By Shawn Chitnis

DENVER (CBS4) – Restaurateurs worried about a staff shortage in their industry discussed what they can do to find more employees and retain them Monday at the first day of the 2018 Colorado Restaurant Show.

(credit: CBS)

“Depending on the problem you’re having, it’s not only you,” said Lorena Cantarovici, owner of Maria Empanada. “Sometimes you believe it’s only you as a business owner.”

The annual gathering presented by the Colorado Restaurant Association is a networking and learning opportunity for professionals in the restaurant, food service and hospitality industry. Attendees say the event is a way for them to see the latest trends and discuss important issues with their peers.

“As we plan on growing, we have needs in new technology that’s becoming available, new appliances and equipment becoming available.” said Sean Kaiser, the director of operations for a franchise of The Egg & I Restaurants.

LINK: corestaurantshow.com

Kaiser was one of many at the show discussing the rising challenge to find talented workers. It will likely be an issue for his team as they prepare to expand to a third location. There were a few theories about what is causing this problem and how to solve it.

“There’s just so much demand for high quality cooks and chefs,” he said. “Something that’s always in the back of your mind and you hope for the best.”

Chef Brother Luck, owner of Four By Brother Luck in Colorado Springs says there are a couple factors he has definitely noticed impacting the industry.

CBS4’s Shawn Chitnis interviews Chef Brother Luck. (credit: CBS)

“We’re losing a lot of bodies to construction and the marijuana industry so being aware of that, that’s a big big discussion happening here,” he said.

Cannabis and construction are areas of growth in the state, seen as strengths of the current Colorado economy. But these fields were cited by restaurant owners as a new competition outside of their industry. There are other challenges within the business as well.

“Tipped employees are making so much money but regulations actually stop us from tipping kitchen employees,” said Luck.

Kaiser says he hopes the market cools off and allows for open positions to be filled but like others at the conference, he acknowledged the need to offer incentives to employees.

“We’ve always had a great success in providing a culture where our employees stay with us for a long time and we promote within in,” he said.

The atmosphere inside a company is key, according to Luck. He emphasized a similar approach.

“I really focus on creating my own job pool, creating my own source. We focus on culture,” he said. “It’s about development, we have to be great leaders first and foremost and make sure that filters down to the staff.”

A healthy culture is important to Cantarovici as well. She says in this environment, you have to be creative in how you keep your employees. She has started offering bonuses unique to each area of her business that reward performance in different departments.

“Create your own benefits, see how you can retain more people, establish your team,” she said. “For me, the importance is to have a good culture, have a good vision and a good mission.”

(credit: CBS)

Luck also said lawmakers may need to get involved, creating policies that improve the potential for workers in the restaurant industry. But beyond that, Cantarovici says it also requires more collaboration within. She wants to see less competition among her peers and a greater sense of community, which she hopes starts at this yearly gathering.

“We need participation, we need more restaurants coming to the show, we need the team of the restaurants coming to the show.”

Shawn Chitnis reports weeknights for CBS4 News at 5 p.m. and 6 p.m. Email him story ideas at smchitnis@cbs.com and connect with him on Twitter or Facebook.

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