How to Hire a Stellar Staff In This Lean Post-COVID Labor Market

Despite many restaurants having reached their pre-COVID pandemic sales levels, operators are having trouble finding staff needed to support their sales. In a recent poll conducted online by Black Box Intelligence™, 75% of operators are primarily focused on either recruiting talent (51%) or retaining talent (24%) in Q2 

The primary theory for the shortage of workers is that while restaurants were furloughing employees other industries were actively hiring, forcing employees to change fields. Also blamed is that restaurants are one of the few places where people are allowed remove their masks, making employees leery of returning to the restaurant out of fear of catching COVID-19.

While you might need to work a little harder than in years past, attracting good employees is still possible. Below are seven strategies to help you attract the best candidates and lock-in top talent during this surge in demand for restaurant labor.

Tap into Former Employees

Training new employees is expensive and takes a considerable amount of time.  Before posting your job openings, first contact furloughed employed to see if they are available.  Next, reach out to former employees who left on good terms to see if any of them are interested in coming back. You never know, they may be unhappy in their new job or missing the bustle of restaurant life if they changed fields and were just unaware that you have reopened and are hiring. Plus, they will be ready to hit the ground running!

Ask for Recommendations

The restaurant industry is extremely relationship driven, making your current staff a great resource for finding new recruits. In fact, 49% of hourly employees are recruited through employee referrals. Ask star employees if they have friends or family members who might be looking for work.

Expand Your Candidate Pool

With such a scramble for restaurants to find staff, there will be fewer qualified candidates to choose from. You might just need to look at candidates with other types of customer service experience beyond restaurants. Even if candidates lack restaurant-specific experience, you can still gage their potential by conducting behavioral-based interviews. Behavioral-based interview questions can help assess if the candidate has the personality, cognitive ability, flexibility, and work ethic that your restaurant expects.

Always be on the lookout for potential employees.

If the person bagging your groceries at the market goes above and beyond with customer service, hand them a business card and tell them you are hiring if they would like to come in for an interview. If you find someone with great customer service skills, don’t pass it up! You can always train them on the other skills required to work in your restaurant.

Prepare to Pay Higher Wages

In this market, even the novice employees expect to be paid well above minimum wage.  One Compeat customer is offering $15 an hour minimum wage at every location while other restaurants are offering up to $400 “signing bonuses” to catch the interest of applicants. If you are financially unable to compete with what some of the larger chains that are paying hourly employees, get creative about what you can offer as an incentive instead. Perhaps you can guarantee a set schedule of 40 hours per week or that they are only expected to work on weekends. This kind of predictable schedule and salary can be hard to come by in the restaurant industry and may give you the edge over another employer.

Streamline Your Hiring Process

Even if you are able to get good candidates in the door, don’t expect them to wait around for weeks to find out if they got the job while you screen other candidates. Many of the applicants may be applying for multiple positions and will accept the offer that is guaranteed the quickest.  Streamline your processes so that you can interview, screen, and onboard new hires quickly and efficiently. Also, be sure to communicate with candidates throughout the hiring process. If an applicant goes a week without hearing from you after an interview, they may move on to another opportunity.

Retain Current Staff

Make a point to appreciate and take great care of your current staff.  Unhappy employees are more likely to leave while the market is hot, especially if the catch wind of higher wages and signing bonuses. If you are in need of additional staff, the last thing you want to do is lose any of your current star employees. Try to retain your current staff with a bump in pay, a guaranteed schedule, a free or discounted meal after completing a shift, or whatever is within your means to keep them on your payroll.

Hang in there! Sourcing, recruiting, and hiring can be challenging in today’s post-COVID environment, but it can still be done. It just takes some planning, persistence, and patience.

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