Many businesses are struggling with staff retention and hiring, especially during COVID-19.
One food establishment in North Conway (New Hampshire) has not been affected, despite the labor shortage that many restaurants across the country are facing.
Danielle Jones, the owner of Abenaki Trail Restaurant & Pub, has found meaningful ways to retain staff and keep them happy—one of which is treating them to expensive vacations!
Every year, Jones and her boyfriend, Bryan Dries, the restaurant’s general manager, pay up to $2,000 per head to cover the cost of flights and accommodations for their trips within the U.S.
Recent locations the group has chosen include Las Vegas, New Orleans, and Disney’s Magic Kingdom. The group took a Caribbean cruise in September. They have another one booked for April.
Even more impressive is Jones’s investment of another $10,000 per year to close the restaurant, while their entire staff is away on vacation.
This yearly tradition started when Jones heard a couple of different employees say that they’ve never been out of the state or of New England. After this discovery, Jones and one of their cooks took their first trip. He stayed with them for the next three years.
“We had a blast, so then it became an idea of mine to see who, if anyone, wanted to travel and where,” said Jones. “And, boy, was it a hit! So it’s been four years now of taking employees where they choose, and then I started to do one big trip a year.”
Jones is aware that she spends a lot on these expeditions. However, she believes keeping her staff motivated and happy is worth the investment. Her restaurant is flourishing, she finds it easy for her staff to retain them, and all her employees are motivated to go to work every morning.
“These kids are bringing me back in the money to be able to do it again,” Jones told Business Insider. “That’s why I’m doing this, because you need them to stay open.”
These trips have been a great way of building relationships and morale.
“We do so many things together that you truly become part of the Abenaki family,” Dries said. “Once that bond is made you help each other no longer out of an obligation of the job but you’re doing it to help a friend and family member.”
Jones learned that not everyone appreciates the hard work of restaurant workers. Her father was a corporate executive in the restaurant business throughout her childhood. She also worked in a few of those between the ages of 14 and 22.
It didn’t take long before she knew that that type of environment didn’t suit her. No matter how hard she or her co-workers toiled, they weren’t appreciated. The turnover rate was high and there was a lot more drama. So she made a promise to herself.
“I decided that once I was able to open a restaurant, it would be very different from anything else I had seen but most importantly it would work,” she said.
True to her word, Jones kept her promise eight years ago when she purchased the restaurant. She doesn’t only treat her staff to awesome trips every year; she also gives them financial incentives randomly for doing a great job or just because.
The starting hourly wage for a cook at the restaurant is $17 an hour. Their highest-paid chef makes $30. Servers earn $5 an hour, which is above the state’s minimum of $3.26.
There is also a “Cheers to the Cooks” option on the menu, which gives customers the chance to tip the cooks if they enjoy an outstanding meal.
This Thanksgiving, the restaurant was closed so that staff could spend this time with their loved one.
Jones’s treatment of her employees is rare in the workplace. This is why she is able to find and keep talented workers. Abenaki employees tend to stay for three years or less because Jones is a great boss, pays well, provides extraordinary perks, and most importantly, she respects her staff.
“I genuinely respect the staff, who they are as people, what they do, and how they give me the ability to continue opening my doors every day to the public,” she said.
Jones isn’t the typical boss who just orders staff around. She works alongside her employees—cooking, serving, bartending, hosting, or washing dishes.
Dries has been working with Abenaki for nearly five years and has nothing but positive things to say about the company. He hopes that people who hear about Jones’ leadership style will learn that “it’s not all about money but the bonds you make with co-workers, friends, family and customers.”
Visit the Abenaki Trail Restaurant & Pub’s Facebook page to learn more about this awesome food place and it was easy for hear to retain staff even during the pandemic.
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