Sizzling Perks: How Restaurants Are Spicing Up Employee Benefits

If you’ve worked in the food service industry – or read Anthony Bourdain’s Kitchen Confidential – you know restaurant work ain’t for the faint-hearted.

The average employee turnover rate for the industry was a whopping 79.6% over the last decade. And 58% of workers at restaurants, bars, and hotels are planning to quit before the end of the year, per Restaurant Business.

The top reasons for quitting?

  • Bad treatment by an employer: You’ll find plenty of ludicrous examples in r/KitchenConfidential, a community of 641k+ food service professionals.

  • Low pay or lack of benefits: Only 35% of bars and restaurants offer medical insurance, compared to the national average of 69%. And only 9% offer paid family leave (the national average is 20%).

  • Lack of work-life balance: 80% of industry workers felt overwhelmed by their workload.

The signal: With the post-pandemic resurgence of dining out, restaurants did some soul searching and started to take employee well-being seriously. From 2022 to 2023, the terms below have spiked up on restaurant career pages.  

Source: Bentobox

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Benefits like PTO and health care, which we take for granted in the tech world, are being touted as restaurants evolve into better workplaces.

Quick-service chains are also the quickest to adapt:

  • Noodles & Company offers immigration reimbursement, which covers USCIS-related fees, like renewing a visa or applying for work authorization.

  • DIG introduced the four-day workweek to their hourly staff, and while the daily hours are longer, 87% report they’re happier with the new schedule.

Mental health benefits are on the rise, too, as restaurants wake up to worker burnout in an industry that doesn’t have the healthiest work culture.

Source: Giphy

You don’t need to be in the food service industry to take a piece of this pie. We’ve got three ideas to start:

1. Go small

Not all restaurants have the level of resources national chains do to care for their employees – small to medium sized establishments will need help catching up.

You could become a benefits consultant and help these businesses design the best employee packages within their budget. Responsibilities include:

  • Interviewing workers about their needs

  • Updating employers on the latest options and market trends

  • Monitoring the impact of benefits on retention

Or, build a marketplace like OS Benefits, which connects hospitality businesses with a network of vendors (like Sesame, Classpass) for a $35/mo per-employee fee. The website traffic is low, signaling an opportunity to build it better.

2. Go Niche

Nearly half of restaurant and food service workers are minorities, compared to 38% in the total US labor force. The industry also employs more minority managers than any other sector in the economy.

You could develop leadership training tailored to minorities, like teaching women or immigrants how to be assertive in a commercial kitchen (traditionally dominated by white men)

Or, provide mental health counseling to niche groups, either by identity (first-time managers, LGBTQ+ staff, single moms) or by position (sous chefs, line cooks, waiters), and help them address unique challenges at work.

3. Go to Online Communities

One r/KitchenConfidential post inspired a Redditor to create this Glassdoor-style review site for hospitality jobs. It’s not great – you could definitely build it better.

For $65k/hr, I might be ok with some toxicity… Source: Kitchen Confidentials

But it’s a good way to brainstorm (Sam would agree) – comb through subreddit posts for common pain points, and you might stumble upon a great business idea. Other subreddits like r/Waiters and r/Serverlife might also offer some inspiration.

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