Fast-food restau­rants re­cruit­ing more se­nior cit­i­zens to re­place teens

Saskatoon StarPhoenix - - FINANCIAL POST - LESLIE PAT­TON

The sullen teenager grind­ing through a restau­rant shift af­ter school was once a pop cul­ture cliché — as Amer­i­can as curly fries.

Nowa­days, Brad Hamil­ton, the teen played by Judge Rein­hold in Fast Times at Ridge­mont High, would prob­a­bly be too young to work at the fic­tional Cap­tain Hook Fish and Chips. That’s be­cause se­nior cit­i­zens are tak­ing his place­donning polyester, flip­ping pat­ties and tak­ing or­ders. They’re show­ing up at ca­sual din­ing chains such as Bob Evans and fast-food op­er­a­tors like McDon­ald’s, which says it plans to make se­nior cit­i­zens one hir­ing fo­cus in the com­ing year.

U.S. restau­rants are re­cruit­ing in se­nior cen­tres and churches. They’re plac­ing want ads on the web­site of AARP, an ad­vo­cacy group for Amer­i­cans over 50. Re­cruiters say older work­ers have soft skills-a friendly de­meanour and punc­tu­al­ity that their younger co­horts some­times lack.

Two pow­er­ful trends are at work: a labour short­age amid the tight­est job mar­ket in al­most five decades, and the propen­sity for longer-liv­ing Amer­i­cans to keep workingeven part-time-to sup­ple­ment of­ten-mea­gre re­tire­ment sav­ings. Be­tween 2014 and 2024, the num­ber of work­ing Amer­i­cans aged 65 to 74 is ex­pected to grow 4.5 per cent, while those aged 16 to 24 is ex­pected to shrink 1.4 per cent, ac­cord­ing to the U.S. Bu­reau of La­bor Statis­tics.

Steven­son Wil­liams, 63, man­ages a Church’s Chicken in North Charles­ton, S.C. He’s in charge of 13 em­ploy­ees, hav­ing worked his way up from a clean­ing and dish­wash­ing job he started about four years ago and some­times works as many as 70 hours a week when it’s busy. Wil­liams is a re­tired con­struc­tion worker and had never worked at a restau­rant be­fore, but was bored stay­ing at home.

“It’s fun for a while, not get­ting up, not hav­ing to punch a clock, not hav­ing to get out of bed and grind ev­ery day,” he says. “But af­ter work­ing all your life, sit­ting around got old. There’s only so many trips to Wal­mart you can take. I just en­joy Church’s Chicken. I en­joy the at­mos­phere, I en­joy the peo­ple.”

Hir­ing se­niors is a good deal for fast-food chains. They get years of ex­pe­ri­ence for the same wages — an in­dus­try me­dian of US$9.81 an hour last year, ac­cord­ing to the BLS — they would pay some­one decades younger. This is a con­sid­er­able ben­e­fit in an in­dus­try un­der pres­sure from ris­ing trans­porta­tion and raw ma­te­rial costs.

James Gray from Cal­i­brate Coach­ing says older peo­ple are also a good deal fi­nan­cially be­cause they aren’t al­ways look­ing to move up and earn more.

They ’re not “nec­es­sar­ily look­ing for a VP or an ex­ec­u­tive po­si­tion or look­ing to make a ton of money,” he says.

Se­niors typ­i­cally have more de­vel­oped so­cial skills than kids who grew up on­line and of­ten would rather not be both­ered with re­al­world in­ter­ac­tions. At Church’s Chicken, Wil­liams coaches his younger co-work­ers on the niceties of work­place deco­rum. “A lot of times with the younger kids now, they can be very dis­re­spect­ful,” he says. “So you have to coach them and tell them this is your job, this is not the street.”

AARP has be­come a re­cruit­ing hub for the in­dus­try. In June, Amer­i­can Blue Rib­bon Hold­ings, which owns sev­eral ca­sual din­ing chains, paid US$3,500 to list hourly and man­age­ment jobs on the non­profit’s web­site and hired five peo­ple for its Bak­ers Square and Vil­lage Inn din­ing brands. Bob Evans, a 500-plus-store chain that serves pot roast, bis­cuits and other homey fare, also re­cently ad­ver­tised with AARP. Older hires typ­i­cally work as hosts who seat cus­tomers and are “a nice fit with our brand,” says John Carothers, se­nior vice-pres­i­dent of hu­man re­sources.

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