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Edge: Workforce Development is Always on the Menu in the Foodservice Industry

By Michael Kopec, CDM, CFPP

This Management Connection CE article appeared in the 2024 March/April issue of Nutrition & Foodservice Edge magazine. To view a PDF of this article click HERE.

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Workforce Development is Always on the Menu in the Foodservice Industry

By: Michael Kopec, CDM, CFPP

THE FOOD AND RESTAURANT INDUSTRY continues to be hit hard by workforce challenges. The after-effects of the pandemic, combined with workers who are leaving the industry for higher pay and less stress, mean that employers need a way to expand their labor pool.

The most definable aspect of the foodservice industry is its people. With the industry’s rising contribution to our economy, there is no doubt that skilled workers with opportunities for continuous upgrading are crucial to its sustainable success.

Training and development in the food and restaurant industry must be viewed in terms of a more profound concept known as workforce development. That is the only sustainable solution to the growing demand-supply gap in the industry.


Workforce development means upskilling workers for long-term success.  In practice, it means offering your employees training, development opportunities, and continuing education programs to maximize their job success and career pathway (Wooll, 2021).

When organizations ignore the people building their business, they risk employee attrition and diminished loyalty to the company. Workforce development enhances morale, employee productivity, and retention rates.

Organizations that enact workforce development programs view employees as assets, not just a headcount to perform a specific task or purpose.  Offering a variety of training opportunities widens the scope of an individual’s contribution to an organization, even if their original job function dissolves or is no longer needed.


Almost every organization depends on people for success. Therefore, it makes total sense that in the food and restaurant industry, ‘people’ are their greatest asset. With more than 15 million workers in nearly 1 million establishments, the foodservice industry is the nation’s second-largest private sector employer (“Broadening Workforce Opportunities in the Restaurant Industry,” 2023).

Approximately 79 percent of food establishments have job openings that are tough to fill, according to the National Restaurant Association (“Broadening Workforce Opportunities in the Restaurant Industry,” 2023). The same report indicates that “62 percent of operators say their establishment does not have enough employees to support its existing customer demand.”

The National Restaurant Association believes workforce education and development programs may just be the silver bullet needed to solve this challenge and prove critical to supporting the restaurant and food industry and nation’s economic growth.

According to PRLAEF, a company focused on providing information and access to training for the industry’s workforce, workforce education can help companies appreciate an 8.6 percent increase in productivity and a 23 percent decrease in turnover while saving $2,000 in turnover costs (Workforce Development, n.d.).


Developing your workforce is crucial for your establishment’s success, but it doesn’t have to be a daunting task. Here are some ideas of how you can develop and grow your employees.

Skills Training

Things like helping employees obtain their food handler card or alcohol-safety training, English as a second language, product training, and customer service training should be made readily available and put in place with the intention of making your workers’ job easier.  Learning knife skills so that food prep is better, and you have more consistent product, improves efficiency and reduces costs. Learning how to serve a table properly and how to bond with customers can lead to repeat business. The list goes on and on.

There are so many ways that you can broaden someone’s knowledge, whether it be knowledge of the things you’re serving at the table or proper training so that employees understand the ingredients, cooking methods, and presentation of recently-added dishes. This, in turn, can improve the quality of the food and enhance the dining experience of customers (Bernardino, 2023). Just looking and sounding more knowledgeable can help put guests at ease, adding to their overall impression of your establishment.

Want to boost your time-management skills? In the foodservice industry, time is of the essence, and workers need to be able to work efficiently under pressure. Learning how to prioritize tasks, manage time effectively, and work as a team can help employees understand the importance of time-management and develop strategies to work efficiently. This can lead to faster service, higher customer satisfaction, and increased revenue (Bernardino, 2023).

And for those who aspire to advance their career into a supervisory or management position, training and development in leadership, communication, problem-solving, conflict resolution and decision-making can help put you on the path to promotion.

In the end, the goal is for foodservice workers who receive training and development to feel valued and appreciated. As an employer, you can look forward to increased job satisfaction, greater retention, and a more positive work environment.


By offering workforce development programs at your organization, you attract talented and motivated people who want to grow within your company—and help grow it in return.

Some examples of workforce development programs that are suitable for use in the food and restaurant industry include, but are not limited to:

1. Conflict Resolution

When it comes to food service, conflicts typically cannot be resolved in the heat of the moment, no pun intended. Conflict should never be dealt with in front of customers or guests. If dialogue is required, start the discussion in an open and positive way.

The National Restaurant Association believes that team members trained in conflict resolution can improve relationships amongst staff, as well as between your department and the company in which it resides (“Broadening Workforce Opportunities in the Restaurant Industry,” 2023).

Just remember, don’t take things personally. If necessary, apologize and acknowledge the person’s feelings. Resolving a conflict effectively will help your employees to become better communicators.

2. Leadership and Management Training

If your establishment’s goal is to attract, retain and develop top talent, then you’ll want to include leadership and management training as part of your workforce development plan.

Effective leadership is crucial to the success of any organization. So, it is important that we develop leaders who can motivate, inspire, and foster a positive work environment.

“Leadership and management training educates workers on how to be inclusive leaders, how to communicate with empathy, and how to provide constructive feedback” (“Broadening Workforce Opportunities in the Restaurant Industry,” 2023).

3. Diversity, Equity, and Inclusion (DEI) Training

Gone are the days where people stayed at their employer solely for good pay and benefits. Now more than ever, respect and a culture of belonging are associated with job satisfaction and intent to stay.

Today, for a DEI program to be effective, ‘change’ must appear on your company’s menu…and everyone must order it.

Empowering employees to do their best work and allowing them to share their perspectives and ideas are all benefits of having a DEI training program in place. Implementing said programs leads to an open and safe workplace environment, where employees feel welcomed, valued, and supported (“Broadening Workforce Opportunities in the Restaurant Industry,” 2023).


Perhaps the biggest takeaway, which has sort of been my mantra my entire leadership career, has been to ‘focus on people.’  In the foodservice industry, it’s absolutely at the center of what we do. We do nothing without our people. Today more than ever we must pay attention to the needs of the people in the organization.  I think in most organizations, workforce development is not held up as high as it should be.

The idea of workforce development focuses on people to achieve success in an organization. That growth and prosperity of its people is the success of an organization and is an ultimate game-changer for the foodservice industry (Mahmood, 2017).

We all want the best employees for our establishments.  But in order to attract and keep them, we need to first invest in foodservice training and development, thus creating opportunities for growth.

In time, strong foodservice training programs will elevate the skill level of every employee in the establishment, boost staff morale and motivation, help build confidence, and improve overall performance.

Remember, with a motivated and skilled team, you will attract the type of employees you want and encourage them to grow their career with you!

About the Author

Michael Kopec is the Food Service Specialist at the Waukesha County Mental Center

in Waukesha, Wisc., and has been a CDM, CFPP since 2001. He holds a B.S. in Business Management & Leadership and an M.A. in Leadership & Innovation from Wisconsin Lutheran College. He also serves as an advisory board member for the dietetic technician/dietary manager program at Milwaukee Area Technical College.