unilever-centennial-kickoff-crowd
Restaurateurs, industry consultants, media guests, and Association representatives gathered at Unilever Food Solutions for the National Restaurant Association’s Centennial kick-off event. The focus: workforce development.

In celebration of the National Restaurant Association’s Centennial, more than 50 restaurateurs, industry consultants, media guests, and Association representatives gathered at Unilever Food Solutions headquarters in New Jersey to hear from experts and share ideas on how to enhance the kitchen culture.

With the turnover rate nearing 75 percent last year in the accommodation and foodservice sector (according the Bureau of Labor Statistics Job Openings and Labor Turnover Survey), the challenge is on to attract, train and retain employees. The Centennial event is the first of a series focused on looking ahead for the best ways to meet today’s industry challenges while celebrating 100 years of hospitality and service. Unilever is a founding partner.

The opening panel, introduced by Adam LeDonne, president, Unilever Food Solutions North America, delivered a great mix of philosophical and practical advice. Moderated by Chef Einav Gefen, executive chef at Unilever, attendees heard about an effective initiative committed to creating healthy kitchen environments, FairKitchens.

Gefen is heavily involved with Unilever's #FairKitchens movement, a chef-driven initiative that calls on the restaurant industry to develop kitchen cultures where everyone is respected, no one tolerates abuse, and staff happiness is as important as diner satisfaction (and leads to higher diner satisfaction). Through training, support networks, events and other outreach mechanisms, the movement is helping to effect change in kitchens that fail to attract or keep good employees.

unilever-centennial-kickoff-panelists
Panelists (l. to r.) Sara Anderson, director, workforce development, National Restaurant Association, Chef Naama Tamir, co-owner of Lighthouse in Brooklyn, N.Y., Chef Grace Ramirez, cookbook author, T.V. director, culinary producer and host, Jim McGreevey, former governor of New Jersey and now chairman of the board at New Jersey Reentry Corporation, and moderator Chef Einav Gefen, executive chef at Unilever and participant in the #FairKitchens initiative, which Unilever sponsors.

The panelists included:

  • Sara Anderson, director, workforce development, National Restaurant Association, provided eye-opening facts and statistics. For example, she said it costs an average of $2,000 to replace an hourly employee and $14,000 to replace a manager (according to the Council of Hotel and Restaurant Trainers and TDn2k Trends Research 2017). If you up your onboarding, or orientation time to four hours, you can reduce your overall turnover rate by 10 percent. “Working in this industry isn’t the rite of passage it once was. Young people entering the workforce need to be engaged; they want to feel they contribute and they want to learn,” she says.
     
  • Jim McGreevey, former governor of New Jersey and now chairman of the board at New Jersey Reentry Corporation, reminded the audience that there are viable employee resources outside of the usual channels, including the rehabilitated, whom he champions, veterans and older workers.
     
  • Chef Grace Ramirez, cookbook author, T.V. director, culinary producer and host, recalled her entry into the foodservice business and being told the kitchen’s approach to training was to break employees down in order to build them back up. “What kind of approach is this?” she asks. “How does this inspire anyone?” She was one of several of the panelists to emphasize the importance of hiring and empowering leaders who will establish a good work environment and firmly set the rules for behaviors that will and won’t be tolerated. “You have to be the change you want to see,” she says.
     
  • Chef Naama Tamir, co-owner of Lighthouse in Brooklyn, N.Y., enjoys a 70-percent annual retention rate. What makes her employees stick around? Really good training, and respect. “I hire on personality and take care when hiring people for leadership positions because they set the tone,” she says. The restaurant’s commitment to sustainability is another hook that resonates with employees who want to contribute to a cause they can believe in.

After the panel session, attendees were invited to attend their choice of four expert-led sessions: workforce development, sustainability, plant-forward cuisine, and global flavors. The information-packed morning finished with a networking box lunch, prepared by the Unilever culinary team. Expect more on the Association’s Centennial and workforce development initiatives at the 2019 National Restaurant Association Show, May 18-21, McCormick Place, Chicago.