How Restaurants Can Attract and Retain Workers Tempted by Retail Holiday Job Offers

Restaurants are still suffering from a labor shortage – according to the National Restaurant Association, as of September 2022 “eating and drinking places [were] still 560,000 jobs (or 4.5%) below their pre-pandemic staffing levels – tops among all U.S. industries.”

As a result, we’re seeing restaurants closing early or not able to open at all because they don’t have enough staff. They are struggling with false waits (customers waiting to be seated even when there are plenty of empty tables). And they are hiring staff they should not, assuming any warm body is better than no bodies.

And now cue the retail holiday job ads, that annual event enticing restaurant workers away with promises of elevated hourly pay and bonuses. Amazon, for instance, is advertising sign-on bonuses of up to $3000 for seasonal help. Each year, we hear from restaurant general managers how frustrated they are about staff jumping to retail jobs over the holidays. How can restaurants compete with these high-paying jobs?

During this hiring frenzy, restaurants need to consider:

  • Temporary sign-on or retention bonuses, and temporary pay raises, to better compete. These should be offered to new hires, but also to your existing workers. In January, you can re-assess the hiring environment and decide if you want to make them permanent or not.
  • Highlighting benefits you provide for full-time workers – benefits likely unavailable to part-time holiday retail help, such as health insurance, tuition reimbursement and retirement accounts.
  • Offering existing employees flexible holiday scheduling- something they may not get as the new person at a retail job. Give existing employees their first pick for shifts, for instance.
  • Using technology to automate hiring. Technology can play a big role in finding and screening candidates and scheduling interviews. Automating these parts of the recruiting process can save GMs many hours a week and lead to better hiring rates.
  • Building a culture of caring for employees. Pre-Covid, many restaurants had traditions such as acknowledging an employee’s birthday. Many of these customs fell by the wayside during Covid. Bring them back. 
  • Strengthen your employee brand. Positioning yourself as an “employer of choice” or “preferred employer” helps boost hire and retention rates. People will want to work for you. This doesn’t happen overnight, but investments you make in this beginning right now will pay off down the road.

From an earnings perspective, it’s a great time to be a restaurant worker. There is fierce competition for labor, which means opportunities for raises and bonuses. To stay competitive, hiring managers need to be aggressive with pay and benefits, even if it’s only temporary through the holidays.

If you’re hiring extra seasonal help yourself, during your time with them, make sure you’re keeping in mind that there’s the opportunity to retain the best seasonal employees to come on full time. Make sure you’re putting your best foot forward in developing a positive work environment despite the hectic nature of holiday hiring.