HoM tries to counter staff shortage by recruiting parents

Fries served with green goddess aioli Tuesday, Aug. 19, 2014 at HoM. Paul Zoeller/Staff

In most workplaces, a “no call, no show” is grounds for a write-up. If the offense is repeated, the employee stands to lose his or her job.

But the staffing crunch in the Charleston restaurant industry is so acute that when workers miss shifts without explanation, managers call them to ask if they’ll consider coming back.

“It’s so bad now we can’t fire people, and that has been killing us,” HoM head chef Shay MacDonald says. “We have to rely on the unreliable.”

In hopes of cultivating a steadier crew, MacDonald recently posted an ad on local job boards soliciting family men and women. Suspecting that a talented group of kitchen professionals is giving up the trade in exchange for hours more compatible with their children’s schedules, MacDonald wrote, “It’s time to unpack your whites, find those clogs in the back of your closet, and come work in our family-friendly kitchen. You won’t have to pretend you’re a baller, or that you don’t have kids or a partner.”

MacDonald says response to the ad has fallen short of “overwhelming,” but it has drawn higher caliber candidates.

“We still get the McDonald’s employee who’s looking to work here; that’s not what we want,” he says. “The turnover for me gets old: I’d rather not train someone every few weeks.”

By contrast, he says, workers with caretaking responsibilities are more likely to stick with a job, since they value predictability. MacDonald cites the example of a line cook who takes off Fridays and Saturdays because he has custody of his daughter for 24 hours between the two days. While the arrangement isn’t perfectly suited to a restaurant with heavy weekend traffic, that’s the kind of compromise MacDonald says he’s willing to make.

“We just work around it, filling in the gaps where we can,” says MacDonald, who’s willing to employ the right person for as few as two shifts a week.

In addition to long hours, MacDonald believes traditional kitchen culture is also at odds with caretakers’ priorities. “We won’t make fun of you for going home instead of going out after your shift,” he promised in the ad.

“That’s what you do every night: You go out to party, you go to bars,” he explains. “It’s nice having employees not want to do that because they show up the next morning ready to work.”

For 15 years, MacDonald happily participated in the lifestyle favored by cooks. Then he got married, and realized he’d rather spend time at home than at HoM. But he was repeatedly forced to cover shifts when line cooks didn’t show up, a situation he found so frustrating that he took a 10-month hiatus from the restaurant.

“I blamed the line cooks,” says MacDonald, who now takes off every Monday and Tuesday to look after his infant daughter. “They would disappear, and then I wouldn’t be able to see my wife.”

He adds, “I think Charleston is definitely in a critical situation.”