Higher fast-food wages lure em­ploy­ees

The Buffalo News - - CON­TIN­UED FROM THE COVER -

not in­clud­ing man­age­ment, and servers and work­ers in the front of the house. It also doesn’t count cooks chang­ing restau­rants.

It’s hard to tell how many of those new po­si­tions are be­ing filled, said Glass, be­cause open­ings in fast-food and part­time roles aren’t read­ily mea­sured by present state la­bor sta­tis­tics. But a steady flow of anec­do­tal ev­i­dence and job post­ings sug­gests restau­rants are look­ing for help, with “em­ploy­ers look­ing for help wher­ever they can,” Glass said. “Not just restau­rants.”

To make it work for now, restau­rants are tak­ing a num­ber of routes. Some are es­tab­lish­ing their own train­ing pro­grams, to in­still ba­sic skills in em­ploy­ees seen as sound in­vest­ments. Some are push­ing work­ers to work ex­tra shifts. And al­though they are loath to say so pub­licly, some op­er­a­tors are hir­ing peo­ple they would oth­er­wise turn away.

Com­pound­ing the difficulty of keep­ing en­try-level em­ploy­ees is the ris­ing state min­i­mum wage for work­ers at fast-food restau­rants with more than 30 lo­ca­tions. Chain restau­rants like McDon­ald’s must pay work­ers at least $12.75 an hour since the rate was in­creased for 2019. At other work­places, min­i­mum wage is $11.10 an hour.

“When you have that gap, it forces em­ploy­ers to pay more or maybe hire peo­ple that they wouldn’t nec­es­sar­ily hire oth­er­wise,” Glass said.

Im­pe­rial Pizza owner David Pow­ers said the need for good help has been so acute the com­pany has con­sid­ered open­ing its own train­ing cen­ter to teach the Im­pe­rial way.

“If we’re go­ing to branch off in the fu­ture, we’re go­ing to have some kind of consistency,” said Pow­ers, whose restau­rant opened its first sit-down din­ing room in Jan­uary. “We are def­i­nitely in need of not only cooks, but ex­pe­ri­enced kitchen help. It’s hot, it’s fast-paced, it’s not for every­body, that’s for sure.”

Bob Syra­cuse has 39 years in the restau­rant busi­ness, and op­er­ates two Pizza Plant lo­ca­tions, on Tran­sit Road and at Canal­side. He’s a long-serv­ing mem­ber of the New York State Restau­rant As­so­ci­a­tion’s Ed­u­ca­tional Foun­da­tion, which supports culi­nary stu­dents with schol­ar­ships to ProS­tart, kitchen skills train­ing for high school­ers.

“It is dif­fi­cult to find peo­ple you can take in, not have to ex­plain san­i­ta­tion, knife skills, the im­por­tance of por­tion­ing, a myr­iad of things you have to train,” he said. “If some­one goes through the ProS­tart or BOCES, at least they have the el­e­ments.”

Syra­cuse rarely sees lo­cal culi­nary grad­u­ates from places like Erie Com­mu­nity Col­lege and NFCI ap­ply­ing. “A cou­ple have been through Emer­son,” Syra­cuse said, cit­ing the Buf­falo high school pro­gram. “It makes it a lit­tle eas­ier to train. They’re not walk­ing around with a knife point­ing straight for­ward.”

It’s pos­si­ble culi­nary stu­dents, often with stu­dent loans to pay, are look­ing else­where.

“When peo­ple are com­ing out of a culi­nary pro­gram, restau­rant man­age­ment, what have you, I think they are look­ing for that higher-pay­ing job that may not be there in a lot of restau­rants,” Syra­cuse said. “Un­less it’s a big cor­po­ra­tion or a ma­jor chain, there is not a lot of room to move up. With two stores, if some­one as­pires to be in man­age­ment, I don’t have much room for them to move up.”

Culi­nary school route

The largest culi­nary school here is at ECC, which grad­u­ates 45 stu­dents a year from its pro­gram, trained with the use of two hands-on restau­rant rooms at its City cam­pus, down­town in the for­mer post of­fice, and at its North cam­pus in Amherst.

“You could prob­a­bly find our grad­u­ates in any siz­able restau­rant, more often than not,” said ECC’s Culi­nary Arts depart­ment chair­woman Kristin Goss. “Places like 800 Maple, Rocco’s, JT’s, Glen Park Tavern, Sear. Our grad­u­ates are all over this town.

“We have two new pro­grams cur­rently un­der de­vel­op­ment, and we hope in the fu­ture to have some new ex­panded space,” Goss said.

NFCI is re­act­ing to the demand for restau­rant work­ers by of­fer­ing an “ac­cel­er­ated 16-month cur­ricu­lum in both bak­ing and pas­try as well as culi­nary arts ... along with the tra­di­tional 24-month cur­ricu­lums,” Mistriner said. “It is our hope the we can get the stu­dent into the work­force six months ear­lier than the tra­di­tional 24-month model.”

Like Im­pe­rial, Lloyd Taco Fac­tory own­ers Peter Cimino and Chris Dor­sa­neo have thought about bat­tling the Buf­falo cooks drought by open­ing their own train­ing academy, too. Be­tween two restau­rants, three trucks, a cater­ing busi­ness, and Churn, their soft­serve ice cream and cof­fee place, they em­ploy about 140.

They rarely see ECC or NCCC grad­u­ates ap­ply­ing, for reasons that are un­clear. Maybe be­cause fast-ca­sual places aren’t seen as a clas­sic culi­nary stu­dent goal, Dor­sa­neo won­dered. “When you get out of culi­nary school, usu­ally they go on this path where you eat (crow) for two years, at the salad sta­tion in some big ho­tel or re­sort, and even­tu­ally try to work your way to sous chef.”

Lloyd is look­ing at train­ing its own, “be­cause there is a true need,” Dor­sa­neo said. “When we bring these peo­ple in, we are ba­si­cally start­ing from scratch with them. So we have to build a pro­gram in­ter­nally so we are get­ting enough ap­pli­cants, where a lot of this stuff is get­ting knocked off.” Call it “Lloyd U,” he said. The com­pany is also fight­ing the hir­ing game by broad­cast­ing its ben­e­fits, Cimino said: tip shar­ing for kitchen work­ers who in­ter­act with cus­tomers, paid breaks, free lunch, paid va­ca­tion, and help pay­ing health in­sur­ance.

Culi­nary stu­dents can con­sider careers in fast-ca­sual set­tings, too, said Dor­sa­neo, not­ing that Lloyd is hir­ing as it grows.

“I think there’s a mis­con­cep­tion that when you know how to cre­ate a five-course tast­ing menu, you’re go­ing to get paid more than the guy that knows how to chop cilantro and make a ba­sic Rus­sian dress­ing,” he said. “That’s not re­ally the case.”

Derek Gee/Buf­falo News

Erie Com­mu­nity Col­lege culi­nary stu­dent Alicia Barker-Smith gains real-world culi­nary ex­pe­ri­ence as she uses a torch to pre­pare a creme brûlée in the kitchen at the E.M. Statler Din­ing Room at the ECC City Cam­pus.

John Hickey/News file photo

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