The Industry

Restaurant recruiting 101: What you need to know to attract top talent

Restaurant recruiting is more challenging than ever, but these strategies will help you find and attract top restaurant talent for every open position.

Even at the best of times, good help is hard to come by. While restaurant recruiting has always had its challenges, it’s become increasingly difficult to fill open positions. Hiring the right staff for your restaurant is more difficult—and more necessary—than ever. With greater competition and fewer applicants, restaurant owners are finding job openings increasingly tricky to fill. Not to mention, employee turnover is at an all-time high. 

Throw in a pandemic, rising overhead costs, and “the great resignation,” and it’s no wonder so many restaurants are struggling to find (and retain) reliable talent.

In the face of these obstacles, what’s a restaurant manager to do? How can you find reliable staff who can deliver (literally and figuratively) the level of service and quality food that your restaurant is known for?

Let’s take a look at the modern challenges of restaurant recruiting and strategies to help you overcome them—so you can continue to hire, support, and retain top talent on your team.

Restaurant Recruiting Is More Competitive Than Ever

If you’re struggling to hire reliable restaurant staff who embody your brand values, you’re certainly not alone. Restaurant and business owners throughout the hospitality industry are spending more time and energy attempting to find staff, receiving fewer qualified applicants, and struggling with low employee retention rates.

Fortunately, there’s still plenty of hope—and talented job seekers—for restaurant recruiters who are willing to adapt.

Yes, restaurant recruiting has gotten more competitive; but with the right approach and hiring practices, you can establish your restaurant as an awesome workplace, attract quality candidates, and put together an amazing team.

But first, it might help to understand where this perceived “labor shortage” is coming from. Once you recognize some of the underlying issues, you can address them and make your restaurant a more desirable place to work—for new-hires and current staff members alike.

Why Is It So Hard to Find Great Restaurant Staff?

Where have all the good restaurant workers gone?

While it would be easy to blame COVID for the labor shortage, many of the factors linked to high staff turnover have been building up for years. A 2018 report by the Bureau of Labor Statistics found that the annual turnover rate for restaurant employees was at a five-year high of 75%.

Of course, COVID kicked the labor shortage into overdrive. Between the inherent risk of any public-facing role during a pandemic and the extra burden placed on restaurant staff to enforce health and safety recommendations, workers are getting fed up and burnt out at an alarming rate.

A UC Berkeley study conducted during the pandemic (between October 2020 and May 2021) found that the most common reasons for restaurant staff leaving their jobs were:

  • Low wages and tips (76%)
  • Concerns about COVID safety (55%)
  • Hostility and harassment from customers (39%)
  • Hostility and harassment from coworkers or management (26%)
  • Switching to a different industry (31%)

To attract new employees in a post-pandemic world, restaurants need to address the original issues that have always led to turnover—plus create a safe workplace that recognizes the increased additional stress staff are experiencing because of the labor shortage.

Restaurant managers need to rethink their recruiting process in order to stay competitive. This might sound like a tall order, but it’s easier when you use the right strategies and tools to give your restaurant a competitive edge. 

Keep reading to find out how you can update your hiring process, position your restaurant as a desirable place to work, and attract the right people to build an amazing team. 

How to Optimize Your Hiring Process: Restaurant Recruiting Tips to Attract Top Talent

Now that we know why some people are less-than-keen about working in the restaurant industry (especially during a global health crisis), let’s look at how your restaurant can turn it around and successfully recruit talent.

Use these strategies to attract, retain, and support the best restaurant employees.

Start with Your Staff

Your staff have better insights than anyone about what makes your restaurant an attractive workplace—and what needs improvement. If your team is struggling with inconsistent hours, unreliable new hires, and unhappy customers due to understaffing, that’s a bright red flag for any potential new hire. 

Take time to speak with team members one-on-one and encourage open communication. Ask for opinions on current working conditions, where staff feel more support is needed, and how happy they are with their current pay and benefits. For more open-ended responses, you can position the question as, “What could we do differently/better to keep you on long-term?” 

We recommend asking these questions to your current staff and anyone who might be resigning. It’s not always possible to conduct exit interviews in such a high turnover industry, but you can incentivize feedback with a gift card or discount for future use. 

If your staff aren’t comfortable critiquing your company culture face-to-face (or if you want to ensure total honesty), allow workers to provide anonymous feedback through the website or an online survey.

Create Opportunities for Growth

How often do your restaurant staff receive raises and/or additional responsibility? Do they have any indication of when their next pay bump will be—or are they staring down the barrel of years at minimum wage? 

Setting a regular raise schedule and inviting hourly employees to apply for management-level roles aren’t just awesome ways to retain your current staff; promoting these perks to candidates during the hiring process can increase interest in working at your restaurant.

Offering job stability, regular raises, and opportunities for career advancement can all make your restaurant more attractive to prospective staff and help you retain the great staff you have. 

Offer Something That Makes You Stand Out

Consider what you can offer employees that sets you apart from other employers. Think about your standard offerings; these are the things that most other restaurants will be providing to their employees as well (e.g., employee discounts, shift meals, etc.)

Then, consider what you can offer that might help your restaurant stand out—these are your excitement offerings. Are you in a position to offer a higher hourly wage? Health insurance and/or PTO?

These types of offering often require a bit more investment, so pick one or two of them to be great at—more robust offerings mean a happier and more loyal staff, which ultimately translates into better dining experiences for your guests.

Schedule More Predictable Hours

When your restaurant staff aren’t getting enough hours, it doesn’t matter how well you pay them. They might end up splitting their workweek between your diner and a few others (which can quickly become a scheduling nightmare for all involved) or leave altogether for a job with more stable hours and income.

