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Now hiring: GigPro launches in Asheville, addresses labor shortage in hospitality industry – Citizen Times

When Tony Creed, co-owner of Avenue M, signed the restaurant up for an app claiming to connect hospitality industry employers and employees with a few taps on a phone screen, he wasn’t convinced there was a need for the service.
“I had a fill-in on Saturday because one of my part-time dishwashers had an event that he needed to go to so I just hopped onto the app and found someone to stand in for him and easy peasy,” Creed said.
Now he’s used the service several times to fill shifts when regular employees weren’t available.
That’s how and why GigPro was developed, launching a year ago to allow employers to post single shifts for last-minute openings. The company enlists restaurants, bars, hotels, catering companies, farms, cleaning services, resorts and other businesses in the hospitality industry.
GigPro founder Ben Ellsworth, a chef with more than 20 years in the industry in Charleston, South Carolina, set off on his mission “to get people the help they need fast.”
In 2018, Ellsworth was planning a menu launch for a client when a dishwasher called off. A large crowd was expected, and it was crucial to have someone in the position. Finding someone who could show up at such short notice was difficult.
While searching for a replacement dishwasher, he received a notification on his mobile phone that someone had booked his Airbnb property.
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“I was like, ‘I wish he had booked to wash these dishes,’ then I was like, ‘Hmm. Why doesn’t this exist?’” Ellsworth said. “I can use my phone to get across town, I can book a cabin anywhere in the world. I’m running a business out of my house from my phone at work, but I can’t fill a shift.”
This led to Ellsworth developing GigPro, the app geared toward booking gigs in the hospitality industry.
In Nov. 2020, GigPro launched in Charleston, where the company is based. Currently, the company is filling 1,200 shifts a week on average in the city, Ellsworth said. After measuring the success, the company restructured to support other markets.
Recently, GigPro made a soft launch in Asheville. The market is still small, Ellsworth said, but local businesses using the company include Avenue M, Grata Pizzeria, La Bodega by Cúrate and Tastee Diner.
GigPro is growing and expanding with the largest markets in Nashville, Charlotte and Charleston, he said. The company also operates in Raleigh-Durham; Jacksonville, Florida; Savannah, Georgia; and Austin, Texas. Soon, it will launch in New Orleans; Louisville, Kentucky; and Richmond, Virginia.
The company saw an increase of gigs posted and booked when pandemic restrictions began to lift, around April. In June, Charlotte and Nashville launched, and both markets show an average of about 500 gigs booked and completed per month, and it continues to grow, Ellsworth said.
“Once businesses start using us and those phones go off with opportunity as the worker pool grows on that side, then it becomes an extra hand when you need it, you can cover seasonal demand or you can see it as a fast, powerful way to recruit,” Ellsworth said.
GigPro differs from a traditional job search site as the employers and employees — referred to as “Pros” on the app — are both looking for one-time work opportunities with little notice.
The “Pro” downloads the app on a smartphone and registers a profile with a photo, work history and detailed bio. Then, they may apply to the listed jobs in the selected market.
Soon, GigPro will run background checks on the businesses and Pros, a feature anticipated to be introduced by the end of 2021. 
“We post the job, and the Pro picks which shift they want to work,” Creed said. “We can accept or decline. I have been fortunate to have the same Pro pick up two weekends for me, which was great because I didn’t have to give him a … one-hour training when (he) got there.”
The Pro is paid by the restaurant through the app after completing the shift and rated. The ratings are based on a 1-5-star system and work to let other businesses know the Pro’s performance and completion rate, which shows accountability, Ellsworth said. However, the businesses are not rated by the Pro.
“If you confirm to five jobs and work all five jobs then you have a completion rate of 100%, which is very good,” Ellsworth said. “If you confirm to five jobs but maybe not show up for one, you get ‘dinged.’ If you call out within 24 hours, you get ‘dinged.’”
The average performance rate for Pros is 4.94 out of 5, according to GigPro.
The restaurant doesn’t pay a subscription fee but pays 18% on top of the posted gig rate. The 18% covers areas such as payroll tax, tax documents issuing and occupational accident insurance, Ellsworth said.
The Pro doesn’t pay a user fee, but GigPro collects 38 cents an hour from the gigs worked to pay for occupational accident insurance to cover on-the-job incidents.
Pros may opt-in for monthly health insurance for the individual or family. 
“We cover the first two months, and if they want to stay on board it’s $8.99. if they want to sign up their whole family it’s $9.99,” Ellsworth said. 
Jake Wallace works full-time at a restaurant and uses GigPro to streamline another source of income. He’s worked in the Asheville market for several months and has used GigPro since it’s launched after finding it through an online search. He often looked for gigs for odd jobs on sites such as Craigslist, performing tasks such as gardening or laboring.
