August 19, 2021

5 ways to woo workers

Jobseekers are looking for employers who value them as individuals and respect their personal lives. In response, restaurants are offering flexible schedules that let employees arrange their work around other commitments.

Help wanted signs appear omnipresent in restaurant storefronts as operators struggle to staff back up to meet consumer demands. After massive layoffs in the early days of the pandemic, the restaurant job market rebounded this year, with July marking the 7th consecutive month of staffing growth, according to the National Restaurant Association’s State of the Restaurant Industry Mid-Year Report, scheduled to release Aug. 26. That translates to a net increase of more than 1.3 million restaurant jobs in the first half of 2021.

Despite the steady gains, eating and drinking places were still nearly 1 million jobs below pre-pandemic employment levels as of July—mostly because operators can’t find the workers they need. When the pandemic hit, many restaurant workers moved onto other things—whether it was educational pursuits, child-care obligations or work in other industries.

Others are still receiving unemployment benefits—including a $300 per week boost scheduled to end Sept. 6—and may soon be job shopping. Try out these strategies to entice jobseekers to join your team.

1. Hiring events

To quickly fill multiple openings, operators are turning to hiring events, with on-the-spot interviews, instant job offers, refreshments and swag giveaways. Papa John’s is hosting 800 regional recruitment events in 60 major markets during its national hiring week, Aug. 16-22. Bloomin’ Brands invited job-seekers to stop by Bonefish Grill, Outback Steakhouse and Carrabba’s locations to interview during a two-day hiring event in June, or applicants could simply interview online.

Smaller restaurant groups like Founding Farmers have also tapped into this recruiting strategy. The Washington, D.C.-based group attracted applicants to its hiring events this spring by offering $50 gift cards to the first 50 people who interviewed.

2. Sign-on bonuses + competitive wages

Signing bonuses aren’t just for NFL players and high-powered executives; restaurants are offering hefty bonuses to recruit bussers, line cooks and servers.

Shake Shack is offering a $500 hiring bonus to hourly team members and $1,000 to managers. If you’re hiring unemployed individuals, take advantage of the Work Opportunity Tax Credit, which can offset a sign-on bonus.

Competitive pay is a must for effective recruiting. Industry giants McDonald’s and Chipotle both upped their pay recently. Entry-level crew members at corporate McDonald’s locations got a pay boost to $11-$17 per hour; Chipotle boasts that hourly workers now earn $15 per hour, on average.

3. Text-to-hire

Most Americans have a smart phone handy, so why not recruit via texting? Some operators are turning to AI-powered chatbots to speed up the process. Meritage Hospitality Group, a major Wendy’s franchisee, reports that its Olivia virtual assistant streamlined the screening process, freeing up busy managers for other responsibilities. Jobseekers like the simplicity; Meritage found that more than 90% of candidates completed the chat application, with an average completion time of just over 4 minutes. Olivia even schedules applicant interviews and sends automatic reminders. Gone are the days of phone tag!

4. Flexible schedules + benefits

Jobseekers are looking for employers who value them as individuals and respect their personal lives. In response, restaurants are offering flexible schedules that let employees arrange their work around other commitments. More operators are extending benefits to hourly employees—including mental health assistance.

Alexandria Restaurant Partners recently upped its benefits package for full-time staff and hourly employees working at least 30 hours. “We wanted to provide tangible and long-lasting recognitions and benefits to the team members who stuck with us through the pandemic—also we wanted to "wow" candidates looking at us as a potential employer,” said a company spokesperson.

Some operators are adding nontraditional perks, like Shake Shack, which gives managers a monthly subscription allowance to use toward cell phone bills, subscription entertainment or other services that enrich their mental, physical or emotional wellbeing. Other restaurants are investing in employees’ future, like Raising Cane’s, which recently announced it will pay more than $5,000 annually toward enrolled employees’ tuition at LSU online.

5. More than a workplace

Millennials and zoomers are looking for a sense of connection and community. Consider rewarding current employees with referral fees for recruiting their friends—a win for everyone.

Cuba Libre, with six East Coast locations, offers a generous referral bonus of $600-$1,000. Differentiate your restaurant by promoting its values—be it a commitment to sustainability, focus on family fun or dedication to diversity—and invite applicants to be part of your community.

This article is brought to you by Sage Intacct, sponsor of the National Restaurant Association's State of the Restaurant Industry Mid-Year update.