close up photo of dinnerware set on top of table with glass cups

WorkShift brings the gig economy inside restaurants

By Anna Lardinois, Startup Storyteller

2021 was a fantastic year for WorkShift, the technology platform designed to connect talent with open shifts in the restaurant industry. That year the company received recognition in the MMAC’s Focus on the Future Awards, appeared on Project Pitch It and completed a successful pilot run of the product with Milwaukee hospitality powerhouses Saz’s Hospitality Group and Hospitality Democracy.

Since then, founders Bekki Yang, hospitality veteran Manny Lara and the company’s Chief Technology Officer Romke de Haan have been working hard behind the scenes to refine the minimum viable product (MVP) used in the pilot into a beta version of the app, while creating a fundraising strategy to support development and expansion.

To make this happen, the company is stepping back into the spotlight. WorkShift is a finalist in the Governor’s Business Plan Contest and co-founder Lara, a U.S. Navy veteran, is participating in the Wisconsin Veterans Chamber of Commerce business accelerator, Command Post.

The labor problem in the restaurant industry that the company aimed to solve when it was founded in 2018 has grown significantly in the post-pandemic world. According to the National Restaurant Association, 62 percent of their restaurant owners say their “restaurant does not have enough employees to support its existing customer demand.”

“Based on a survey with restaurant groups and owners, 68 percent of them had vacant positions that needed to be filled and the majority of those positions were skilled entry level, low-skilled jobs such as dishwasher, fryers, servers and bartenders. WorkShift is really here to help quickly offset those labor shortage areas and positions with quick fills on demand,” Yang said.

Yang became very aware of the ever-changing staffing needs of the restaurant industry when she opened Eggrolls to Go, a catering and pop-up kitchen venture. Often, Yang would be able to handle the orders herself, but she sometimes found herself in need of an extra pair of hands to help her chop vegetables or operate the fryer.

Because her staffing needs were unpredictable, it was not practical for her to hire a group of employees. With no source of short-term staff, Yang relied on family and friends to pitch in when she received large orders. It was during this time she began thinking about staffing solutions for the restaurant industry.

When gig-economy apps – like Uber and DoorDash – began getting traction, she knew the time was right for WorkShift.

“The traditional recruitment model changes, and if fractional owners and operators rethink how they’re tapping into talent outside of the traditional way of applying, interviewing, getting in a certain amount of hours a week on the schedule, the chances of opening up to a larger pool of talent is so much greater because there are people out there that are willing to pick up a bartending gig here and there,” Yang said.

“There are people that are willing to pick up a couple of hours here and there because they need that extra cash.  They have done that job before and it’s easy, quick money for them to come in and help them offset their bills, but also help offset the pressure from these businesses that are faced with open positions, too. By creating this platform, this space for them to be able to connect together, restaurants are going to have access to a greater share of talent,” she continued.

In addition to being a short-term employment solution, WorkShift also plans to help rebuild the labor pipeline in the restaurant industry.

“The biggest differentiator between us and other gig apps out there is that we’re not just looking to connect jobs and people, but we’re really trying to be a pipeline for future food service industry talents,” Yang explained. “We know 50 percent of that workforce has left. And how do we even begin to rebuild that pipeline of new workforce into this industry?”

“For those that are pursuing a career in the restaurant service industry, we’re going to have a career mapping tool that’s going to help you navigate a career in the restaurant industry,” she said. “We want to be able to use this as an opportunity for those that are looking to advance their career or just looking for additional experiences to use us as their training ground to advance in whatever career choice they make.”

To follow the growth of this company with strong local industry connections and a client base in need of labor, connect with WorkShift here

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