This 93-year-old restaurant chain is changing the way it recruits and retains employees

This story is part of Hire Calling, a series from CBC Vancouver that explores the trends behind the workforce shortage in BC and the creative solutions some companies are adopting.

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White Spot is a decades-old restaurant chain in BC that has become popular for its focus on burgers and family dinners.

But as the restaurant industry changes, the 93-year-old company is looking for new ways to attract not only customers, but employees who are willing to work for them during a labor shortage.

The changes are represented by The R+D Kitchen, a new restaurant concept from White Spot, which recently opened their first location in a shopping center in Burnaby, BC.

For diners, an ever-changing list of specials is added to familiar menu items in an effort to attract those with broader tastes.

And for restaurant workers, new incentives include better uniforms and training, and more flexibility in their schedules.

White Spot President Warren Erhart and Chef James Kennedy. (Caroline Chan/CBC)

White Spot President Warren Erhart said this is an acknowledgment of workers having an outdoor life, including families and hobbies.

“There’s an agility that occurs these days with a weekly schedule that says, ‘What are our employees doing? What’s in their personal life? And how do we reconcile their personal lives with the needs of the restaurant?” Erhart said.

The evolution represents a broader shift in the restaurant industry as a whole, towards providing employees with more than just wages. The pandemic has been tough on the hospitality industry as restaurants were forced to close and many staff cut off and now people in the industry are saying they have to change to survive.

At the coast6:06How this Burnaby restaurant retains and recruits employees?

On The Coast’s Caroline Chan visits a Burnaby White Spot location to learn how this industry giant recruits and retains workers. It’s the first part of our new “Hire Calling” series looking at labor trends.

Dennis Innes, dean of the Vancouver Community College hospitality program, says employers need to raise the bar to recruit and retain staff.

“People in the industry want more of a work-life balance and employers really need to take that into account,” says Innes. “I think that’s one of the biggest adjustments employers have to make.”

At a restaurant in West Vancouver, Isetta, they are creatively addressing employee incentives, including bus passes and sharing travel points earned with a corporate credit card.

When it comes to wages, Isetta partner and general manager Thomas Eleizegui says that even unexperienced personnel start at $16 an hour, which is above the current $15.20 minimum wage in BC. This also offers the opportunity for a performance-based increase after three months. It is part of Eleizegui’s philosophy to treat its employees well.

“The staff is key,” he says. “Even if you make a mistake, people will come back because they are a little more patient with you because they get the service they want.”

A friendlier workplace

In the R+D Kitchen, White Spot executive chef James Kennedy shares what he’s doing to make it a friendlier workplace. Computers on every workstation means less yelling of orders and mix-ups. Kennedy admits that the restaurant industry has historically tended to have cooks with hot flashes, but he won’t allow that in his kitchens.

“One of the first rules in our kitchen that I’ve always set up is that no one will ever yell at you, no one will ever lose their temper.”

The early edition6:34A cafe in West Vancouver has come up with a new recruiting strategy to attract workers

Thomas Eleizegui, general manager of Isetta Cafe Bistro, speaks with Stephen Quinn about his “staff are gold” philosophy.

Kennedy sits on an industry training advisory group and says the shortage of workers has been felt in many restaurants during the pandemic. But as public health restrictions ease and restaurants return to full service, workers are coming back.

The pandemic also presents new opportunities as takeout orders have become an important part of their business and they now have staff dedicated to packing orders.

“It’s an industry of change, but it’s strong. We’re in damn good shape.”

Do you have any feedback on this series or a story idea for Hire Calling? Send an email to [email protected]

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