programs, developing relationships and contacts. "It’s an approach that has been good for us," Renz believes.
"Fortunately for Creative Dining, we have had very low turnover," he explains. "We put the word out there, and I think people get the word, that this is a good company to work for. It’s one of those kinds of companies that you can hang your hat on. You can develop your career and have good self-esteem, and along the way you can enjoy your private life."
That last part, Renz is convinced, is key. When the work time/personal time equation gets unbalanced "then you have an issue of someone having a rocky private life and a lot of work," says Renz. "I think that to keep happy employees, and to keep folks feeling good about themselves on their job, you have to have a good balance."
Emory Hospitals recruit more selectively.
A change in the corporate human resources recruiting team at Emory Hospitals in Atlanta more than six months ago has improved communication and led to more proactive recruitment and retention efforts, with better results.
"We are starting to work very closely with the [new HR] team to come up with strategies for recruitment," says Lynne Ometer, Emory’s director of food and nutrition services. Weekly teleconferences between recruiters and members of Emory’s management team from all three of its hospitals are proving fruitful. "It’s a way of beginning to educate them as far as what our needs are, and what kind of candidates work best for us," says Ometer. "It also helps to keep everyone on the same page, which is great."
Emory has adopted the "targeted selection" approach to interviewing, Ometer says. "A lot of hospitals do that now. It’s selecting for hiring based on the idea of past behavior predicting future behavior. Instead of your classic closed-ended questions, we use open-ended questions."
The comparison is the same as essay test versus multiple choice questions. "For example, interviewers ask candidates to 'tell me about a time when you had to deal with a difficult customer, and what you did to make that customer happy'," Ometer relates. "They have to go all the way through the process, so they can’t make up stories because it will come back to haunt them at the end."
Finding people with good customer-service skills has become paramount, Ometer feels, and remains one of Emory’s greatest challenges. “Food-service today is really about providing hotel-style services, even in patient settings,” she notes. "Even in the kitchen, among employees, it’s about good customer service to one another. The approach to the recruiting process used to be, if you’ve got somebody who can go in there and do the task, that’s all you were worried about."
Today, she continues, the process focuses much more on what customer service skills a job candidate possesses. "We can train them to do the rest. It’s more about, can they handle a lot of things coming up without losing their cool and blowing up? The type of person you’re looking for has changed dramatically from what used to be 10 or 15 years ago."
In addition, recruiters are recognizing that the best candidates are a bit more mature. "They are more likely to stick with us a little longer," Ometer says. "They’re more interested, of course, in longer-term benefits and things like that, so in terms of retention they will stay with you longer."
Passport for Progress
Food management firm Crystal Food Services attracts and retains employees by building their skills.
"I’ll tell you right now, recruitment is tight in our industry just because food is trendy and hot right now—pun intended," says Anne Bowman, Crystal’s director of training and development. "It’s insane; you’ve got the 'Food Network', so there is a lot of competition, especially with the chefs. They want to be high profile."
To compete, Crystal’s management team has embraced the idea of operating a corporate university as a means of retaining its best people, Bowman explains. One part of it, called A Passport for Progress, allows employees to "learn more to earn more." The passport is "stamped" each time an educational activity is completed. Monetary bonuses are also given.
"The cool thing about it is that we are working toward a model of career resilience," Bowman explains. "Managers and employees are shown that the model for work is no longer that of parent and child, where we say, 'You stay with me and I’ll take care of you forever.' People transition jobs all the time, so the whole thought is, ‘Let’s look at this as a partner-partner relationship. We will help you to grow, and while you’re growing you’ll use that knowledge with us. When you leave you’ll take it with you, but while you are here you are committed to us because we’re helping you develop, and we are committed to you'."
When Crystal teams exhibit at job fairs and recruit at schools, a video about "Crystal University" has drawn positive feedback. The creation of a corporate resource library at employees’ request also has been met enthusiastically. Chefs regularly use it to search the Internet, find recipes, create menus and brainstorm. "I have all kinds of videos to keep their skills up to date," says Bowman.
Helping employees develop more marketable skills can backfire, of course, if they decide to explore what the market will offer. "That’s quite a little bit of a dilemma," Bowman acknowledges. "We have actually talked about it at great length." What she told Crystal executives was that "if we don’t help them to grow we’re going to end up with pretty much stagnant employees, whose morale is going to be down. We don’t want the bottom of the barrel. We’re better than that. "