The New Restaurant Management Paradigm: The Caring & Feeling of Millennials and Gen Zers

My first gig in the restaurant industry started in 1987 and I remember being told that there was a huge population bubble that would fix all my staffing nightmares -- if I could just wait about 12 years or so.

The said generation did not have their snappy nickname then, but we knew they were coming. Now that we are realizing the full force of Millennials (and their proximate group, Gen Zers), it’s no surprise that they are being studied as assiduously as they have been.

This year’s Deloitte Global Millennial Survey is filled with wicked insights into the real character of both generations. The full survey is worth the read, but we wanted to share some of our thoughts on the conclusions and what they mean to our industry.

They Might be Getting Cynical

The generation raised on Barney and Teletubbies has finally grown up and accepted a cynicism more relevant to Rug Rats than Dora the Explorer. The proof of that increasing cynicism can be seen in their responses to the survey regarding our current cultural outlook. In three separate categories to measure optimism, both Millennials and Gen Zers displayed a rising pessimism. The most dramatic drop was in their optimism about the economy. While a plurality of 45% were hopeful in 2017, this dropped to a clear minority of 26% this year.

Add to that, a drop to just 22% of them believing the social/political environment will improve in the next year and you can see full blown fatalism. Fortunately, 55% still believe that business has a positive impact on society, although that number dropped from 76% just two years ago. You can attribute this lessening hope to working circumstances that haven’t delivered on their promises and a growing unease across the country about what happens next.

It’s important to see this for what it is: an opportunity to provide a place where hope still exists. No, you can’t make the job market pay better or reduce the uncertainty in our society, but you can deliver a great place to work that serves the needs of your staff and appreciates their fears. Prove to your staff that they can trust you. Contrary to old school thinking, that is NOT something they owe you. In today’s market it is employers that need to consider the happiness of their staff at least as much as they expect it in return. If you create a secure, predictable and encouraging work atmosphere, they will surprise you by delivering on their side of the bargain.

They Want to Live (and Work) Their Values

Perhaps no other generation has ever had the luxury to include their values so easily into to their career and life decisions. This fact shows through by how clearly Millennials and Gen Zers connect them to both their personal and professional lives. Viewed through a consumer lens, over a third of them will disrupt their relationship with a business that impacts the environment negatively. Additionally, 42% of them will begin or deepen a relationship if they are positively impacting society. They are almost equally as passionate about ethical behavior as they navigate the consumer landscape.

Both Millennials and Gen Zers demonstrate a profound connection to their values with their wallets, an approach they extend to their employers. In fact 59% report they would leave a company if they aren’t having a positive impact on the local community. This is followed closely by 54% who claim they would exit if their employer doesn’t provide a motivating and stimulating work environment, so they are also focused on their own value.

Once again, our industry provides wonderful platform to do all those things. Encourage your young team members to seek out activities that will benefit the community and be great goodwill marketing. Give them the task of managing something external as they learn all the internal elements of your business. This will satisfy their desire to be a positive influence in the world and reflect well on your business in the same stroke.

Why They Leave Will Surprise You

While this insight into why Millennials bail on working for you isn’t restaurant industry specific, it still has pretty relevant. No, you shouldn’t be surprised that pay satisfaction tops the list; it’s the next two that should chill your bones if you want to compete for the best people going forward. Millennials biggest complaint after pay is a lack of opportunities to advance followed by not enough learning or development opportunities.

This is not the first time we have broached this subject, nor will it be the last.

For some of you it may feel hopeless. You can’t pay more than you already are and you’re an independent operator and the opportunities just don’t exist. If you accept that as your final answer, you’ll be missing the obvious ways to solve those problems. First, you can create opportunity where there is none. Kick off a catering effort and tie your ambitious staff members into the fold and include your motivated managers in all aspects of running your business. They may not realize their next promotion, but while you have them they will be learning and developing.

Let’s face it, if you are a single operator or are the GM of a single restaurant, junior managers come and go. There’s only room for one GM per store and they eventually either promote out or move on. This is precisely why you need to position yourself as a great place to learn, grow, and move forward with their careers. If you get 2-3 years from a junior manager because you kept them engaged, then you dramatically improved your own business while simultaneously serving the needs of your staff. Win-win by any definition.

Insights & Conclusions

Sorry to be the bearer of bad news, but this entire post is outlining the new paradigm. It falls on you to provide the tools, development, and environment that will serve these stated needs for Millennials and Gen Zers. It may even sound ridiculous to care about the feelings of your staff, but you most likely are also struggling to staff your management teams. So, it’s either figure this part out or not compete for all these talented folks. And yes, I said talented. They are the most educated generations in human history.

What they need is to be nurtured and that’s where you come in…

Now, the good news! Our industry offers plenty challenges for anyone that wants to learn. Especially those that fancy themselves as future movers and shakers. We can happily bill our industry as a place where you can have access to a true generalists experience in a business. From operations to human resources and everything in between, young aspiring professionals can learn everything.

By creating an environment where that happens you become more competitive in that shallow labor pool. Who knows, you might just see improvements in your business from focusing on developing your team and creating a safe secure environment.

As my Nana used to say, “You get what you get!” Translation: This is our new paradigm and it’s us that has to change, apparently.