If you’re already offering competitive wages and still losing employees to your competition, consider whether your current staff are receiving as many hours as they want. One of the best ways to address this is to prevent last-minute shift cancellations. 

Many restaurant managers intentionally over schedule staff to ensure they can handle the rush in the case of no-shows. Or they might send team members home early when business is slow. But this unpredictable approach to staffing hurts morale and punishes reliable workers.

Instead, try to accurately predict which days and times are slowest in advance. Pay attention to daily and weekly trends to avoid taking away hours from restaurant staff who are counting on the shift. Offering predictable schedules well in advance will keep your current staff happy and impress potential new hires.

Write Awesome (and Accurate) Job Descriptions

The ideal job description not only informs job seekers of your hiring requirements, but also inspires the best candidates to apply. Use job listings to highlight your employee culture, boast about your perks and benefits, and introduce your values.

Here are a few things to remember when writing a job description:

  • Be clear about job duties to attract the right candidates with the appropriate level of experience. 
  • Expand your applicant pool by encouraging candidates to apply even if they don’t fulfill every requirement (especially if the posting includes “nice-to-have” qualities and experiences).
  • Be transparent about starting wages and how many hours you’ll assign to new hires. No matter how passionate a candidate may be about hospitality or the culinary arts, they’re looking for a job that pays the bills.
  • Sell yourself as an employer. What will they love about working at your restaurant? Provide a brief introduction to your employee culture, values, and benefits.
  • Include a direct link to your Careers page or application form, so they can easily apply regardless of where they see your posting.

Want more help writing the perfect job description? Grab your copy of The Complete Guide to Restaurant Hiring and Staffing for a free template.

Promote Your Open Listings Everywhere

The right candidates are out there, but if they don’t even see your job posting, you’ve got no hope of recruiting them. So, don’t be shy about telling everyone that you’re hiring.

Take advantage of your social media channels to get the word out; post to online restaurant job boards; create a listing on LinkedIn—heck, you can even put up a sign in your restaurant window. 

You can also add a notice to your website or update your digital menu so diners all know that you’re actively hiring. Your guests might be looking for work (and they already love your restaurant!) or know someone else who would be perfect.

Partner with Local Culinary Schools

Partnering with local schools is a clever way to connect with local talent. If you have a culinary school in your region, reach out to administrators in the career services or alumni relations departments. Ask about whether they host job fairs (either online or on-campus) and find out how your restaurant can participate.

If the school has a curated job board for alumni, ask about the requirements for posting a job. Consider offering internships for students and encourage new graduates to apply for open positions in your kitchen. 

Create a Referral Program

The longer your staff have worked in the restaurant industry, the more likely they are to know talented individuals looking for new work. However, most people won’t go out of their way to make a referral—unless you give them an incentive to do so. 

An employee referral program encourages team members to recruit industry peers to join your workforce. You can reward employees for every successful new hire that comes from a referral. For example, Chipotle pays a bonus of $200 out to employees who refer new crew members—and that bonus goes up to $750 for apprentices and restaurant general managers.

Cash isn’t the only option for rewarding employee referrals. You can also motivate staff to recruit new talent in exchange for restaurant swag, extra time off, a gift card, or even priority scheduling for the next two weeks. 

Make it Easy to Apply

When someone sees a job posting on social media and clicks on the link, they shouldn’t have to wait until they’re at home or in front of a computer to fill out an application. Any time a potential employee sees your job ad but can’t figure out how to apply, you’ve lost the opportunity to hire them. 

Prevent this by ensuring your website and careers page look great on mobile devices, is easy to navigate, and clearly states which positions you’re actively hiring for. Keep your careers page up to date so you can fill open positions as quickly as possible.

Want to make it ridiculously easy to apply to jobs through your site? You can use Popmenu to design a beautiful, mobile-friendly website that guides candidates through the application process.

Going Digital Can Help You Attract Restaurant Talent

When it comes to attracting the best restaurant staff, embracing technology can give you a competitive edge. The best candidates want to work with modern restaurants that provide amazing experiences both online and on location. 

But recruiting qualified candidates is just one of many processes you can streamline with the right tools.

Here are some examples of how technology can support all facets of your business:

  • Owners Love the Flexibility and Reliability of Restaurant Tech: Technology can help business owners ride out the labor shortage in more ways than one—from speeding up the hiring process to simplifying operations so your staff don’t get overwhelmed. You can use Popmenu to manage branding initiatives, create a gorgeous mobile-friendly website, and maintain consistency across digital channels. 
  • Guests Appreciate the Convenience and Consistency: Contactless ordering allows you to provide better digital experiences for both take-out and eat-in guests. Your guests can access an interactive menu online, place orders (for take-out or dining in), pay for their meal, and even provide feedback—all online with Popmenu. These solutions allow you to operate with reduced staff, without lengthy wait times for your guests
  • Staff Want to Work for Tech-Forward Restaurants: When your restaurant runs like a well-oiled machine, it’s good for staff morale and productivity. Modern digital tools streamline job duties (so your team can focus on taking good care of guests) and ease the strain on your staff while you work to recruit new team members. Plus, contactless guest services reduce your staff’s risk of exposure to COVID.

Ultimately, investing in restaurant technology is good for everyone involved: owners, managers, restaurant staff, and valued guests.

Learn more about how restaurant hiring and staffing and how technology streamlines it with our Complete Guide to Restaurant Hiring and Staffing

Front of the House Resource

The Complete Guide to Restaurant Hiring and Staffing

Seventy-one percent of restaurant owners say they lose $5,000 or more per month due to the labor shortage. This guide is full of easy tips and best practices to hire and keep great employees. Inside you’ll learn how to build an employer brand and recruiting strategy that attracts great talent, interview questions that help you get to know your candidate, and proven ways to drive employee retention.

Download Now


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