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Restaurateur turns to tech to make up for employee shortage

Green Market Cafe has begun adding kiosks to help cut down on the number of employees

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Andrew Koumi, founder of the Green Market Cafe, faces the same problem restaurant owners nationwide face: he can’t get enough employees.

This means longer hours for those who are on staff, more work for him and managers, and, sometimes, he says, customers bear the brunt of the shortage.

The employee count at his four locations in Hillsborough and Pinellas Counties is down about 20% per restaurant. It’s so bad, in fact, people aren’t even coming for interviews — a 'ghosting' trend other restaurant owners and managers in the region are experiencing. 

Koumi says when the company finds an applicant hiring managers like, they send a text message offering an in-person or Zoom interview. But despite sending several confirmations, only about 10% of people actually show up for the interview.

He’s been in the restaurant business about 15 years and never seen anything like it.

Compounding the issues, of course, is competition for the few people available is fierce. There are owners and managers, he says, paying people just for showing up for interviews. Given all this, his focus has turned to holding on to his current people. But even that is fraught.

“We’ve done all these new types of outreach,” Koumi says, “but really, what I think is important, is retaining your current employees because the new thing I’m observing is people are coming into the restaurants and trying to pull to other restaurants. It’s actually getting to that level.”

As a business owner, what he’s doing now is looking at reducing staff load.

“The savvy business owners are going to adapt. They really have no choice. That’s our only choice.”

To that end, he’s begun adding kiosks at each Green Market location to help cut down on the number of employees he needs. This is in addition to QR ordering which the chain has been doing for some time now.

Koumi says kiosks cut the number of front-of-house employees, those who deal with customers, and streamlines the back of house.

While the moves are necessary, they don’t come without some long-term consequences.

For one, it changes the customer experience, especially for diners who’ve not eaten at your restaurant before. Koumi says interacting with a kiosk is not the same and “you lose that human aspect.”

But his other worry is jobs that go unfilled because of kiosks are jobs that could be gone for good. And that, he says, is going to affect far more than Green Market.

“My concern with this entire thing right now is that I feel like there’s not going to be jobs for a lot of these people because of the situation,” he says.

“The savvy business owners are going to adapt. They really have no choice. That’s our only choice.”



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