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Dillon: Staffing biggest challenge for many restaurants

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Paul Dillon, Emmy-winning cooking show host, at FoodBizNJ.
Paul Dillon, Emmy-winning cooking show host, at FoodBizNJ. - ()

Emmy-winning cooking show host Paul Dillon schooled the crowd at FoodBizNJ on the challenges restaurants face and also offered advice on how to get through to the millennial workforce.

“Thirty-six percent of operators find staffing the largest issue,” Dillon said. “I get phone calls from people all the time saying ‘Paul, we can’t get employees.’ There are so many jobs, but there are not qualified people to fill those jobs.”

He said 20 percent of restaurant operators are most concerned about maintaining their customer base, while 15 percent are most concerned about the food costs.

Dillon, one of two keynote speakers at NJBIZ’s first of two FoodBizNJ events this year, runs the Business, Culinary Arts and Hospitality Management Division at Hudson County Community College, where the enrollment is around 1,200 students, 300 of whom are in the culinary program.

“Five years ago, that was around 600; over the past four years we’ve declined by 50 percent,” he said. “We have a real challenge bringing people into the culinary field because they don’t realize how rewarding it is.”

To attract people to the culinary field, Dillon promoted a marriage of education and industry. Projects like HCCC’s own L.E.A.P. (Learning Enables All Possibilities) allow high school students to take culinary classes for college credit that they can then apply toward a degree. And for those working but not with a degree, he proposed a program to allow them to get an education based on the experience they’ve already accrued.

“Say, ‘Oh, you’ve worked this many hours? Let’s take those hours and convert them into college credits’…and so you can keep your employees, develop your employees, and they can grow,” said Dillon.

Another issue? Fair wages. According to Dillon, an executive chef in New Jersey makes around $48,000 a year.

“That’s pretty tight in New Jersey. As an industry we’re not giving our employees the remunerations they deserve for what they’re doing. Our industry doesn’t support that as far as our structure. We’re a nickel industry,” said Dillon. “We spoil the consumer. When gas prices went up, what did we do? We cut hours a little bit so the consumers didn’t feel it. But what did our wholesalers do? They tacked a delivery price on.”

According to Pew Research Center, millennials make up the largest workforce in the country. To succeed in business, including the restaurant business, Dillon said--you have to know how to work with millennials.

“The millennials are the new great generation. What do they need?” he posed. “They need to know exactly what the job is. They do not want to know what their job might or might not be, they want cut and dry ‘What are my responsibilities? What do I need to do to be successful?’”

Dillon also noted what restaurant owners need to do on a personal level to keep millennials on their payroll.

“[Millennials] will leave you for 10 cents an hour. That’s a practical thing,” he said. “So in some shape or form, you need to form an allegiance with them. You mentor them, you mentor them, and you mentor them. You spend time with that person, you spend time one-on-one, and you discuss what the requirements are, so they feel they’re learning, being challenged, and appreciated.”

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Gabrielle Saulsbery

Gabrielle Saulsbery

Albany, N.Y. native Gabrielle Saulsbery is a staff writer for NJBIZ and the newest thing in New Jersey. You can contact her at gsaulsbery@njbiz.com.

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