How Restaurants Can Hire and Rehire Quickly During COVID-19

My first business was running a Thai restaurant while in college with a couple of friends, so seeing how hard the restaurant industry has been hit by COVID-19 recently hits close to home. I know how hard it is to stay in business, how slim the margins are, and especially how difficult it is to hire and take care of the employees that keeps the business alive.

Many restaurants are experiencing a truly strange predicament. As cities begin to reopen, owners will want to bring back staff they might have furloughed, but many are earning more on unemployment than they did at their jobs. They might not want to come back, especially if they have health and safety concerns. Piling onto this issue, if a restaurant owner has accepted a loan from the Paycheck Protection Program, the full amount is only forgivable if the restaurant retains its full headcount.

Each of these factors mean restaurant owners may have to hire — and hire fast. Here are four ways to source and hire workers more quickly as cities begin to reopen for business.

Leverage Referrals

Most restaurant managers probably have an informal referral system in place. A waiter will mention a friend looking for a job, and it’ll lead to an interview. This system automatically builds in accountability, as a good employee will only want to refer someone they trust to do the job right, helping the candidate get a leg up in the vetting and hiring process.

Now is the time to formalize your current internal referral program. Establish the terms and bonus for referring candidates, put it in writing, and make it known to your staff. For example, for every candidate referred who passes an initial interview, they will receive an immediate bonus of $250. For more important positions, maybe it’s a $500 bonus after the new hire has worked for twoweeks without issue.

The amount and timing can vary, but make the bonus worth their while. Some restaurants staff 35 to 45 percent of their new hires through referrals, so it’s important to leverage this in a formalized way.

Post Openings in Restaurant-Specific Job Boards

While general job boards like Craigslist and Monster are fine to use, you will probably get better candidates at a faster clip posting on restaurant-specific job boards. This is especially true if you are trying to fill more skilled positions, like a seasoned bartender or a sous chef.

Not only will these job boards give you greater reach to the right seekers, seeing what others post can help guide the language in your own listings  to attract the right talent.

Try boards like Culintro (NYC based), PoachedJobs, Culinary Agents, Restaurant Careers, and ShiftGig. Additionally, are there culinary schools or institutes in your local area? You can advertise on their job boards, or even go analog with paper flyers. If you’re looking for entry-level workers, then colleges in general are a great place to post job openings. Finally, Facebook groups are a great place to target restaurant workers in the city of your choice. As an example, here is a public group for St. Louis Restaurant Jobs.

Partner with Neighboring Restaurants

The local restaurant business can sometimes be competitive, but partnering up with one or two businesses can help you hire employees faster. Some owners have established a “first dibs” partnership in two ways:

  • First, if an employee wants more hours but their restaurant doesn’t have the ability, then the employee can go to a partnered restaurant and pick up shifts there.
  • Second, if there is a job opening at one restaurant, the employees at the partnered location will have “first dibs” on these jobs. To be clear, you’re not poaching these employees; rather, you’re agreeing with the other owner to basically staff together. This gives you a wider net, as well as a wider referral network, if you offer referral bonuses to the other group of workers.

Imagine a job seeker walking into the place across the street, but being immediately referred to your restaurant. This partnership can help you staff up in a hurry.

Automate Your Hiring Process

Oftentimes the biggest bottleneck to the hiring process is not finding the candidates, but the internal processes that come with it. Posting job listings, vetting candidates, following up with interviews, and scheduling a manager's time to conduct interviews all can drag out for weeks or months — especially if management is busy.  Knowing restaurant owners and managers, they are always busy.

This is why automation is key to hiring faster. Keep in mind, over a third of hourly jobseekers said being hired quickly was the most important factor when they are looking for work.

Restaurant owners should embrace technology, from something as simple as texting with candidates to increase speed-to-hire, to hiring platforms that can shave dozens of hours in the hiring process. You can even look into a mobile app for the application process, which can provide greater accessibility to job seekers and make it easier for them to submit.

As cities begin to reopen for business, staffing up restaurants quickly can be a challenge — even during a time of high unemployment. Using these methods, owners can hire workers faster to fill spots immediately.