Newspaper article The Christian Science Monitor

Restaurateurs Sweeten the Pot to Keep Employees Southern Eateries Offer Retirement Plans and Vacation to Counter The

Newspaper article The Christian Science Monitor

Restaurateurs Sweeten the Pot to Keep Employees Southern Eateries Offer Retirement Plans and Vacation to Counter The

Article excerpt

Sure, Brent Peterson and his wife own Trio's, a trendy restaurant that caters to the likes of Billy Bob Thornton and President Clinton when they breeze into town.

But they still know the value of a deft dishwasher.

"A good dishwasher is hard to find," says Mr. Peterson. "People laugh, but I'd rather treat a dishwasher like I would a manager and then promote from within." Treating dishwashers like managers is the least that many restaurants have to do these days to keep "help wanted" signs out of their windows. At a time when unemployment rates are smaller than a Happy Meal and eligible workers are as treasured as crme brle, restaurants are feeling squeezed. To a surprising degree, they symbolize the depth of the tight labor market in the United States in the face of the longest expansion in peacetime history and the shift to a more service- oriented economy. Indeed, during the next seven years, restaurants will need to add some 2 million workers to keep up with demand, experts say. As a result, owners are offering would-be waiters everything from extra vacation time to retirement packages in an attempt to lure long- term employees - not just nomadic actors between jobs. "It pays to cater to employees," says Rita Walker of the Arkansas Restaurant Association. "The restaurant business has always been notorious for high turnover. That all seems to be changing as people look at the restaurant business as a profession." Nationally, the restaurant industry is the second-largest employer after the federal government, accounting for 4 percent - or $354 billion -of the gross domestic product. Finding committed workers to help cut the chronically high turnover is a concern. But here in Little Rock, Ark., the problem is particularly acute. Pick any night and almost any restaurant in Little Rock has a line at the door. From fast food to fine dining, people in this city of 181,000 look on their favorite restaurant as they would a member of the family. "Little Rock is still like a small town, and we all like to think of our favorite restaurants as the 'neighborhood cafe' where we go regularly, see people we know, and enjoy old favorites from the menu," says Gregory Ferguson, a lawyer who dines out frequently. …

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