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How Did We Manage to Keep Employees So Shuckin’ Happy Amid a Labor Shortage?

These days, it seems like every restaurant in America is having a hard time staying fully staffed. In the wake of the COVID-19 pandemic and the resulting shutdowns of restaurants, laid-off service industry employees found new opportunities with a lot less stress, better pay, and a more flexible work schedule. 

So how did Shuckin’ Shack seem to overcome these obstacles and re-open their restaurants with full rosters of employees who are genuinely happy to be there? 

Recently, our CEO Jonathan Weathington sat down with 1851 Franchise and spoke about how Shuckin’ Shack seafood franchises are doing so well retaining employees when the restaurant industry at large appears to be experiencing a labor shortage.

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Spoiler alert! We treat people well. That’s it.

We don’t operate like the typical restaurant franchise does: we care about people. It’s really that simple at our company because we respect all of our crewmates, from the Franchise Owners themselves down to the line cooks, bus staff, and dishwashers.  

And that’s been our competitive advantage from the start. We genuinely care about people — our guests, our employees, and the Franchise owners who pour their hearts and souls into their new businesses. 

So, to show you how we keep our employees shuckin’ happy with their jobs we’ll share a little inside info from our restaurant management playbook, including how we were able to weather the storm over the last couple of years, and how we plan to continue running our ship in the future.

Offer better pay and incentives

During his interview with 1851 Franchise, Weathington made a number of candid admissions about two of the main problems with retaining restaurant workers: hourly pay and the lack of incentives.

This opportunity to retain great employees may seem obvious to any shrewd entrepreneur. However, many start-up restaurants keep paying their workers like it’s still the 1980s, yet expect 21st-century results. For example, when you pay servers and bartenders as little as $2.13 per hour, there’s little incentive for them to work any harder than necessary to earn a good tip from regulars.

But for the right amount of money, restaurant workers will likely stay together longer as a team, and you’ll have an opening to build a bonded staff in the front of the house and the back of the house as well.

After all, running a successful restaurant takes all hands on deck, and you should never take any worker’s contributions for granted, especially the servers and bartenders who will own the point of sales and promote the menu and special events like the SEC Championship Game.

Without them, you have nothing.

That’s why we offer $13 per hour plus tips and four-day workweeks to show our employees that we value their commitment to working with pride.

Not only that, but we also give $500 bonuses to all employees who don’t jump ship within 60 days on the job. And we don’t stop there either! Workers are also eligible for the $500 kickback if they call out of work less than four times within the same 60 days.

You read that right. Our workers can call in sick three times within the initial 60-day period of their employment and still get their $500 bonus! (Sheesh…we don’t even know too many professional-level corporate jobs with that level of understanding!)

No other seafood franchise in the country can say the same – period.

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Nurture a tight-knit culture

Along those lines, another advantage we have at Shuckin’ Shack is that we genuinely believe in building a family-like culture where everyone supports and respects one another.

Our Franchise Owners never talk down to their workers or walk around like they know everything because, in all honesty, they don’t! What they do know from day one of their Franchise Owner training is this: at Shuckin’ Shack, people always come first.

The hidden truth about the restaurant business is that managers and assistants will come and go because churn is absolutely a thing that you have to account for eventually. Yet, a bonded staff will keep your restaurant bustling and guests happy for years if you do it right from the start and build a business that fosters camaraderie, not competition for shifts and tips.

And guess what? You do that by offering them more money than they anticipated from the very start.

Still, you have to lead by example because if your staff sees you frustrated and frowning that business is slow, they will mimic your attitude, and your guests will feel it instinctually. But if you act like the Ted Lasso of the restaurant industry and greet every situation with a positive attitude and an unyielding belief in your product, guess what? So will your staff, and then everyone benefits!

Take an active role in customer service 

There is one risk to paying well in the restaurant business, and it really has nothing to do with your workers’ skills or dedication to working with pride. It has everything to do with you, the Franchise Owner, and whether you choose to take an active role or try to be passive. Here’s a hint: passive management is the fastest way to fail.

In other industries, the standard managerial playbook may be to delegate responsibilities to a well-paid worker, set it, and forget it because “I paid that guy a lot to do a job, so I don’t have to,” which may work great in a corporate environment.

But try that managerial approach at a restaurant. You won’t have staff in a matter of days because you’ll be adrift without a rudder and no winds to push you back ashore – and you’ll wonder why people are quitting to work at restaurants down the street instead.

Taking an active role in customer service is how you avoid this problem altogether. It’s really easy to lock yourself in the office and get lost in the numbers and all of the operational challenges that come along with running a restaurant or bar.

So, take a break often and go to the dining floor or bar and “work the room,” getting to know guests and making sure your employees see you doing this because they’ll mimic it instinctually!

(Pro tip: since this was the part of restaurant ownership that probably drew you to Shuckin’ Shack in the first place, it will also make your day a hell of a lot more fun!)

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Promote from within whenever possible

Retention is one thing, but loyalty is quite another. That’s why we try to promote workers to management positions from within our talent pool – and it’s a deep one at any Shuckin’ Shack!

The problem with hiring talented front-of-the-house employees is that the best ones won’t leave their current job unless you can guarantee them more money. The pay at the end of the shift is what matters most, so if you promote from within and make it known that you’ll reward quality work, the rest of the staff will step up even if they don’t plan to pursue a career in the service industry.

Simply put, if you want your guests to come first, you have to put your employees first and work with them to nurture a fun, happy work environment.

Visit our franchise website to learn more about what makes Shuckin’ Shack an excellent franchise opportunity.