Staffing issues among topics ‘on the table’ for food and beverage roundtable discussion

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INDIANAPOLIS — It’s been a challenging year and a half for local businesses, especially in the food, beverage and hospitality industry.

“You have a lot of people that are saying, ‘Hey, the pandemic is over, let’s get back to normal’, but it’s still a struggle to get people working, get people behind the bar or working events,” said West Fork Whiskey co-founder David McIntyre. “We’re pushing through, and it’s going alright, but difficult.”

Despite the challenge to find staffing for outside events, McIntyre says West Fork was fortunate enough to keep most of its staff during the height of the pandemic.

“We kind of switched our shop into a carry-out operation, and everybody just kind of changed their roles but stayed on. We luckily haven’t had to bring on a lot of new people,” he said.

At Sun King Brewing Company, co-founder and co-CEO Clay Robinson says locations reopened with limited seating due to staffing issues.

While Robinson does offer incentives, like other places, he says it’s just hard to find help right now.

“We have good pay, we have good benefits, we try to take good care of people, but still there’s just not enough people for all of these jobs,” he said. “It kind of feels like everything was reopening at the same time, so there’s a big scramble for talent out there.”

Among staffing concerns, Robinson says it’s also a battle against supply chain management. That’s as the brewing company works to drive its sales in grocery and liquor stores.

“As people shifted, and started drinking more packaged beer, that caused a lot of pressure on cans, and cartons and all of the things that actually go into beer,” he said. “So we kind of been in the middle of what we call ‘the can-demic’, which is a global shortage of aluminum beverage containers.”

“Over the last year, we’ve been amassing as many cans as we can just to make sure, as our business continues, that we actually have something to put our beer in,” he added.

These are a glimpse into some of the issues McIntyre and Robinson plan to discuss during the second “On The Table” event, a roundtable discussion for local businesses and other key players in the industry. Hosted at The Vogue, people can virtually tune in to the conversation on West Fork Whiskey’s Facebook page from 3 to 4 p.m.

“We’re bringing in thought leaders in the food, beverage and hospitality space to talk through what we’ve learned, how we move forward and also some of the struggles that us, and other people in the hospitality industry, are working through,” said McIntyre.

“On some levels, it just lets people know they’re not alone,” added Robinson. “So there’s a lot of other businesses out there that have been struggling. So from the first one, we were able to share stories of what we were going through, and now we’re able to share stories of what we’ve learned throughout.”

For Robinson, Sun King enacted a financial literacy program for staff a few years ago. He says it greatly increased communication in preparation for situations, like the pandemic, which was a lesson learned.

“We started talking about what goes into running a business, and what all the costs are, and helping people understand budgeting, and PNLS and what it really takes to run a business,” said Robinson. “So when this hit us, we were able to have real, genuine conversations with our entire staff to understand where we’re at, what needs to be done, where we need to cut costs and how we all need to work together to get through it.”

For both places, McIntyre and Robinson say they’re embracing the challenges as they move forward towards recovery.

“We’re through it now, we’re kind of on the back end,” said McIntyre. “It’s kind of lessons learned, moving forward, how can we help each other, how can we help the community and how can the community help us.”

“If nothing else, all of the challenges helped us become a better company,” Robinson added, “and the open communication that we have with our team, it brought everyone else together, and we are better, stronger and a greater business for having gone through all of this.”

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