Five Common Seasonal Hiring Mistakes and How to Avoid Them

The inevitable cycle of seasonal-driven activity fluctuations occurs each year, but it can still catch the restaurant industry off guard if they’re not prepared. 

As these chaotic holiday months approach, restaurants may find themselves needing to stock both their kitchen and their staff, but neither is as easy as it sounds. This is especially true as restaurants prepare for another uncertain holiday season. Managers and owners must develop strategic hiring plans through the end of 2022 and into 2023 to protect staff from long hours and burnout. 

Despite a slowed holiday hiring season, there is still a demand to hire restaurant employees to keep up with the inevitable influx of folks who eat out more frequently around the holidays—in fact, 17 percent of restaurant leaders are still looking to hire workers. However, limited budgets and resources necessitate thoughtful hiring decisions in order to reduce wasted time and costs on advertising positions or training new hires.

When hiring seasonal workers, whether for customer-facing positions, kitchen support, or back-end logistics roles, it’s easy to get wrapped up in the immediacy of the task and inadvertently abandon parts of the hiring process that produce quality candidates. Below, we review five common mistakes recruiters make when hiring seasonal workers and how to prevent them in order to reach your yearly goals.

Mistake #1: Neglecting a season-specific hiring strategy

While it might seem efficient to use the same hiring process for short-term workers and long-term workers, you’d be doing yourself a disservice. Attracting seasonal talent requires a bit more creativity in terms of sourcing, screening, and onboarding, and potential workers deserve a curated experience tailored to their schedules, access, and capabilities. By developing a short-term worker-specific hiring plan, you give yourself the opportunity to recruit and hire based on your specific needs at that moment. 

How to avoid

Think broadly when it comes to sourcing applicants. Start by asking questions such as: Where do your ideal applicants typically look for jobs? How can you make sure they find and apply for your job? How do they typically apply for jobs?

When you’ve created an image of your ideal applicant, ensure your application process matches their lifestyle and sense of urgency. For example, college students who are home for winter break would benefit from a mobile-friendly applicant journey, with very few steps. 

Mistake #2: Inaccurate needs assessment 

Amid the flurry of activity leading up to a busy season, it's possible to lose focus on what your business actually needs beyond a few extra sets of hands. We often tend to think too big-picture about what a seasonal worker can accomplish in their short time as an employee. Training and onboarding for a new role is no small task and it can take time to learn before they can begin meeting needs. 

How to avoid

Take into account your broader goals by asking: How does hiring seasonal workers fit into your budget? How will it affect your yearly revenue and yearly spend? How can you hire short-term workers most efficiently while honoring your current team’s efforts and progress? 

A thorough needs assessment will help you identify who you need, how many people you need, and how adding staff can complement (instead of compete with) existing processes. For instance, hiring support for current staff (i.e., hostess, busser, bar-back) can give current employees extra hands to prepare for service or handle customers during high-traffic times. Similar roles that require minimal training enable the full-time staff to take the lead while feeling supported by the seasonal workers. 

Mistake #3: Waiting too long to start hiring

Seasonal hiring timelines can differ among industries, but it’s never unwise to start earlier than you think. Restaurants and other companies are scrambling for seasonal talent, so you may find that tacking on a few extra weeks will allow you to get a real jump on the competition.

How to avoid

Seasonal hiring doesn’t have to be limited to the standard busy seasons. To stay ahead of the curve, consider making your seasonal hiring strategy a year-round endeavor. 

Invest in a hiring platform that enables fast, mobile applications, with features like text-to-apply and automations that keep your potential talent funnel flowing without the need for manual involvement. 

Mistake #4: Hiring just for seasonality 

One of your seasonal hiring objectives may be to hire workers to pick up extra tasks your current workers can’t handle, but don’t overlook the potential for longevity. Seasonal hires have the potential to bring positive qualities and change to your current roster and can be an asset over time. Alternatively, some seasonal employees may be available year-over-year for the same role. 

How to avoid

When interviewing seasonal workers, consider the candidates’ long-term goals and how they align with your company’s goals. If there’s a match and you see potential in a candidate’s abilities beyond the temporary season, be transparent about the possibility of staying on staff after the preliminary period has ended. For annual recruits, developing a workflow to connect with and recruiting them effortlessly on an annual basis means less time to get employees out on the floor. 

Mistake #5: Not investing in longevity

Echoing the above, you might decide to approach your hiring strategy with a completely different end goal: keeping seasonal workers on staff for the long term.

How to avoid

Investing in long-term hires starts with sourcing: Set up your hiring parameters to filter for candidates who are seeking short-term or contract work, with the potential for an extension after the contract ends. 

During the screening and interviewing processes, discuss the candidate’s career goals and consider whether you may have a more permanent position for them in the future.

Seasonal hiring can get messy and can impede upon your daily operations. But with a steadfast system in place that can be replicated at the start of each busy season, it’s easy to edge out the competition and reel in quality talent right when you need them.

Slowed Seasonal Hiring Is Still Hiring

Regardless of uncertain economic situations, the holiday season will always show spikes in spending across food-related establishments, including grocery stores, caterers, and restaurants where people value experiences, especially those related to food. According to a retroactive study by Bank of America, restaurant patrons continued to go out to eat at steady rates during the Great Recession (Jan. 2008–July 2009) despite drastic decreases in spending across all other areas. They simply adjusted where they spent their money to more affordable options.

This sustained interest in food services will create a consistently high demand for seasonal workers, especially as families, offices, and friend groups gear up to celebrate the holidays again this year. Managers and restaurant owners will need to balance heightened workloads with tight budgets to maximize profits without burning out their staff. Thankfully, digital services and strategic hiring practices can help ease this burden, while reducing the amount of wasted time and money on hiring and interviewing candidates so every restaurant is on strong financial footing heading into 2023.