In a dramatic show of resiliency, strength and perseverance, the restaurant industry's demand for employees is expected to outpace that of the U.S. workforce over the next 10 years. And while the industry was forced to shed more than 104,000 jobs, the National Restaurant Association has predicted this sector will provide 14 million jobs by 2020.
The job-growth rate is good news for the industry and the U.S. economy, but it could create another set of issues for restaurant operators.
The mindsets of consumers and employees are not what they were one year ago, and the workforce demographic is shifting.
One challenge the NRA has predicted the industry will have to overcome is the changing age of potential employees. Teens and young adults have historically made up the bulk of industry workers, but that demographic is declining as a proportion of the labor force.
By 2018, people aged 55 and older will comprise nearly 25 percent of the nation's labor force, according to the Bureau of Labor Statistics. That number is up from 14 percent in 1978 and 18 percent in 2008.
"By and large, the average age of the national workforce on the longer-term perspective does get older, and it's fundamentally the aging baby boomer," said Hudson Riehle, the NRA's senior vice president of the Research and Knowledge Group.
So, how will the shift impact the industry?
Some businesses in general are altering how they view and treat the average employee.
"If you think about it, there are operators who have made very deliberate steps toward employing individuals that are age 55 and over," Riehle said. "When you think about the wants and needs of individuals by age in the workforce, when you have individuals aged 24 and under, their expectations, wants and needs out of a job are different than age 55 and over. Operators are cognizant of that and market the job attributes around that. Obviously, (with employees 55 and over) a lot depends on their life stage."
And to help develop and mentor a younger workforce, the restaurant industry is doing more to establish entry-level jobs as part of an overall career advancement strategy.
"There is a whole host of interest developing in career ladders and it makes perfect sense," Reihle said. "It's in the best interest of the employee and employer to have a delineated career path, and for employers to assist with the educational development of their work staff."
While the restaurant industry is well-poised to handle the swing, industry research shows there is a long way to go, as the industry's workforce and its motivating factors also are changing.
"I believe there are still many companies that are operating in a mode where they are trying to respond with what worked for them 10 years ago or 20 years ago," said Joni Thomas Doolin, CEO and founder of Dallas-based People Report. "The year that â€˜Freakonomics' came out and [with] the challenging of conventional wisdom, we started to tee up the idea that we're hanging on to so many practices, policies and artifacts of the industrial age in the workplace that are no longer relevant."
Operators need to let go of their outdated ideals surrounding compensation practices, commoditized benefit practices, how people are scheduled and how employers communicate with their staff. And the key to transforming workplaces will be rooted in big change, not incremental tweaks of existing policies, practices and procedures, Doolin said.
That change includes a return to the concept of Employee Value Proposition – and the "true intersection of people and profits."
"It is through this construct that we can systematically start creating the change we need and take the initial baby steps toward Capitalism 2.0," Doolin said.
And while continuous learning, community, collaboration and customization can create a more harmonious atmosphere for employees, it all leads to the same thing.
"The peak is the concept of meaningful work, which is all about purpose," Doolin said.