How to Find and Retain Workers During the Restaurant Hiring Crisis

The good news for restaurants is now that many state restrictions are lifted and dining hours are expanding, newly vaccinated patrons are venturing out, and the restaurants who survived are getting slammed with customers. But the bad news is they are having trouble hiring and filling positions across the board for cooks, servers, FOH and BOH positions.

It’s hard to believe but the restaurant industry is facing another crisis since COVID hit and forced so many closings last year: finding available workers.

At Landed, we are dedicated to helping the restaurant industry find and hire better quality candidates faster.  Here is some of our advice for restaurant hiring managers during this stressful time of finding candidates.

Get Proactive

A lot of hiring managers are stuck in an old mindset. They expect candidates to pursue them and only need to be responsive to these inbounds. That’s not happening now. They think if a candidate doesn’t respond immediately that the candidate is not interested. Hiring managers have to pursue them and get them in for an interview. They should use technology tools to engage and do the follow ups. They need to think of hiring like marketing that may need multiple touches for a conversion.

Highlight What Makes you Unique Immediately

Highlighting your benefits and company culture or pay, if that’s a differentiator, is something you need to advertise upfront. You’re competing against gig work and flexible scheduling. If you offer a W2 job with benefits make that clear early on. During the interview process, if it’s a good high-quality candidate, sell them on your culture and how they can grow in your organization. They have a lot of options. Why should they work for you? Data from a survey Landed conducted in 2020 found that job candidates’ top three priorities are Learning & Growth, Salary and Location, in that order. For almost a third of candidates, Learning & Growth was the #1 thing they care about in the job hunt.  How is your restaurant touting these aspects of your business?

Diversify Acquisition Channels

Many restaurants still just rely on the same sources. Think about diversity. Social media, partnering with local organizations and schools. Tap into your existing network like referrals from existing staff. While that pool gets exhausted quickly, it’s effective.

Offer Incentives that Encourage Candidates to Stay

If for example you want to offer a sign-on bonus, don’t pay the whole bonus upfront, but break it up over the course of weeks or months.  For instance, a restaurant client of ours is offering candidates a $1K signing bonus for joining, and paying $200 after the first 30 days, and $800 after 90 days. It’s worth it to make the bonus higher and extend it over a longer period than to make it less money that you give away immediately. The longer candidates are with your business, the more they can help with things like training new employees and can bring in candidate referrals from their own network.

Be Flexible when Evaluating Candidate Experience

It’s better right now to hire for aptitude than specific experience.  In the past, hiring managers have been too rigid wanting a candidate to have a certain number of years of experience in FOH or BOH or in the kitchen.  If you have a good candidate, bring them onboard regardless of where they can start and then cross train them to work on a different part of the team and in a different part of the restaurant if necessary.

Delegate Wisely

This advice is more for retention, but less turnover is always helpful during a hiring crisis. Divide your team into sub-groups with their own leaders. The leader might be a server but has been with the company a long time and can be responsible for coaching new hires, maybe on operating the drive through window, or the point of sales system, and can also help guide them in a development path at the business. These appointed leaders can then bubble up feedback to the General Manager who doesn’t have time to train and manage each individual employee.  Giving this kind of responsibility to staff members is a great way to retain them at your business.

This is certainly an exhausting time to be a restaurant owner, and it’s painful to not have enough staff to operate at full capacity when restrictions have been lifted and you have ready customers.  Weathering this follow-on storm from COVID is tough, but trying to be flexible on hiring, being very proactive with good candidates, offering great, long-term incentives and highlighting what’s unique about your business and culture will go a long way this year.