Order Up! Offer Financial-Based Incentives to Tackle Staffing Challenges 

Staffing presents a huge challenge for restaurants trying to go back to full employment following the pandemic. Kitchen and front-of-house employees are simply harder to find. Interviews with potential employees are being scheduled, but no-shows are the norm.

Restaurants are unable to attract employees for several reasons, including:

  • Former restaurant staff have moved on to other industries after being downsized in 2020;
  • Some laid-off workers make more money in weekly unemployment provided through the recent stimulus boost, which is extended through September; 
  • Despite the broad availability of vaccines, potential employees are still afraid of contracting COVID-19, especially front-line workers;
  • Many feel abandoned by their former employers.

Restaurants took a huge hit during the pandemic, and still have the longest climb back to pre-COVID-19 employment levels, according to the National Restaurant Association. Yet, today, as many establishments reopen, there are approximately two million fewer 16-to-34-year-olds in the labor force – the most common age group in the restaurant industry. 

With challenges to rehiring emerging as the pandemic lessens, restaurants need to incentivize potential employees to re-join their respective teams and to stay on the job. Incentives include raising wages, providing stay bonuses, upgrading benefits packages and offering flexible payment options, such as earned wage access (EWA), can remove unnecessary stress and improve productivity. 

Tips for Attracting Restaurant Help

Here are some strategies restaurants should consider to attract and retain employees:

  • Provide financial flexibility: Many employees have limited or no access to traditional banking services. With this in mind, help employees navigate challenging financial situations by providing faster access to the money they’ve earned through paycards and on-demand EWA solutions. These tools offer employees an easy and secure way to manage their wages, even if they don’t have bank accounts. It’s equally important to ensure employees can access their tips (which may be a large part of their earnings) through this type of digital solution.
  • Educate and Engage: Offer financial literacy education to help staffers understand and use skills that include budgeting, managing money, paying off debt and investing. This helps set you apart from the hundreds of other restaurants in your area and improve employees’ long-term security. 
  • Show them the money: Some restaurants, including this Tampa-area McDonald’s, are providing cash incentives for people to come in for an interview. In this case, the owner offered $50 to interviewees. He’s also considering increasing wages from $12 to $13 an hour. Other restaurants are providing referral bonuses to employees for suggesting a friend for an open position, sign-on bonuses for joining their team or a bonus for staying a specific length of time – such as six months.
  • Prioritize health and safety: At the height of the pandemic, most restaurants enacted measures to protect employees and customers, such as blocking off every other table, requiring masks and erecting plastic barriers between tables and at the bar. Retaining these safety measures, even though restrictions like mask-wearing are loosening, could help employees and prospects feel safer in a post-pandemic world, where cases of COVID-19 and its variant will remain.
  • Host a hiring party: Make recruiting memorable. Taco Bell, for example, recently held hiring parties nationwide, an initiative in its fourth year. The event took place in parking lots, outdoor patios and required applicants and hiring managers to wear masks and stay six feet apart. Similar ideas include providing samples of signature dishes, giving out party favors like T-shirts or something less costly, like a refillable logoed cup. 
  • Improve benefits packages: Implement practices that could separate you from the pack such as offering paid time off, increasing pay after reaching an employment milestone or creating a career path that leads new hires to management opportunities. Review your benefits and think of ways to improve them – what would incentivize you to work for you and not the competitor down the street?

Attain Staffing Success by Setting Yourself Apart 

The past 15 months have been tumultuous for the restaurant industry. From shuttering doors to shifting to new services (think curbside pickup or delivery) to staff reductions, times have been tough. Now, just as people are ready to get back to in-person dining, staffing is the newest challenge facing restaurants.

Think outside the box by providing incentives to help bring talent to your organization – and keep them there. This includes awarding bonuses for interviewing or for joining your team and staying, emphasizing healthier workplaces, hosting fun and unique hiring events, augmenting or enhancing benefits and offering ways for employees to access their wages sooner.

The restaurant labor shortage has just started and will be here for some time, so it’s crucial to set yourself apart from the competition. When an applicant piques your interest, immediately connect with them. Ask current employees to help recruit. Think and act outside the norm.

Implementing these measures should help attract and retain the talent you need to make your restaurant a success.