With the U.S. unemployment rate hovering around 4.3 percent, restaurant owners looking to recruit or retain talent are finding it harder and harder to fill open positions.
“It is certainly a much more challenging environment with fewer job seekers and endless employment opportunities for those who are looking,” says Mike Jensen, senior vice president of operations for Golden Chick, a restaurant chain headquartered in Richardson, Texas. “Open spots on store rosters take longer to fill in many cases. The days of only hanging a ‘now hiring’ banner or simply waiting for the right candidates to walk in the door has passed.”
Patrice Rice, CEO of Patrice & Associates, which specializes in recruiting for all restaurant and hospitality jobs, notes restaurants have always competed for top talent, but now it is even worse as the labor market has actually transitioned into a “candidate’s market.” That’s why companies that offer a good work/life balance are taking a major lead in attracting employees.
“The restaurant industry has been notorious for requiring their staff to work long hours, weekends and holidays. While it’s common to offer two days off during the week, some restaurant employers are starting to offer two consecutive days off, creating a weekend during the week, which isn’t as common,” Rice says. “Some are also starting to offer rotating weekends off, allowing more time with family, or fast vacation [accrual] such as 18 paid days off after first year.”
Some restaurants are being innovative to attract top talent, and salary is no longer the focal point alone.
Mike Richey, owner of four Golden Corral restaurants in Utah, Ohio, Georgia and Florida, is actively involved in the process of hiring and creating an atmosphere to maximize production and satisfaction among employees at each of his locations, and notes 2018 is one of tightest labor markets he has ever experienced.
“It is as challenging now as I have ever seen it. It is back to where things were around 2006,” he says. “Things got better in that respect when the economy crashed because people needed jobs and felt fortunate just to be employed. Now that the economy has improved, there is a lot more movement among employees in the restaurant industry.”
Getting people interested in a position at a restaurant isn’t always easy. Richey says the trick is keeping employees happy and offering perks that make them feel like more than just your average worker.
“In situations in which people need a day off, we try to work with them and make it happen,” he says. “They appreciate things like that and it creates goodwill. We also believe that good people know other good people. Internal recruitment can be a great way to get new workers.”
Jensen feels the restaurant industry as a whole needs to be more creative in its recruiting.
“By utilizing online recruiting sites, developing Facebook ads and sponsoring local events, restaurants can attract potential team members to make a connection to the brand and build loyalty,” he says. “Social media also can attract the right individuals once they get a feeling for the brand’s culture. Boots-on-the-ground tactics have to be employed by visiting with members of the local community, including schools and work program leaders, coaches, church pastors and youth group leaders.”
He also suggests implementing recruiting bonus plans as a way to make recruiters out of your entire team.
Once someone is part of the team, it’s up to the restaurant’s management team to keep them interested in the job.
“Onboarding a new employee is very important, and structured training sets them up for success,” Rice says. “Once they are through the training, it’s best that they feel they are part of the team and that they matter. Creating an employee rewards program is always a good incentive; the reward doesn’t have to be huge, as it’s the accolade that really counts. The days of ‘churn and burn’ employees are long past, and employees should be a company’s most valued asset.”
Making the work environment fun is key to finding and keeping workers.
“Spend time connecting with your existing team members and implement elements of fun,” Jensen says. “A team of people that enjoy their jobs and are having fun is a powerful attraction to others who are in or about to enter the job market.”
At Golden Corral, one of the keys to developing workers comes from Richey’s management teams, which have been in place for an extended period and know what they want in a good employee. They place an emphasis of developing relationships with their workers and showing they care about them individually.
Richey likes to ask his employees, “If you could wave a magic wand, what is something you would change about working here?”
“We’ll hear their thoughts and realize that sometimes it’s something we can do,” he says. “We can also try to be flexible with employee shifts. If they want to pick up more hours, we can try to help them do that. If they know we care about them more as people than workers, I think that creates a positive relationship.”
Jensen adds one last critical factor is being diligent in recognizing work well done.
“One of the worst things we can do to a team member who has put in extra effort to meet your high standards is to fail to recognize their effort and sincerely thank them,” he says. “Recognizing great work motivates people to continue their efforts and managers who do trhis gain great respect and loyalty from their team.”
“By utilizing online recruiting sites, developing Facebook ads and sponsoring local events, restaurants can attract potential team members to make a connection to the brand and build loyalty.” -Mike Jensen
Don’t Give Up
Even when an employee is out the door, the restaurant doesn’t have to sever all ties. Sometimes it makes sense to check in on them down the line.
“On many occasions when a valued employee leaves for another position, restaurant officials will call that person after about three weeks to check up on them, tell them they are missed and see if they are interested in coming back,” Richey says. “There have been many times that the former employee returns to Golden Corral, saying they missed the environment and working conditions, as the grass isn’t always greener on the other side.”
Although most employees choose to stay with their new position, Richey says the approach is effective enough that it is worth continuing to do, and that those who do return are genuinely moved by the show of appreciation and are more loyal to the brand than ever.