Aiming for greater diversity

Faced with a potential labor shortage as baby boomers retire and jobs increase, major hotel, restaurant and food-service companies are pushing diversity as a way to attract and retain employees.

The idea may raise eyebrows: According to Pew Hispanic Center data, food services and hotels are already more diverse than the general workforce.

Victor Flores, 40, who immigrated from El Salvador 21 years ago, said he had no trouble rising from housekeeping to the high-level director of housekeeping position at Kimpton Hotel and Restaurant Group.

But with both food service and hotels expecting a more than 16 percent job growth through 2014, according to the federal Bureau of Labor Statistics, companies say they are competing with other growing industries for an increasingly diverse work force. Pew data shows the white non-Hispanic population under 34 shrinking as a percentage of the work force in coming years.

This weekend, more than 400 hotel and restaurant leaders will attend a conference on the issue at the Palace Hotel in San Francisco, hosted by the Multicultural Foodservice and Hospitality Alliance.

Kimpton COO Niki Leondakis said lodging firms have been facing a labor shortage for several years, particularly for front-of-the-house service positions. Her company, which has high percentages of women and minorities among management and senior staff, is working to increase cultural awareness and look at more flexible job structures, she said.

“There’s competition for talent. There are industries that pay higher wages,” she said. “It will become imperative to create work environments that are inclusive and seek out all kinds of backgrounds.”

Restaurants are not yet seeing any staff shortages but are aware of the demographic trends, Golden Gate Restaurant Association Executive Director Kevin Westlye said.

Lamoin Werlein-Jaen, secretary treasurer of the Unite Here Local 2 hotel-workers union, said he does not see any labor shortage, but does believe that hotels that offer lower pay and benefits have a hard time retaining staff.

“It’s a business imperative because of the shifting population,” said conference co-chair Linda Gonzalez of Darden Restaurants, which operates the Red Lobster, Olive Garden, Seasons and Bahama Breeze chains.

The conference runs through Tuesday and is followed on Wednesday by a job fair at the Westin St. Francis, 335 Powell St., from 10 a.m. to 4 p.m.

kwilliamson@examiner.com

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