Older Employees
The number of restaurant employees age 55 and older topped 1 million in 2019.

Finding enough good employees continues to be a challenge for restaurant operators. That’s why it’s all the more important to stay ahead of changing workforce trends.

In particular, as we look at the just-released State of the Restaurant Industry report, the number of restaurant employees age 55 and over topped 1 million in 2019 for the first time ever. That makes older adults the fastest-growing age group of restaurant employees, jumping 81% since 2007.

And while teen and young adults currently make up the highest percentage of the restaurant workforce, that trend is shifting. A look at the projected future of the overall U.S. labor force shows a drop of 1.2 million workers in the 16-to-24 age group and an increase of 6.1 million workers in the 65-and-older age group.

The benefits of older employees

This demographic shift in the talent pool will have advantages for businesses. For teens and young adults, a position in the restaurant industry is often their first job. Baby Boomers join the ranks with years of both life and work experience, meaning there’s less of a learning curve with work and professional expectations. You may even be able to partner older employees with younger staff so that they can mentor others on such skills.

In general, the Baby Boomer generation is characterized as hardworking, with a strong sense of dedication and loyalty. They’re also staying in the workforce longer than subsequent aging populations.

In 2018, 29% of Boomers ages 65 to 72 were working or looking for work, compared to 21% of the Silent Generation and 19% of the Greatest Generation when they were the same age, according to a Pew Research Center analysis.

How to attract and retain older employees

As more and more older adults make up the workforce, start appealing to the priorities and values of this demographic in order to hang onto top talent. Make sure to tap into their motivation for staying in the workforce, as only about a third of working retirees identify a paycheck as one of their primary reasons for remaining employed.

  • Offer and communicate appealing benefits. Medicare doesn’t kick in until age 65, so some older adults are staying employed in order to have health insurance and other benefits. To that end, ensure you can offer comprehensive healthcare benefits as well as long-term and short-term disability. Then make sure you let potential hires know about those benefits.
  • Tailor job descriptions. As the talent pool begins to skew older, write job descriptions that emphasize how positions will challenge and engage employees. Seniors report seeking employment as a way to stay mentally engaged, be physically active and have social interactions on a daily basis. Discuss how they’ll be trained on new technology and highlight the opportunity to become a mentor or leader once on staff.
  • Preferred schedules. According to an analysis of the McDonald’s workforce, seniors reported a desire for a regular, steady schedule that fits with their lifestyle compared with teen workers who want more on-demand flexibility that allows them to change and swap shifts as needed.

For a deep dive into the coming trends in our industry’s workforce, check out the National Restaurant Association’s 2020 State of the Restaurant Industry Report. It examines key factors impacting the restaurant industry including the current state of the economy, operations, workforce, and food and menu trends across all segments. The report, based on a range of national surveys of restaurant owners, operators, chefs, and consumers, is an essential resource for the restaurant industry.

The 2020 State of the Restaurant Industry is free to members; nonmembers can purchase the report for $349.