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Restaurant owner who takes staff on vacation has hired easily during labor shortage

Restaurant owner who takes staff on vacation has hired easily during labor shortage
Posted at 9:00 AM, Dec 11, 2021

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While many businesses are struggling to hire and keep new employees, others have established practices to maintain a successful, efficient and happy staff. For example, Danielle Jones, who owns the Abenaki Trail Restaurant and Pub in North Conway, New Hampshire, finds meaningful ways to show her appreciation for the people she employs. In turn, the eatery is thriving.

Danielle Jones

Cruise Group 2021 with Andrew, their limo driver extraordinaire, in Nassau, the Bahamas

Every year, Jones, who opened the Abenaki Trail Restaurant and Pub on Dec. 19, 2013, and Bryan Dries, her boyfriend and the restaurant’s general manager, treat the staff to some R&R on the company’s dime. And we’re not talking about a picnic or even a camping retreat.

Jones pays to cover the cost of flights and accommodation for each employee to enjoy a vacation within the U.S.

But that’s not all. Jones invests even more to close the restaurant and take the entire staff on vacation. This fall, the group took a Caribbean cruise.

This photo (and the featured photo, above) show the restaurant’s 2021 cruise group touring Nassau in the Bahamas with Andrew, their limo driver “extraordinaire.”

Danielle Jones

“After listening to a couple of different employees just talk about how they’ve never been out of the state or New England, we took our first trip with one of our cooks at the time who ended up being with us for three years,” said Jones, for whom travel is a passion. “We had a blast, so then it became an idea of mine to see who, if anyone, wanted to travel and where. And, boy, was it a hit! So it’s been four years now of taking employees where they choose, and then I started to do one big trip a year.”

Jones told Don’t Waste Your Money that she was quick to realize that appreciation was lacking for employees of many restaurants. Her father worked in corporate positions in the restaurant industry throughout her childhood.

“While he did that, I worked in a couple of those in addition to Applebee’s and TGIF’s and was introduced into the corporate world, which I stayed in from about the ages of 14-22,” Jones said. “It wasn’t too long before I decided that type of environment wasn’t necessarily for me. No matter how hard I or my co-workers worked, the appreciation was zilch. Turnover was always an issue and the drama immense. I decided that once I was able to open a restaurant, it would be very different from anything else I had seen but most importantly it would work.”

Danielle Jones

“I feel that the vacation incentive is truly an amazing opportunity for all of us,” said Dries, the restaurant’s GM. “It gives each person something to look forward to each year which motivates us to work harder knowing you can see the light at the end of the tunnel.”

But awesome trips, such as the one Tyrese Hazzoum and Samuel Crawford, two of the restaurant’s cooks pictured above, took to Fort Lauderdale are not the only way Jones shows her appreciation to her employees. For instance, the restaurant closed for Thanksgiving this year, and employees said that she also provides financial incentives.

“People are assuming it’s just vacations — it’s not,” Dries clarified. “Not only does she pay above the average wage for our industry, but throughout the year we are given cash randomly for doing a great job or just because,” adding that there is also a “Cheers to the Cooks” option on the menu, allowing customers to tip the cooks if they had an outstanding meal.

Jones says that her employees are worth closing the restaurant for, and both she and Dries believe the trips have been a great way to build relationships. Feedback from the staff has been overwhelmingly positive as well.

Bryan Dries and Lindsey Bailey dancing on a floating cabana in Coco Cay Bahamas

Bryan Dries and Lindsey Bailey dancing on a floating cabana in Coco Cay Bahamas

“Going away with your staff members does build great morale,” Dries said. “You get to learn more about an individual in a one-week trip than you can over the course of the year. We do so many things together that you truly become part of the Abenaki family. Once that bond is made you help each other no longer out of an obligation of the job but you’re doing it to help a friend and family member. ”

Jones told Don’t Waste Your Money that she has sent workers to more than a dozen fun, exotic and relaxing locales over the past four years, including:

  • Disney Magic Kingdom and Epcot (many times, as this is a popular request of staff)
  • Cozumel, Mexico
  • Nassau, Bahamas
  • Grand Bahama Island
  • Fort Lauderdale, FL
  • Clearwater, FL
  • Las Vegas, NV
  • New Orleans, LA
  • Atlantic City, NJ
  • New York City, NY
  • Cocoa Beach, FL
  • Miami, FL
  • Steamboat, Colorado
  • Clemson, South Carolina

Trips upcoming this year include:

  • Savannah, GA
  • Nashville, TN
  • Sint Maarten
  • Tortola, BVI
  • Haiti
  • St. Thomas
  • Nassau, Bahamas
  • Las Vegas, NV

The hospitality industry has an extremely high turnover rate. According to one survey, the average length of tenure is just one month and 26 days. However, Jones has no trouble finding and keeping qualified workers; she reports that her employees stay for a minimum of three years on average. And although she pays well and offers exceptional perks, Jones believes mutual respect also comes into play.

Danielle Jones enjoying the floating cabana in Coco Cay

Danielle Jones enjoying the floating cabana in Coco Cay

“I genuinely respect the staff, who they are as people, what they do, and how they give me the ability to continue opening my doors every day to the public,” Jones revealed, stating she works alongside employees, cooking, bartending, serving, or hosting or doing dishes. “Staff that comes in has never seen this before, a working owner who is willing to clean the toilets instead of just asking you to do it.”

“For me to fill a position is easy, in the sense that people come in for jobs,” she added. “But because we usually have a staff we don’t have a need to hire often and when we do, we do our best to make sure they will stick around and fit into our business model so they are happy and so are we.”

Dries, who has worked at Abenaki for nearly five years, describes himself as extremely satisfied with his work environment. He said he has never worked for another employer who cares so much about her staff and community.

“Danielle does so much for us in ways you never see anymore,” he shared. “She truly is bringing back old-school ideas to light and focusing on her staff and treating them with the respect we all deserve. She has made sure during the past two years during Covid that we are all set; if we needed anything, her door is always open. She truly is an inspiration for all of us.”

He hopes that people who learn about the restaurant and Jones as an employer will learn a simple yet significant message: “Sometimes it’s not all about money but the bonds you make with coworkers, friends, family and customers.”

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