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4 workforce insights from a recent industry gathering

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Labor remains top of mind for foodservice operators, something that became quite apparent to attendees of the National Association for College & University Food Services (NACUFS) national conference, held last week in Denver. Read on for some workforce ideas culled over the course of the event.

Be nice

It pays to foster a friendly team environment, said Janet Adams, a general manager from the University of Missouri-Kansas City, and Kimberle Badinelli, president of Hospitality LLC, who were promoting a workplace philosophy they dubbed “theory nice.” Close to half (47%) of employees put in less effort at work following an incident on the job, and one-quarter admitted to taking workplace frustration out on customers, according to data cited by the two presenters, who noted that an uptick in civility improves staff productivity, morale, retention and more.

Get in early

The foodservice team at the University of Iowa is heading into its third year of a VIP early move-in program that enables them to be staffed up during move-in week. Student workers can move in ahead of time, beating the rush, and have their move-in fee waived, says Laura Croteau, nutrition specialist at the university. The early move-in program, which is promoted to current employees in early spring and incoming freshman during their school orientation, has been a success, says Croteau, noting that the team is hoping for 230-240 participants this year, a jump from 180 at the program’s outset.

Go beyond the basics

Managers can teach basic skills such as how to carry a plate and which ingredients to put in a given dish, but it’s tougher to teach the more innate aspects of a foodservice job, including eye contact, a sense of humor and authenticity, said Jon Schlegel, owner of Denver-based breakfast concept Snooze, an a.m. Eatery, which has more than 2,000 employees. To get a window into a job applicant’s personality, he’ll often throw in an unexpected question during the interview process, such as which walk-up song they would choose if they were playing a baseball game and it was the bottom of the ninth inning with two outs.

Make it personal

At Purdue University, where the foodservice team’s motto is “We develop leaders,” the department applies a number of ideas to foster accountability and career development among student staff. One such example: Student workers are required to give two weeks’ notice when leaving their job in dining and must physically hand a form into the office to do so—emails and letters are not accepted. Not only does this foster responsibility, it helps boost retention as well.

Sometimes, students can feel overwhelmed by schoolwork and just need someone to “talk them off the ledge,” said presenters from the university, who included student staffer Rachel Nellett and former student employee Marquette Minner. Letting workers know that a schedule adjustment is on the table and reiterating what they have to gain by staying on staff can go a long way. Last semester, they said, only three people in a student workforce of 150 turned in their notices.

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