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Employee Retention

  Atlanta Restaurant Knows How To Keep Its People Downright Giddy
by Joyce Gioia
The folks who run The Brickery, an independent restaurant in Atlanta, Georgia, know better than most how tight the labor market is. If you think it's tough hanging on to your white-collar people, imagine trying to keep a full staff of waiters in this sellers' market. "We used to have ridiculous turnover rates," said Sally Alterman, a co-owner. "But we stopped about a year ago and had a sit-down with our staff. We asked them what we could do to help them out. How we could make life easier for them. And it worked."

Asking the employees how to run things better? Sally says, jokingly, that letting the "inmates" run the asylum is the best way to go in her business. "They're the folks right out there on the floor," she said, referring to the waitstaff. "They know what products are working the best for us. What desserts are selling. What wines aren't cutting it."

When The Brickery started soliciting employee opinions, two things happened: turnover rates decreased, and revenues went up. "We brought back the Caesar Burger," Alterman said. "We'd pulled it from the menu, but the waiters told us the customers were just flat out begging for it. So we brought it back. Now it's our biggest seller." The Caesar Burger, by the way, is a cross between a traditional burger and somewhere near a gallon of cheese and Caesar dressing. It will take years off your life, but it's worth it.

"We let the staff write the special boards, too," Sally told us. "It gives them an outlet for creativity, and it brings an element of humor to the restaurant." A recent chalkboard for ribs: "Ribs. Yum."

There's one more thing we have to mention: once a year, Sally and her husband, Bruce, invite the entire staff to their cabin on Lake Lanier in northern Georgia for the weekend. "We keep the restaurant open, but schedule so that everyone can come up at least for a day," said Alterman. "We cook out, water ski, and just basically 'get the heck out of Dodge' for a while."

Is it working? You bet. "We almost had to take the Help Wanted sign down last week," Alterman told us. "But we didn't. You always want to stay prepared."                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                            

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