As the population of the United States continues to become more diverse so do the people who eat in its restaurants. In the past few years we have seen restaurants and businesses involved in the industry hit with law suits, and charges of discrimination from customers and employees. Lawsuits are not only expensive but the resulting publicity leads to loss of business and a working environment that is uncomfortable for people of color, women and any one else who feels devalued because of their differences.
For companies in this industry to be successful and move ahead of their competition they need to know how to create environments where all people can be accepted, respected and utilized for the differences they bring to the workplace. Knowing how to do that can enhance productivity and increase profit.
While some organizations may understand the need to have its employees be representative of its customer base in order to stay competitive, they donât know how to integrate diversity into the overall business strategy. They may hire more people of color and women, but donât address systems and processes for recruitment, and retention, promotion, mentoring and leadership. Itâs not enough to talk about diversity, or have a few training sessions without creating a change in the culture of the organization from the top down.
Diversity initiatives need to begin with an assessment of the organization, no matter how big or small, to identify how employees perceive things. Its more than just race, and gender, but includes differences like age, ethnic background, work function, education, sexual orientation and religion. You have to address the diversity of the customer base and how well you are meeting their needs. If you have a restaurant in and where there is a large Spanish speaking population, it only makes good business sense to have some employees that speak Spanish.
Organizations like Womensâ Foodservice Forum, and the Multicultural Foodservice and Hospitality Alliance are good resources for networking and best practices from people who are involved in promoting diversity in their organizations and the industry.
I spoke to three people who have been working with the Multicultural Foodservice and Hospitality Alliance. They all said that while progress have been made in terms of people of color and women in the restaurant industry, there is still a lot of work to be done.
Joe Machicote, Director of Relations Development for Compass states, “We still donât have enough minorities at high levels in this industry. Where have to change our environment, where as we grow, our people grow too. Our organization sees diversity as a strategic part of the business, so we have created diversity councils that include senior managers, other leaders and decision makers and key influencers at different levels at Compass. We believe that diversity is not only race and gender, but creating an environment where everyone is included, that can only have a positive effect on our business.
Sugi Randall, board member of MFHA (Multicultural Foodservice and Hospitality Alliance), and Vice President of Human Resource and Training at Champps said, “While the industry is fairly diverse at the entry level, there has not been enough of a concerted effort to get these people to stay in the industry as a career. One of the biggest challenges is for organizations to consciously create opportunities for people of color to show their talent. Everyone has to have the same chance to succeed or fail.” Randall went on to say that the issue of diversity has to start early on in the home and in the schools before people even get to the workplace.
Megaly Petersen-Penn, director of the minority supplier program at Burger King and chairperson of MFHA reflected on the last two years since the first MFHA conference. “Iâve seen more awareness for the issues, but more corporate CEOâs need to understand how diversity can be a resource. There is also a need for minorities to understand the Foodservice industry as a career and not just a temporary place to work. At Burger King, we now have 15% minority owned franchises. Weâve gone from spending 33 million dollars with diversity suppliers to over 100 million last year. We would like to see more minority suppliers have the resources to supply us nationwide.”
As industries compete for qualified employees at all levels, in a shrinking labor pool at all levels, no one should be disqualified because of their differences.Ê In order to develop a diversity initiative that can improve productivity and profit, people at all levels need to be educated. It means a commitment to change, not only how the company looks but how people treat each other personally and professionally.