Resource for Finding More Restaurant Labor
The U.S. and most of the world are experiencing a major labor shortage, making restaurant owners operate in fear mode, constantly worrying about restaurant staffing. In this episode of Restaurant Prosperity Formula, I’m talking with Ryan James, who, along with his wife, Neely, owns Mother’s Cantina in Ocean City, Maryland. They have two full-service TexMex restaurant locations, a commissary kitchen, a Shopify store and a presence on Amazon selling tortillas. He has extensive experience finding staffing solutions for his restaurants because he has a special challenge being in a resort town. You can listen to this episode wherever you get your podcasts, through this link, or watch the video below.
As a resort town, Ocean City’s winter population is about 8,000 people but in the summer it explodes to about 400,000. You can only imagine how hard it is to staff for those wild fluctuations in business. Ryan shares the ins and outs of recruiting and utilizing J-1 workers to make it through the summer months and how you can use this solution to staff your restaurant almost year-round.
Because of this fluctuation, the Jameses close one of their restaurants in the winter, take the time to organize, evaluate and ramp up for summer, when people start beating down their doors again. As Ryan says, it's a hurry up and wait game. They’ve learned how to scale up and scale down very quickly. And that's why it's so important that they learned about J1 labor options that support their seasonal business.
As Ryan explains it, a J1 is a type of visa issued by the US State Department for a seasonal work and travel student. The requirement is that they must be in college or some form of higher education in their country, and then they are granted about 90 days more or less to come over here to work and experience American culture. There is about half a million J1 students that come to the United States every year, 6 percent of whom are under 30, and 53 percent are female. This includes a lot of au pairs that come over for the season, restaurant and hospitality workers. They come over for the season and the program fits with our seasonality like a round peg in a round hole.
J1 workers have been coming to Ocean City for 30 year, so when Ryan and Neely got into the restaurant business, everybody, all the other restaurant owners and everybody in the community brought them up to speed and explained how they could get you seasonal labor. Also, a lot of J1 workers will look for second jobs while they’re here. If they can only get 40 hours a week at a breakfast place, they come to Mother’s for extra hours. Ryan said they’ve been lucky enough to just hire on the spot.
Throughout our discussion, Ryan talks about the positives of hiring J1 workers, the process, the expectations and some of the cons. He also includes which companies he works with and the different advantages of each. These companies manage the red tape, some find housing for them, protect the workers, and make sure the employers are reputable and legitimate.
Ryan and I also talk about:
- How the benefits outweigh the cost of the program
- Why the workers are interested in participating in the J1 programs
- The different seasonal options for getting J1 labor
- How the US labor laws apply
- How to train and support the new labor
- How to coach managers
- Some of the cons of the J1 labor option
- Two great ways to use J1 workers, even if you’re not a highly seasonal business
HOT TIP: Ryan’s tip is to look for a company that specializes in your area of the country and the restaurant industry.
If you’re open to ideas outside your four walls to solve your labor challenges, J1 visa labor is a great avenue to explore.
If you're ready right now to make some serious changes in your restaurant, you can also book a 60-minute call with me where we talk about your challenges and figure out exactly what is holding you back from having a restaurant that doesn’t depend on you being in it to be successful.
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