Employee benefits are creeping into the restaurant game.
With eateries around the state struggling to find adequate staffing, the New Mexico Restaurant Association has started offering a suite of secondary benefits for restaurants to present to their employees as a way to compete in a difficult workforce market.
These are not primary health care or dental benefits, but the offerings do include on-demand phone consultation for health and mental health needs, supplemental preventive cancer care and a variety of discounts.
The association is partnering with Teladoc Health, Aflac and LifeBalance to make these benefits available to restaurants.
“We saw there was a tremendous need for restaurants to be competitive,” said Dionne Bower, the association’s membership director.
A restaurant member in Northern New Mexico sent association CEO Carol Wight a photo of McDonald’s benefits attached to a window. They offered free work shoes, grocery and drug store discounts, up to $3,000 in tuition reimbursement and a variety of other discounts.
The National Restaurant Association offered the New Mexico association the Teladoc option, which for $9 per employee per month offers phone, video or app access to doctors for nonemergency medical consultations, mental health, dermatology, medical advice and nutrition guidance.
“Still, we wanted to go one step farther,” Wight said.
New Mexico Restaurant Association added Aflac and LifeBalance. Aflac is offering supplemental accident, preventive cancer care and critical illness coverage. LifeBalance provides free discounts to association members for arts and culture events, plus outlets such as exercise, personal growth, sports, games and amusement parks and tourist attractions and travel.
“It provides an extra something to allow restaurants to be competitive,” Bower said. “We focused this on secondary-type benefits.”
Wight said the national association offers affiliate organizations medical coverage through United Healthcare but the New Mexico association chose not to offer it.
“When [UHC] came to New Mexico, we found they are not very competitive,” Wight said. “You can go to the [health insurance] exchange and get rates that are better.”
Such extras — atypical at many restaurants before the pandemic — are now becoming an acknowledged necessity.
Santa Fe Dining offers health, dental and vision coverage to all full-time employees at its portfolio restaurants throughout the city.
“This offers a whole buffet of benefits for our team members,” said Rick Pedram, the company’s chief operating officer, adding these benefits primarily will be appealing to employees who work fewer than 30 hours per week and don’t qualify for benefits.
Atrisco Cafe and Bar and Tomasita’s owner George Gundrey said the association’s alternatives might work better than the traditional benefits.
“When you look at the issue of benefits, you have to look outside the box a bit,” Gundrey said. “I offer health insurance, but nobody is taking it if they have to pay half. I think a lot of employees would like to get the cash rather than health insurance benefits.”
He said he is looking at all three NMRA programs, but is drawn to the Teladoc offering.
“This is an awesome way to go,” Gundrey said. “I would be happy to pay for it if I’m convinced it was being used. Maybe I’ll pay for half of it.”
It was unclear whether employers would pay for these NMRA benefits or pass on costs to employees, Wight said.
“It’s traditional for things like Aflac for the employer to pick up the costs,” Wight said. “We’re hoping the employers pick up the Teladoc costs.”