Column: Marius Zürcher focuses on gray labor

Older individuals are entering or remaining in the workforce at increasing rates – with a significant upside for restaurants owners

Some of you might have noticed the growing presence of older workers in restaurants, a phenomenom that is often referred to as ‘gray labor’. This trend might surprise some, given the industry’s traditional reliance on younger staff. However, I believe this shift has upsides for restaurants owners who are willing to embrace it, though it does come with its own set of challenges.

First off: why are older individuals entering or remaining in the workforce at increasing rates? There are many reasons. Longer life expectancy means people are staying healthier for longer, and many find that their retirement savings are insufficient. Additionally, a lot of seniors want to remain active and engaged, and work provides a way to do so.

So, what does this mean for the hospitality industry?

First and foremost, older workers bring a wealth of experience and knowledge that can be highly valuable. They’ve often spent decades honing their skills in various roles and industries, and this can translate to exceptional customer service, problem-solving abilities, and a strong work ethic.

Old workers often possess a level of patience and interpersonal skills that can only be developed over time. They tend to be reliable, with a strong sense of responsibility and a commitment to doing their job well. This reliability can be a stabilizing force in a high-turnover industry like hospitality. Moreover, they can serve as mentors to younger employees, thereby increasing the quality of the work of the whole team.

There’s also the matter of representation and diversity. As the population ages, so does the customer base. Older customers might feel more comfortable and valued when they see staff members who are closer to their own age. This can enhance the overall customer experience, leading to greater satisfaction and loyalty.

Be flexible

However, integrating older workers into the hospitality workforce also has some challenges. Employers need to be mindful of the physical demands of certain roles and may need to make accommodations. For instance, tasks that require heavy lifting or long periods of standing might be more challenging for older employees. This could necessitate job redesigns or more flexible roles.

Moreover, there may be a learning curve when it comes to technology. The hospitality industry increasingly relies on digital tools and systems for reservations, orders, and customer management. While many older workers are tech-savvy, some might need additional training and support to get up to speed.

There’s also the concern about wage expectations. Older workers, with their extensive experience, might expect higher wages compared to younger, less experienced staff. Balancing fair compensation with budget constraints is always tricky.

The key is for employers to weigh the pros and cons carefully and implement strategies that maximize the strengths of older workers while addressing their needs. By doing so, they can create a more diverse, experienced, and ultimately successful workforce.

Marius Zürcher

About the author:

The co-owner & founder of Millennial & Gen Z marketing and employer branding agency 1520 in Apeldoorn, the Netherlands, Marius Zürcher was a participant at FCSI’s ‘Millennials’ focused roundtable at INTERGASTRA and a speaker at FCSI workshops about industry trends.