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Restaurant Adds Childcare to Balance Business, Staff Needs

FILE - child care services
Nick Youngson
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Alpha Stock Images
FILE

It would require outside of the box thinking, that's how Dixie Benca describes the decision to add childcare at her Anderson restaurant. The decision to add a babysitter to the staff of McGee's Irish Pub & Restaurant comes as restaurants are looking at new ways to retain and attract employees but also as Benca and her husband and business partner, John, have seen a need for childcare among staff.

The need grew with COVID-19 requiring schools and daycares to close and requiring parents to juggle their duties at work and at home.

"People shouldn't have to choose between having a job and a family," Benca said.

That challenge crystallized last month when one of McGee's kitchen staff, a single father, shared his own struggle finding care for his 4-year-old daughter.

"We don't want to lose him, but he's having to make some tough decisions," she said.

On June 30, McGee's opened for dinner service for the first time with a babysitter on site.

HOW OFFERING BABYSITTING IS FILLING A NEED FOR THE STAFF AT MCGEE'S

The Bencas are no strangers to the restaurant industry. They have owned and operated McGee's for nearly 25 years, living and breathing the excitement, the satisfaction and the challenges of the industry day in, day out.
The pandemic added another layer.

"Quality of life in general in this industry was something that was going to have to be addressed, I think we had a reckoning coming for years now," she said. "I think the pandemic has just expedited that."

The Bencas had begun making lifestyle changes at their business over five years ago. At the time, Benca said, the restaurant was doing great, but the couple and their employees were exhausted.

They restructured, doing away with the 50-60-hour weeks that has been common practice and closing Mondays and Tuesdays, so everyone got two days off back-to-back.

Any change takes time, along with knowing your business and your customers.

"We just have a lot of years behind us that we can stand on and make bold decisions," Benca said.

This new effort is just the next phase of what the Bencas hope is positive change.

On any given evening, McGee's has about 15-18 employees. During the pandemic, McGee's scaled back its catering and events operations, leaving its private events room mostly empty.

When the restaurant opened for normal dine-in service, the Bencas had to figure out care for their son and began bringing him to the restaurant, often setting up a space for him in the private events room. It was a nice way to be able to see him while at work.
When she got the idea about hiring a babysitter, Benca admits she wasn't sure exactly how people would react, or whether there'd be much interest. She posted on Facebook and was flooded with inquiries from caregivers.

They ended up hiring two college students, both certified in CPR, and both with experience in babysitting, who will alternate evenings. The Bencas pay $60 a night plus a meal, for four hours of work and the sitters are covered under the restaurant's insurance.

"I imagine for some people having their children at work might be more of a distraction than a help, but in the case of the people we're using it with, I think it's gonna be fine," Benca said.

Thus far, there has been anywhere from one to four children a night, including the Bencas' own son, who is 2 ½. All are situated in the private dining room that is outfitted with a table, sofas and a television.

There will never be more than six kids at a time.

"It's always exciting to implement a new idea that you can see the vision of it working," Benca said. "And a lot of ideas don't work out, but we're certainly willing to try."