Through GigPro, he’s filled dishwasher positions at Asheville restaurants and worked a gig setting up for an event with a catering company in Charlotte, he said.
“It’s kind of handy. There’s no schedule, per se,” Wallace said. “You pick out your own schedule as you go. If I don’t need to work this week, I won’t. If I do next week, I will.”
Businesses can post shifts for open positions, such as line cook, host or server. Creed has used the app to post only dishwasher shifts, considered a supporting role, at Avenue M.
“If we had a line cook to fill in, I think that would be much more difficult because now you’re getting into recipes and cooking techniques and all those things,” Creed said. “For something like that, for me, it wouldn’t make sense to bring someone on unless they’re going to work two or three shifts.”
Creed has used the app about two weekends per month, on average, he said. He’s found permanent help and is not sure how much more he’ll use it in the future but finds comfort knowing he can use it in a bind.
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“Right now, there’s such a problem with staffing. We’re only open five days a week so if we have somebody who calls out, a dishwasher perhaps, it’s really hard to find someone who will work a shift here and there,” Creed said. “This has done a wonder with filling that gap. Previously, it was asked your staff if they had any friends or family (who) wants to make a few extra bucks. And you never know what you’re going to get. This is people who actually have experience doing the jobs.”
Industry colleagues had shared their issues recruiting and retaining staff for years, but it wasn’t until Ellsworth experienced the labor shortage firsthand that he truly understood, he said. In his four years as a restaurant consultant, he’d opened eight restaurants, and all of them opened understaffed.
The labor shortage has been an issue for the hospitality industry, and the challenges escalated during the COVID-19 pandemic, Ellsworth said.
“This shortage is nothing new. It existed for a decade before COVID, and it had been in the news for a decade before COVID. When COVID hit, it became catastrophic,” he said. “Hospitality is thriving right now, and it’s viciously understaffed.”
The restaurant industry is rough for many, Creed said, and many restaurants have had to cut business hours and employees’ shifts. Avenue M is back up to about 80% after losing staff during the pandemic, Creed said.
Many other industries are experiencing similar struggles, but Ellsworth said the hospitality industry was hardest hit due to pre-existing issues that have made it more difficult to attract workers, he said.
“The hospitality industry has been plagued by low wages, not a lot of incentive, not a lot of job security,” Ellsworth said. “It’s had a reputation of having a toxic work environment— it’s tough, and ‘on’ when the rest of the world is ‘off.’”
The pandemic presented an opportunity for hospitality workers to re-evaluate job options and leave the industry, he said. This has left businesses searching for people to place in roles that once existed.
“I’ve talked to thousands of people who work in the industry and lots of people who had left, the number one thing they said they wanted was more money and flexibility,” he said. “That’s what the app offers. Pick up shifts when you want, where you want, at what rate you want.”
GigPro requires wages to be at least the minimum wage of the city. In Wallace’s experience, the pay rate tends to be higher for a gig than what the job would be advertised for a permanent staff position.
“I’ve found that GigPro actually pays probably better than a few places,” Wallace said. “I think it’s to be more competitive in the market to get people to come and do it.”
The hiring process can be costly and time-consuming as the employer has to go through the vetting and interview, onboarding and training, Ellsworth said.
“I shuffle through these resumes, I set up 20 interviews, a couple of people show up,” he said. “Then I onboard someone, train them and in three months I lose them. That took me a lot of time and a lot of money to get to that place and not a lot of results.”
It’s taken about five minutes to post a job on GigPro, Creed said.
Other perks are that it allows the employers to give overworked staff an extra hand from time to time, and it can work as a working interview — also known as “stage” in fine dining, he said. 
“One of the things that’s cool that it is going to provide is being able to do paid stages because that is something that’s always been an issue in our industry,” Creed said. “With GigPro, you can just put them into the app, they can do their stage shift, then you can pay them through the app and not worry about doing all the HR paperwork. If it works out, you can bring them on full time, but if it doesn’t work out you haven’t wasted a lot of time and resources giving somebody a trial shift.”
Creed “absolutely” recommends GigPro to other restaurant owners in Asheville, noting it’s easy to use. Wallace also recommends it for employees and employers.
“For me, it’s worked out really well,” Wallace said. “Only a few restaurants are using it in town so maybe it’s not well-known, but I think as it becomes well-known and there’s more range of shifts and positions, it could be better that way.”
This story has been updated to clarify that GigPro plans to introduce a background check feature by the end of 2021. 
Tiana Kennell is the food and dining reporter for the Asheville Citizen Times, part of the USA Today Network. Email her at or follow her on Twitter/Instagram @PrincessOfPage.


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