Three Things I Learned at the GGRA Industry Conference

The GGRA Industry Conference is one of our favorite local events for restaurant owners here in San Francisco. The Yelp Reservations team and I attended this conference last week, and we left feeling moved!

One of the most exciting things about this conference is that it allows us to speak face-to-face with restaurant owners about their struggles and about what they need to be successful in such an expensive city.

Retaining good talent was an issue I heard over and over again talking to people and listening to panel discussions. The fact is that restaurants in San Francisco are having a hard time retaining great staff both in the back and the front of the house. Industry employees are moving out of the city because they can’t afford to live here, tech companies are poaching chefs to work in their kitchens, and the list goes on.

We learned a lot from the dynamic restaurateur panels that the GGRA put together, so I’ll share three things that stood out.

Tipping: To Keep or Not to Keep?

Here in San Francisco operating costs for restaurants continue to rise. Restaurants must evolve in order to stay relevant and, in some cases, in order to stay open.

Sabato Sagaria, the Chief Restaurant Officer of Union Square Hospitality Group, outlined the many ways no tipping has helped their restaurant group. Before they implemented this change, they were hurting to keep great staff because of pay. One of their goals was to pay the line cooks more, and they achieved this goal. Now, their staff retention is up 10% and applications to work at their company have gone up over 200% (not to mention the company’s profits are up).

Sagaria and many other leaders in the industry agree on one thing: to make a change like this in your restaurant, you must be transparent in order for the change to be successful. They all agree that you must have a plan and it must be communicated properly with your staff and your diners.

Think Outside of the Box

Another solution that was discussed was possibly hiring people with less experience and even hiring people from pools you may have overlooked. At the Industry of Opportunity panel discussion, we were inspired by the restaurateurs who are going out of their way to help people who need it.

Russ Stein, the owner of Mozzeria, employs a staff of people entirely from the deaf community. If it weren’t for him, most of his employees would never get the chance to work in the restaurant industry. Stein pointed out that because he is giving them a chance no one else will, his employees are much more loyal and they work harder and stay longer.

We also learned quite a bit from Teresa Goines, the founder of Old Skool Cafe. Her cafe provides marketable employment skills in the restaurant industry to at-risk youth ages 16-22. Youth from her program go on to work at restaurants like Stones Throw and other restaurants they would otherwise have no access to. Again, this is making it easier for restaurants to retain staff that are experienced but also devoted. It also doesn’t hurt that it feels wonderful to help youth in need of it.

Goines and the other panelists agree on one thing: if you hire from pools of people that are normally overlooked, you are likely to find someone who may be a bit green but is going to be more loyal. This is a charitable way to increase your retention rates without having to dish out more money. Win-win-win.

Your Restaurant’s Brand

Branding these days isn’t as easy as it used to be. Restaurants have to take control of their online brand and make sure that it reflects what people experience when they walk into your business.

Carrie White, CEO of Coterie Hospitality, recommended that a great place to start is with your customers. Understanding them and where they are coming from and who they are can make it easier to understand what your brand actually is.

Once you have a good idea of what your brand is, the next step is to leverage the free tools you have online to control what pops up when someone searches for your restaurant. Another huge branding opportunity lies in Instagram. This is also free and allows you to show exactly who you are.

All of the online platforms give you the opportunity to tell your story. Below are three guides on how to harness your free tools:

  1.    How Responding to My Yelp Reviews Helped Me Get More Business
  2.    7 Steps to Attract Diners to Your Restaurant Through Instagram
  3.    How to Use Facebook to Help Your Restaurant Business

To sum up the experience in a few sentences:

  1. Traditional business models are failing restaurants in San Francisco and to stay relevant changes in operations need to be made.
  2. Transparency and great communication with diners and staff both online and offline are imperative to staying relevant.
  3. San Francisco restaurateurs are fun, and eating and drinking and talking with them is something we will forever love!

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