British Columbia

This 93-year-old restaurant chain is changing the way it recruits and keeps workers

White Spot, a popular B.C. restaurant chain, is focusing on better incentives and more emphasis on work-life balance to keep staff happy.

Employers are focusing on better incentives, work-life balance to keep staff happy

Managers of the R + D Kitchen in Burnaby, a new restaurant from the White Spot chain, had to shift their recruiting tactics in order to get enough staff. (Caroline Chan/CBC)

This story is part of Hire Calling, a CBC Vancouver series exploring the trends behind B.C.'s labour shortage and the creative solutions that some businesses are adopting. 

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White Spot is a decades-old B.C.-based restaurant chain made popular by its focus on burgers and family dining.

But as the restaurant industry changes, the 93-year-old company is looking for new ways to attract not only customers, but employees willing to work for them during a labour shortage.

The changes are represented by The R + D Kitchen, a new restaurant concept from White Spot, which recently opened their first location in a mall in Burnaby, B.C.

For diners, an ever-changing list of specials joins familiar menu items in an effort to attract people with wider tastes. 

And for restaurant staff, new incentives include better uniforms and training, and greater flexibility on their schedules.

White Spot president Warren Erhart and executive chef James Kennedy. (Caroline Chan/CBC)

White Spot President Warren Erhart said this is in recognition of the fact workers have outside lives, including families and hobbies.

"There's a nimbleness that happens today with a weekly schedule sort of saying, 'What are our employees doing? What's in their personal lives? And how do we blend their personal lives with the needs of the restaurant?" said Erhart. 

The evolution represents a wider shift in the restaurant industry as a whole, aimed at offering employees more than just wages. The pandemic was hard on the hospitality industry as restaurants were forced to shutter, and many staff quit and now people in the industry say they have to change to survive.

On The Coast's Caroline Chan visits a Burnaby White Spot location to find out how this industry giant is recruiting and retaining workers. It's the first part of our new series "Hire Calling" that looks at trends in labour.

Dennis Innes, the dean of Vancouver Community College's hospitality program, says employers are having to up the ante to recruit and retain staff.

"People in the industry want more of a work life balance and the employers are really having to accommodate that," said Innes. "I think that is one of the biggest adjustments that employers are having to make."

At one restaurant in West Vancouver, Isetta, they're taking a creative approach to worker incentives including bus passes and sharing travel points earned on a company credit card.

When it comes to wages, Isetta partner and general manager Thomas Eleizegui says that even staff without experience start at $16 an hour, which is above the current $15.20 minimum wage in B.C. That also comes with an opportunity for a raise based on performance after three months. It's part of Eleizegui's philosophy of treating his employees well.

"The staff is key," he said. "Even if you make a mistake, people come back because they're a bit more patient with you because they get the service that they want."

A friendlier workplace

At the R + D Kitchen, White Spot executive chef James Kennedy shares what he's doing to make it a friendlier workplace. Computers at each workstation means less yelling of orders and mix-ups. Kennedy admits that historically the restaurant industry tended to have chefs with hot tempers but he won't allow that in his kitchens.

"One of the first rules in our kitchen I've always laid out is that no one will ever yell at you, no one will ever lose their temper."

Isetta Cafe Bistro general manager Thomas Eleizegui speaks with Stephen Quinn about his "staff are gold" philosophy.

Kennedy sits on an industry training advisory task force, and says the shortage of workers has been felt at many restaurants during the pandemic. But as public health restrictions drop and restaurants start to bring back full service, the workers are coming back too.

The pandemic also offers new opportunities as take-out orders have become a major staple in their operations and they now have staff dedicated to packing up orders.

"It's a 'change industry', but it's strong. We're in pretty good darn shape."

Have feedback on this series or a story idea for Hire Calling? Email


Caroline Chan is a journalist at CBC Vancouver.


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