Restaurants of all types have faced a brutal last year and a half, losing 5.9 million jobs in the pandemic’s first six weeks alone. Now, with vaccines rolled out and people desperate to get back to normal, restaurants are facing new issues: a dire labor shortage.
According to Time, the labor shortage is “particularly pronounced” at restaurants, which are short on many positions, especially those back-of-house, such as line cooks and dishwashers. In May 2021, Time noted that “employment at eating and drinking establishments was still 1.5 million jobs below pre-pandemic levels, or down about 12%, according to the National Restaurant Association’s summary of data from the U.S. Bureau of Labor Statistics.”
With the restaurant industry struggling to get back to pre-pandemic employment numbers, customers feel safer returning to restaurants with options for outdoor dining, and more importantly, the rollout of the vaccine. While seating numbers have returned to 2019 levels, restaurants of all sizes are faced with totally new supply and demand issues.
According to a recent survey by the National Restaurant Association, in May 2021, 72 percent of restaurant operators reported that “recruiting and retaining employees was their top operational challenge,” up from 57 percent in April 2021, and representing the highest reading in the Association’s 20-year history of collecting this data.
Today, employers and restaurant owners must “react to this paradigm shift,” altering how they attract, hire, and retain talent. Below are five key considerations for hiring in fast-casual.
#1 Determine How (and Where) to Find the Best Candidates
One consideration that always seems to be atop the recruiting list is determining how and where to find the best candidates for your fast-casual restaurant -- no matter a pandemic.
The twist, however, that the global pandemic provided is that now, with so many positions open, competition is fierce. According to the National Restaurant Association, despite some growth in the job market, “as of February 2021, the quick service and fast-casual segments were down 248,000 jobs (or 6%) from pre-pandemic levels.” With these depleted numbers, along with continuing depleted numbers in other industries, the labor pool remains shallow for restaurant employers and owners.
So, how do you find the best candidates for your fast-casual restaurant with competition not just from other restaurants but other industries?
Now, more than ever before, you need to be proactive in finding job candidates. One way to do this is to focus on your current employees. Who within your organization is ready for a higher position? For example, do you have a dynamic server that can step into the role of a manager? What about that very loyal (and talented) line chef. Is he or she ready to become a sous chef?
Promoting your employees from within is not only a great way to fill needed positions, but it shows that you value your employees and may even save you money in the long run. For example, when promoting internal employees, you’re promoting a worker that’s already familiar with your culture, policies, and procedures -- thus, they’re up and running in a new position faster than an external hire.
You can also focus on finding talent from restaurant-specific job boards. This is not to say that more general job boards, such as Indeed or Glassdoor, aren’t equally effective. But, sometimes, it pays (no pun intended) to target your search to those looking for positions in the food industry.
#2 Qualify Your Search Through Better Job Descriptions
While targeting your search to those interested in working in the food industry is one approach, you also should qualify your search, enticing interested job candidates through better (and more transparent) job descriptions.
Quoting Alice Cheng, CEO of Culinary Agents, when candidates are looking at job postings post-pandemic, they’re not necessarily clicking on the ad or following through in any way, reports CBS. So, now that candidates are steering the ship in the job market, how do you encourage qualified applicants to stop, read your job description, and take action?
First, you need to define a qualified applicant for your restaurant. When defining the quality of a candidate, you must think about something that can be measured consistently and objectively. For example, if you require that your candidates complete a background check, and they did, you can count that action as a quality standard. Likewise, if you require a college degree for a management position, and the candidate has a college degree, then that can also be counted—consistently and objectively.
Second, you can garner more interest from qualified applicants by boosting your job descriptions. Identify how you stand out in the crowd. How are you investing in your employees? Higher wages? Increased benefits? Flexible work schedules? College tuition reimbursement? Career training? Focusing on how you’re an employee-first restaurant can attract more qualified applicants.
