At TechTable's fifth annual summit, industry veterans responded to the demands and challenges of the modern hospitality workforce.

How to Build a Team That Sticks Around
Credit: Brian Arch

From platforms that save data about dishes diners enjoyed to apps that let guests change reservations with ease, it’s safe to say that restaurateurs are embracing all that technology has to offer. TechTable, a New York City-based summit now in its fifth year of bringing chefs, tech entrepreneurs, and industry veterans together, focuses on using those bells and whistles to improve the hospitality experience, but this year’s panel discussion on the modern workforce was all about the analog side of building a team.

“People today want to feel part of something bigger than themselves,” said Empowered Hospitality CEO Angie Buonpane, describing a workforce that, in the past 15 years, has both shrunk in size and grown increasingly comfortable vocalizing demands and concerns. “I find working with today’s workforce to be a lot more exciting. They don’t want things to happen to them, but for them.”

Many of those demands include an evolved benefits package that amounts to more than just medical insurance and a 401K program. Charles Bonello, co-founder of Vivvi, which recently partnered with west~bourne’s Camilla Marcus to open the first-ever child care center that accommodates employees of the hospitality industry, pointed to his business as a key example. “We’ve found that when employers roll out childcare as a benefit and really celebrate it, they have great results,” he said, citing that 50 percent of American women don’t return to the workforce after having their first child. “I see this shift from work life balance to work life integration. People work to live their lives, and not the other way around.”

At Inday, a fast-casual Indian restaurant with three locations across New York City, Basu Ratnam said that treating his employees like customers has been among the single most important ways to grow a healthy team. “Don’t just have some values written on a poster on the wall in the kitchen. Clearly articulate them and show how they apply to people on a day to day basis,” he said. “All of our GMs and chefs in our restaurants started on the line. Build a lot of tools, documentation. Over-communicate the steps to succeed.”

Buonpane also emphasized that an updated benefits package doesn’t have to cost a lot of money. “Give people a day off for community service, make sure they get the shifts for childcare services. When they have an issue and they go to a manager, that manager should listen to them. Those things mean a lot. Listening doesn’t sound like a benefit, but it really is.”