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restaurant Employee Onboarding Competitive Edge

Thanks to an increase in workforce mobility and a shrinking labor pool, sourcing quality talent—the kind that works hard and stays loyal—is hard to find and harder to keep.   

The trick to scooping up all-star staff is to differentiate. If you’re doing what everyone else is doing, candidates (and customers) have no reason to pick you. 

Today we’re talking about an under-utilized differentiation strategy: your restaurant employee onboarding process. If this process is supported by the right tools and the right people, an effective employee onboarding system can work double duty, incentivizing applicants and then orientating them to what it means to work at your restaurant. 

First up, we’ll tackle some terminology. 

What is a competitive advantage?

Those of you with a business background will likely have heard the term “competitive advantage” tossed around in the classroom, but for the rest of us, here’s a simple and straightforward definition from The Balance:

“A competitive advantage is what makes an entity’s goods or services superior to all of a customer’s other choices.”

It can be helpful to think of your restaurant’s competitive advantage as its “it factor”—that quality or thing that puts the business a cut above the rest. 

To gain competitive advantage in the restaurant industry requires careful consideration of your benefits, your target market, and your competitors; the more you learn, the more you’ll see your advantage taking shape. It might be that you edge out the competition through offering an inventive food combination, unique decor, or lightning-fast service, but seldom if ever do restaurateurs put “employee onboarding” up for debate… which means big opportunity for you to take the road less traveled and reap the rewards.  

Before we unpack what this means in practice, let’s turn our attention to a specific branch of restaurant employee onboarding: strategic onboarding

For more on staff retention plus menu trends and more, download the 2019 State of the Restaurant Industry Report.

What is strategic onboarding?

Strategic onboarding one-ups its conventional, mostly administrative counterpart by spanning the entirety of an employee’s time with the restaurant… not just the first few weeks. As long as a staff member is on your squad, there will be opportunities for upskilling, development, and growth. 

In her article detailing the inner workings of a restaurant training tree, fellow Upserve Insider Christine Leuders touched on the importance of strategic onboarding:

“Training never really ends. Once individuals have gone through the training process, keep up with the learning process. Training and teaching go hand-in-hand and need to be done on a daily basis no matter how long a person is with the company.” 

This ongoing commitment to training and teaching is the spirit of strategic onboarding, and while it might sound like a no-brainer to you, there is evidence to suggest restaurateurs are lacking in this regard. In a recent workplace happiness study at 7shifts, the amount of training employees received (whether through hands-on training from management or by participating in an external course) was positively correlated with how satisfied they were in their jobs and how likely they were to stay. Similar results emerged from Jobvite’s 2018 Job Seeker Nation study: 30 percent of job seekers left a job within the first three months, and 36 percent of these individuals stated “a lack of proper onboarding” as the reason behind their decision.   

graph: employee onboarding competitive advantage

This means that by engaging in strategic, ongoing onboarding, you effectively future-proof your business by reducing turnover and improving morale, both of which have a lot to do with the customer experience and a healthy bottom line. 

Next, we’ll look at specific strategies to upgrade your employee onboarding program. 

Employee onboarding strategies 

Ready to put theory into practice? Here are four strategies to help you appeal to candidates and outshine the competition. 

Tout Your Technology

Impress your new recruits by putting your restaurant technology front and center. As the first cohort of true digital natives, technology has massive influence and impact for Generation Z. The same can be said of Millennials, which means showcasing your tech-forwardness for key activities like employee scheduling and inventory management helps you become a front-runner for candidates in these two groups. Why? Because you both understand the value and benefits these types of technology provide (convenience, time savings, and so on).  

Celebrate and Foster Growth

As we’ve already discussed, strategic onboarding is all about ongoing talent development. Investing in your employees’ growth is proven to positively impact what’s known as employee lifetime value (or ELTV for short), or an employee’s cumulative contributions to an organization (financial or otherwise). 

Make known your commitment to professional development early and often. It’s not enough to sit down with new hires in their first week to talk generally about hopes and dreams; instead, schedule regular check-ins to chart progress against goals and identify areas where staff might benefit from hands-on or classroom training. Not only will you personalize the onboarding experience, you’ll also be selling the restaurant industry as a personally and professionally rewarding career path. 

Give Back

According to Imagine Canada’s 2019 Trends and Motivations in Corporate Giving and Volunteering report, 86% of employees said they’d be extremely or very likely to stay in their job for at least two years if they believed their employers was “highly committed to community.” 

How can you prove this through your onboarding? Perhaps you allot a certain number of working hours per month or per quarter for employees to volunteer for a cause they’re passionate about, or maybe your restaurant is a long-time sponsor for a local community organization. Particularly for prospective candidates that hold similar values, this will provide serious incentive to apply (not to mention stick around). 

Personalize Your Efforts

It’s not enough to drop a 10-pound employee handbook in the laps of your new hires and assume they’ll hit the ground running. Sure, you want your employees to understand your restaurant’s mission, vision, and core values, but what better way to commit them to memory than by showing, not telling?

Get creative with your restaurant employee training tactics, offering a healthy blend of education, demonstration, and shadowing opportunities. This helps staff feel like they’re part of the family, and not just a number in your payroll system. The more your employees feel involved and engaged, the happier and more productive they’ll be. 

The state of the restaurant industry is ever-evolving, but nothing could have prepared restaurant owners and operators for 2020. Download our State of the Restaurant Industry Report for 2020 menu, sales, and holiday trends, plus stories from restaurant owners who managed to grow sales despite the pandemic.

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Written by   |  
Jessica Reimer is the Content Producer for 7shifts, an employee scheduling app designed for restaurant based in beautiful Saskatoon, Saskatchewan. She works with the rest of the 7shifts marketing team to help their customers all over the world save time scheduling, reduce labor costs, and improve communication in their businesses. Jessica has authored feature pieces and blog posts for a number of provincial, national, and international publications and specializes in psychology, community engagement, lifestyle, and business communications.
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