Take Chipotle, for example. In April, the fast-casual restaurant announced that it would offer eligible employees “debt-free degrees” in culinary, hospitality, or agriculture by partnering with certain universities such as the University of Arizona and the University of Denver. Chipotle also increased wages and is now offering employee referral bonuses while also announcing that “hourly workers have an opportunity to advance to a ‘Restaurateur,’ a six-figure general manager position, in just three and a half years,” clearly enabling the popular fast-casual restaurant to distinguish itself among its competitors.
#3 Add Flexibility to Your Open Positions
If there’s one thing that’s become apparent through the pandemic, employees prefer and expect flexibility -- and this just isn’t reserved for salaried employees. Hourly workers are demanding it as well. In a recent study surveying 2,000 HR leaders and hourly workers, “88% of employers and 86% of hourly workers believe that hourly workers should get the same (or some of the same) degree of flexibility as salaried workers. Both employers (90%) and hourly workers (84%) agree that hourly workers can have flexibility even if they have to be physically present to perform their job.”
Specific to the restaurant industry, according to QSR Magazine, 77 percent of job seekers in the restaurant industry are looking for flexible scheduling, just behind wage rates.
What are restaurant employers and owners doing to stand out, post-pandemic? Eighty-nine percent are providing flexible scheduling and work hours, with offering workplace discounts coming in second.
With childcare, eldercare, and in-class instruction still up in the air as we round out 2021, offering flexible schedules and work hours could be a significant differentiator in attracting and retaining your best talent.
#4 Become Social When Attracting the Best Talent
In today’s digital world, if you're not attracting talent on social media platforms like Instagram, TikTok, or LinkedIn, you’re missing out on qualified candidates. But you can’t just jump on any social media channel, posting content ad hoc. You need a strategy.
Take a look at Gen Z. This generation, often called digital natives, are born after 1996. According to a recent Pew Research Center study, 45 percent of Gen Z teens reported being online “almost constantly,” while 44 percent reported being online several times a day. Further, Instagram, TikTok, and SnapChat were favorite sites, with Facebook being less popular with this age group.
Why is this important to know? As reported by QSR Magazine, Gen Z represented the highest number employed in the food preparation or service at the end of 2020, coming in at 39.4 percent. Further, “of the 655,000 quick-service workers, 65 percent were under the age of 25.”
By knowing your targeted audience and which social media channels they frequent, you can better develop a recruitment strategy for attracting the best talent. Through social media, you can also utilize each platform’s advertising components, allowing you to create targeted awareness and interest in you as a company -- not only in your open positions but also in your brand. Social media is the perfect platform for sharing your story with users, showing who you are, what you do, and why people want to become part of your team.
#5 Hire Faster
The old adage of “hire slow, fire fast” may not hold up post-COVID. In this very competitive job market, employers don’t need to dawdle in making hiring decisions. More employers -- including those in the restaurant industry -- are focused on hiring faster to avoid losing out to a competitor.
Of course, in recruiting, time to hire has always been a critical metric. Also, speeding up the candidate selection process benefits both you and the candidates. You fill much-needed positions, and candidates can start working sooner rather than later.
Implementing tools such as “quick apply” buttons on job boards, virtual assessments, and video interviews can shorten the hiring process without compromising quality or talent. But also implementing some of the above tips, such as social media recruiting, targeted candidate searches, and refined job descriptions, can also decrease your time to hire, especially in this post-pandemic world.
With the restaurant industry struggling to hire, it's important that employers and restaurant owners look into how they attract, hire, and retain talent. This helps stay ahead and implement the best recruitment policies, procedures, and practices.
If your restaurant wants to take your recruiting strategy to the next level in today’s competitive talent market, contact Recruitics!
Posted by Olivia Yongue
Olivia Yongue is SVP of Client Strategy and has been in the recruitment marketing industry since 2012. She thrives on new challenges and opportunities working with her global clients - from shaping their talent strategies with the newest technologies and trends to media and analytics. She is also a graduate of Saint Mary’s College of California where she earned both her Business degree and MBA. Outside of work, she is passionate about health, fitness and animals. Fun fact is that she has competed in a CrossFit competition.