Labor Solutions for a New Generation of Workers and Changing Laws

Feb 2018 by Craig Pendleton

Staffing casinos has always been a challenge for operators. Not only do they need to find qualified and talented staff members, but these potential hires must pass background checks and drug testing. Often in rural locations this creates a tremendous shortage of available candidates. There are situations at some properties where a large portion of candidates have not qualified for employment due to licensing challenges.

Now the industry is adding new labor laws that, in some areas, require fixed 40 hour full time schedules, increased minimum wages, increased paid leave rules and new definitions of who qualifies as an exempt status worker. Adding to these challenges are younger workers who in many cases are very interested in maximum flexibility of hours and shifts. Though not all tribal employers may be legally required to comply with all new labor laws, casinos still complete for the same staff members in the local community and will still need to have similar working benefits to offer.

In the past, the first strategy to combat higher labor costs due to increased wages was typically to limit the amount of staff members who were offered full time employment. The standard additional cost of labor for full time staff can easily reach an additional 40% more per hour than the base hourly rate when adding in employee benefit contributions. The laws are changing and in some cases using part time workers as the majority of staff to avoid benefit costs will not be an available option as a labor cost saving strategy.

The following are suggested options to assist with these challenges:

e-Scheduling Processes

Gone are the inefficiencies of old paper schedules and fixed shifts. Many options now exist with software based online scheduling systems. Some of the benefits are that shifts can be easily switched, adjusted last minute and the staff has flexibility in making schedule changes after the permanent schedule has already been posted. The level of control that staff has in swapping shifts is controlled by the operator. Full use of  this system allows managers to plug in projected sales by shift to match budgeted labor hours and let the system fit the necessary staffing to the business on an hourly basis to create the schedule. Once set up, this is an automated process and reduces the manager hours spent creating schedules and accommodating schedule requests. If this scheduling program is interfaced with a labor control system and the POS (point of sales) system results can be monitored during each shift and actual results compared against budgeted goals, this allows supervisors to know exactly how well they are managing labor and what must be done immediately in the event of over spending before it is too late to make corrections and the POS (point of sales) system results can be monitored during each shift and actual results compared against budgeted goals, this allows supervisors to know exactly how well they are managing labor and what must be done immediately in the event of over spending before it is too late to make corrections.

Cross Training and Enhanced Staff Utilization

One of the age-old challenges for operators has been the impossibility of scheduling half of a staff member during slow periods of sales when a little more help is needed, but not a full staff member. Sales levels may only need the increase of a small amount of additional help. The solution is cross-training and teaching staff members multiple skills.

The following are some examples of cross training and flexible use of staffing during a shift based upon business volumes:

– Prep cooks turn into line cooks during meal period rushes.

– Dishwashers become prep cooks during part of the shift or may also work as line cooks during peak periods of  sales.

– Administrative staff in departments may leave their offices during meal periods and serve the roles of hostess/cashier/floor supervisor during peak periods.

– Banquet staff or room service staff may become dining room food servers during busy periods.

More Creative Solutions

Schedule cross-trained staff who can act as floaters (rounds persons) that move between outlets each shift based upon needs. These staff members can still have guaranteed schedules but not necessarily work in a specific outlet for a full shift or even know where they will be working each day based upon call outs and business shifts. The additional skills and flexibility required may allow for a higher level of compensation for these staff members and serve as an excellent introductory training step for developing future supervisors.

At some properties dining room supervisors coordinate operations on some of their shifts but may also work on different days as tipped food servers or cocktail servers/ bartenders on busier shifts. This allows these strong team members to be on the dining room floor and also gives them the ability to increase their compensation with supplemental tips.

Slow days, with full time scheduled hours required, are excellent times for special projects, deep cleaning, ongoing development/training, and the use of staff members as “breakers” rather than scheduling a dedicated staff member for this role.

