National Restaurant Workers Day
National Restaurant Workers Day at the James Beard House
October 31, 2023
Recapping a discussion talk about how restaurant employees can develop skills and grow their careers.
Tuesday, October 24 was National Restaurant Workers Day, a day dedicated to the people who make our hospitality industry run. As part of our celebrations of the event, BentoBox partnered with the James Beard Foundation to host a talk on how restaurant workers can develop hard and soft skills, craft career paths, and lead effective teams.
The conversation was hosted by James Beard Foundation VP of Programs Anne E. McBride, PhD, and featured Caroline Schiff (Executive Pastry Chef, Gage & Tollner ), Sean Feeney (Co-Founder, Grovehouse), and Nicole Merino (sous chef at Zaytinya New York and the inaugural Beard House Fellow). Here are a few key takeaways from the talk.
Scroll down for more photos of National Restaurant Workers Day at the James Beard house.
Anne E. McBride, Caroline Schiff, Nicole Merino, Sean Feeney (L–R)
Turnover and training are more expensive than we think.
At Gage & Tollner, Caroline Schiff has been a critical part of establishing an intentionally employee-centered culture. Providing employees benefits has always been a guiding principle at the restaurant, both to create a better environment and to ensure business continuity.
“We provide employees financial advisory services,” Schiff said. “It’s a cost, but turnover and training are, if anything, more expensive.”
Schiff also takes pride in how readily her employees feel able to take time off and get shifts covered. “I cross-train everyone in the pastry department so that swapping shifts here and there is easy,” she said. “I know this added benefit incentivizes longevity.”
Jessica Faith Meter and Caroline Schiff
Breakfast bites provided by Caroline Schiff
Demonstrating career growth is essential.
Grovehouse operates some of the premier restaurants in New York City, including Lilia and Misi. Co-founder Sean Feeney believes it’s the kind of place where talented people want to come work. And the best way to keep them, he states, is proving it to be a great place to develop a career.
“When you have people in the org who have demonstrated career arcs, that’s incredibly powerful,” Feeney said. “One of the most important things we have to offer talented new employees is the potential they have to grow with us.”
Great managers are great coaches.
Nicole Merino, sous chef at José Andrés restaurant Zaytinya, was the James Beard Foundation’s inaugural Beard House Fellow in 2021. As an up-and-coming manager, Merino has had to navigate the dual challenges of developing her own skills while managing a growing team of people. Along the way, she’s learned a few crucial tricks to becoming a coach for her team.
“During training, I always tell new cooks, ‘This plate costs $50,’” Merino said. “It pumps them up to think of it that way: we are putting out a quality product and we need to be able to stand behind it. It motivates people!”
Merino is also quick with praise and recognition of her staff when it’s needed. “On days when things are really going crazy, I always make sure to tell them, ‘You guys are killing it.’ I should say it more often, if anything, but I want them to know their efforts are so important to the whole thing working.”
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