Tuesday, September 8, 2009

Hard Rock Cafe Nashville lends staff to charities

Workers still get paid during cafe renovation By Wendy Lee • THE TENNESSEAN • September 6, 2009 It is probably one of the biggest fears a waitress or a cook can have — news that their restaurant is shutting down for a three-month renovation at a time when unemployment is high and paychecks are precious. But at Hard Rock Cafe Nashville on Lower Broadway, which is shutting down Sept. 14 and won't reopen for three months, staffers will get a paycheck anyway. Hard Rock will pay its staff their regular salaries, including the average tip its servers make, during the restaurant's dark days. And 71 employees will stay busy with community-spirited assignments at local nonprofits. Servers, cooks and other employees will be doing everything from dishing up food to helping needy families to stocking racks at thrift stores. National workplace consultants said it was the first time they had ever heard of such a plan. "It's certainly unusual," said John Challenger, CEO of workplace consultants Challenger, Gray & Christmas Inc. "In these times, when companies are trying to keep their costs down, batten down the hatches and survive, most companies would be looking to save those salaries." Hard Rock Cafe Nashville's employees will volunteer a total of roughly 2,000 hours a week at various nonprofits selected by Hands On Nashville and the restaurant, said general manager Jim McGonagle. "We felt it was appropriate at this time to hold onto our greatest asset, our people," McGonagle said. Tisha Villamor, a 33-year-old bartender, said the plan tracks Hard Rock's motto of "Love all, serve all." It's a saying adopted since the restaurant's 1971 start in London, signifying that it aims to serve people of all backgrounds. "I think everyone's benefiting from this," Villamor said. "I get to work here and do something for the community." Renovation dates were picked because those are typically Hard Rock's slower months, McGonagle said. Sales at the Nashville location have been steady, with 90 percent of the business from tourists. The renovation would be the Nashville cafe's first major change since it opened in 1994, bringing the 6,500-square-foot space to more than 11,500 square feet. Plans include adding new memorabilia, such as shoes from the late Michael Jackson and a suit from Hank Williams Jr. A second-floor addition for events and live music also will be part of the makeover, officials said. During the remodeling, the chain's retail store will stay open. Nashville will become the third of Hard Rock's 127 cafes worldwide with the new building model. Others with the new look are in Las Vegas and Dallas. A practical decisionDarren Tristano, an executive vice president with Chicago-based Technomic Inc., said if the Hard Rock had let its staff go, it would have taken at least a month to hire, recruit and train new people. "I don't think you have much of a choice in a situation like this," Tristano said. "You absorb the cost and hope the renovation pays off in the short term." Local nonprofits said they hope the Hard Rock inspires other businesses to follow suit with donations of volunteer time. "We are so excited about having extra people to help us, and we're looking forward to them bringing their ideas to the table," said operations manager Bruce Krapf of Thriftsmart, a nonprofit thrift store that donates profits to four charities. With about 3,000 new items being added each day, the extra help is welcomed, Kraft said. Brandon Reid, a Hard Rock Cafe Nashville retail sales associate and line cook, said he's looking forward to volunteering. "A lot of places would just lay you off," said Reid, 32.

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