Re-Assessment of Duties

When truly challenged to find enough staff members to work each shift, supervisors will need to dig deeply into creative solutions. Questions that should be asked include:

– What food and beverage items need to be prepped by staff verses what can be purchased fully prepared?

– Can some of the components for recipes be purchased partially prepared allowing a reduction in production time and staff required?

– Can certain services such as deep cleaning and event set up be contracted to outside third parties?

Reviewing the Steps to Service

This is also an excellent time to look at every single step of the service process. How many additional unnecessary steps can be eliminated by reorganizing service areas, storage areas, side stations and physical processes?

This is a critical element for review when considering any remodeling of kitchen or dining room areas. Eliminate: extra steps, handling items more than once and multiple staff members being required for the steps of service. An effective way to approach this is by bringing in outside observers or staff from another outlet, to walk through each step of service. They will not have a pre-conception of how things already work.

Saving one full time position for two shifts through an increase in operational efficiencies can save over $80,000 per year directly to the bottom line (16 hours of daily labor @ $10 per hour + $4 per hour benefits= 16 hours daily x $14 per hour x 365 days per year = $81,760 annual savings per position eliminated).

Added Use of Technology

Using technology can be added to processes to allow saving steps such as:

– Hand held order/entry pads that allow servers to enter in orders while taking them from guests at the table, printing checks and tendering payments tableside rather that going back and forth to a side station.

– Table control systems that allow staff to know exactly which tables need cleaning and reset, which ones are available for seating, and which server is in seating rotation for the next set of guests.

– Server call systems that allow them to know when to pick up food/cocktails without having to walk to the pass shelf area to check.

– Guest identification systems that allow any staff member to know which guest to deliver which ordered items to.

– Integrated information systems can provide immediate feedback to supervisors on hand-held tablets without requiring them to be in the office. This allows them to remain on the dining room floor to assist staff with guest service.

Hiring, Turnover Prevention and Staff Development

There are many more ways of training staff these days. Most importantly is the acknowledgement that different staff members have different learning aptitudes. Many food service workers have entered the industry because sitting behind a desk, working on an assembly line or classroom learning is not what best fits them. This may require that classroom lessons be administered in smaller sessions with more hands-on learning. There are many excellent online training programs available that can be customized and allow tracking of training, testing and results.

One-on-one training and pairing with a personal assigned trainer is even more important with the new dynamics of multiple generations of workers with different interests. Assigning a dedicated teacher to partner with the new staff member during their training allows direct understanding of the materials, assimilation and learning, pace of training and most importantly immediate assessment of whether the trainee is going to be a good fit for the position verses waiting for them to complete a full training program only to have the staff member leave after this investment has been made. The training partner should report back to supervision on a daily basis to provide feedback on trainee progress. Specific goals and timetables must be set and monitored.

Skills that go beyond physical job skills can best be addressed using a mentoring program. Senior staff members are typically underutilized in sharing their years of knowledge with younger staff members. Seasoned staff members understand the most efficient ways to complete work and assignments. Without a formalized mentoring program, knowledge will retire with the senior workers. One of the most recent opportunities with mentoring is two-way cross generational mentoring where younger staff members spend time with the senior members to help them understand the new thinking and priorities of younger generations. This can create a lifetime of connection and bond the entire team.

Measure It

Ultimately along with new technology comes the ability to measure the business activities minute by minute and make immediate decisions and adjustments. Any added efficiency in work performance processes can reduce the need for as many physical staff members.


The call to operators is clear. Staff members are becoming more challenging to obtain and maintain while the costs of payroll and employee benefits continue to rise. This trend will not reverse. New labor laws and generational changes are adding to the challenges. Working smarter and more efficiently will not only save future spending but result in a better quality of work environment for your staff members as you make their jobs easier.


Craig Pendleton is President of National Foodservice Consulting, Inc. He has consulting with tribal casinos for the past 24 years. He can be reached by email at or visit


Article originally published in Indian Gaming Magazine February 2018:



13,439 Responses