By Lee Hurley

Companies all over the nation are struggling to find talent at the moment. How can employers attract passive candidates as the recovery from the COVID-19 pandemic continues to play out over the next few months? Here is an example of how one employer made staffing possible at his family business.

Sam Nakos owns a 60-year-old family barbecue restaurant called Dimitri’s in Birmingham, Alabama. Because of hard work and cooking skills learned over decades working with his father, Sam was debt-free when Covid struck over a year ago. So he closed the restaurant and embarked on a remodel he had been saving up for a decade. He reopened the restaurant this past summer, following the occupancy rules and the crowds immediately came back to enjoy breakfast and lunch. There was only one problem. Sam could not find enough employees willing to work. He and his manager Rita tried everything. Finally, they added dollars to the hourly wage along with other tactics and solved the challenge. “It’s been hard,” Sam says. “People have gotten used to not working.”  

So what can we do as employers do to attract passive candidates in the Covid-19 era? To quote Linked In, “KPMG surveyed CEOs to identify the biggest priorities on their agenda. While only 1 percent said ‘talent risk’ was the biggest risk on their agenda pre-Covid, it’s now their biggest risk overall with 21 percent of CEOs rating it that way.” 

Three categories are mentioned to combat the loss of talent in hiring: well-being, re-skilling, and restructuring.


Well-being can take many forms and money is certainly one of them. Not just paying more but doing so in a way that attracts passive candidates and other talent in the first place. Like a hiring bonus but also a kicker for every six months of service. Ideas like that are helping. Sometimes it’s not as much the amount as it is the point. Speaking of the point, this is an excellent time to create a service and recognition award if you don’t have one. If you do, make sure you reward long quality service in a public forum. A celebration. Yell it from the rooftops. Two other words have been used in conjunction with this category. Flexibility and empathy. These aren’t normal times for anyone so temporarily reconsidering some of your typical policies (time off, working hours, and flexible hours) is worth discussing.


To continue to use Sam Nakos and his restaurant as an example, when his pit cook left after 15 years, Sam took his best kitchen cook and began a long training process to teach him how to prepare and cook barbecue. This culinary art form involves learning to control open fire heat, secret family recipes, marinating techniques, and other skills. Thus, Sam’s breakfast cook became a master barbecue pit cook. It took patience and determination on both sides. It took money and time. It took Sam cooking with his trainee for months. But in the end, this re-skilling created a loyal and better-paid employee.


Yet again we visit the barbecue restaurant for examples. Sam made two restructuring decisions during the COVID pandemic. One involving time and the other technology. First, Sam decided to close the restaurant for dinner. It was a tough decision. It meant less revenue, but he spent a great deal of time studying the issue and thinking about his quality of life and the overall quality of his product which very much includes his employees and his ability to hire and retain good people. Closing for dinner gave Sam and Rita more time to concentrate on breakfast and lunch. They added brunch, got a beer license, increased and adjusted menu items, and converted some of their best nighttime employees to morning and lunch. The second restructuring tool was to install a new camera system and a new POI (Point of Sale) system. The person who now takes your order on a handheld device may not be the person who brings your meal. It’s all tracked from the back and it’s made life easier for the employees and service better for the client. Win-win.


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