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Some Utah restaurants turning to wellness, not wages to entice workers

Posted at 6:23 PM, Dec 17, 2021
and last updated 2021-12-17 21:08:12-05

SALT LAKE CITY — The unemployment rate in the Beehive State has dropped to 2.1 percent, which is an all-time low.

But help wanted is at an all-time high.

It’s forced one of the hardest-hit industries of hospitality to rethink a lot of things — especially combined with the pandemic.

Even after many restaurants have upped starting wages, the "now hiring" signs remain. Restaurants are getting creative to survive, according to Utah Restaurant Association President Melva Sine.

“I know restaurant owners are looking to turn to technology and AI to solve some of these challenges that they deal with on a daily basis now. It’s not something the industry wants to do, but when you are lacking a workforce, you've got to come up with alternatives to meet those challenges,” Sine said.

READ: Riverton waitress surprised with $1,700 tip at local restaurant

Some are integrating more automation into their kitchens. Others are adopting a different model of service less reliant on a wait staff. Some are even paying daily, Sine said.

“If it helps you to have income on a daily basis, restaurant owners are making it so you can,” said Sine.

In Sandy, restauranteur Michael McHenry knows trying to entice people to work for you is more than just what you’re offering for pay.

But so far, he hasn’t had to adopt automation or paying people daily.

“We’re all dealing with a very competitive and tight labor pool. You've got to step in and invest more — not only in resource and compensation, but in flexibility. Give people a reason to wear your crest and show up at your table and serve your guests,” McHenry said.

He’s one of the few owners that hasn’t had to close at all through the pandemic.

“Servers became delivery drivers, hosts became cooks, cooks became hosts. We kept our team fully vested,” said McHenry.

He credits a lot of that success to having his employees vested in their restaurants.

“It’s unique for us because we’ve always been a company that invests heavily in our people. Not just compensation, but opportunities,” said McHenry.

And over in Murray, Wingers is focusing on the people doing the heavy lifting.

Wingers is not only hiring new employees. They’re also trying to help the employees that already work for them.

During the middle of the pandemic, they implemented a free wellness program for employees, including one-on-one coaching with someone independent of their corporate office.

Abbey Bronzati, who owns Seda Wellness, is contracted by Wingers. She started her service at the beginning of the pandemic.

“Employees have options now more than ever. I saw this great need, and there’s been a shift and companies are trying to prioritize wellness,” said Bronzati. "No matter what industry you’re in, when you are happier in your personal life, that translates into the workplace."

Some restaurants across the country have tried to get rid of tips and offer higher wages. So far in Utah, this isn’t a popular strategy.