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How to Incentivize Your Restaurant Staffing to Work During the Holidays

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This article originally appeared in FSR Magazine.


As nearly all restaurant operators compete in a narrow labor pool for holiday help, now is the time to create a strategy to stand out from the competition.

Despite the concerns over an economic slowdown and increased inflation, Deloitte’s U.S. economic forecaster, Daniel Bachman, anticipates an increase in spending on consumer services, such as restaurants, in the November to January timeframe.

Knowing this increase in sales could be temporary, seasonal help might be the key to a successful holiday season. Operators, however, are having difficulty filling unprecedented numbers of open positions due to a general industry labor shortage. As cited by the National Restaurant Association, no other industry has a longer road to reach a full employment recovery, as many restaurants continue to compete for labor.

In this employee’s market, restaurants might need to work a little harder than in years past to attract good seasonal help. The goal of a profitable quarter can be achievable for operators who creatively incentivize workers into their restaurant this holiday season. 

Start Early

The sooner a restaurant begins the recruitment process, the better its chances of finding quality candidates. In this tight labor market, restaurants will be competing for the same job candidates with other employers in the area. Starting early will allow operators ample time to find quality candidates, review resumes, conduct interviews, and train new employees.

Seek candidates specifically looking for seasonal work

During the interview process, the hiring team should ask for the employee’s intentions for this position. Some people might desire permanent employment and are simply taking a seasonal position out of desperation. If that candidate were to be offered long-term employment by another restaurant during a seasonal period, they’ll likely accept it, leaving the seasonal team short-staffed.

Prepare to pay higher wages

In this market, even novice employees expect to be paid above minimum wage. If a restaurant is financially unable to compete with the hourly rate offered by larger chains, get creative about what non-monetary benefits can be offered. Benefits like same day pay, flexible schedules, and a fun work environment may give a restaurant the edge over another employer.

Be flexible with the schedule

There likely is a mix of scheduling preferences among employees due to cultural, generational, and religious differences so it’s wise not to assume that all employees will want to be off for the holidays. While some employees prefer not to work Christmas Day, others may want to be scheduled to experience patrons’ tipping generosity during the season. Consider offering employees the option to choose whether they want to work Thanksgiving, Christmas Eve, Christmas Day, New Year’s Eve, and New Year’s Day. This might help a manager find the perfect balance of keeping their restaurant adequately staffed and their employees happy.

Perhaps consider giving employees some control over their own schedule. Often, someone needs to swap, drop, or pickup shifts. Empowering employees to swap, drop, or pickup shifts from their mobile devices gives employees the flexibility they desire while reducing the burden on managers. 

Offer meaningful referral bonuses

If a restaurant offers a $50 referral bonus, they shouldn’t expect a flood of new applicants. Operators should offer enough money so that an employee can use it to buy something fun or impact the family holiday budget. $200 is an amount that will motivate most hourly employees to refer their friends. Remember that the bonus is only paid after the new employee stays for the period specified.

Make use of mobile platforms

According to NRA, teenagers are more inclined to work seasonal jobs. Younger workers are typically tech-savvy and oftentimes use mobile apps and mobile-optimized sites to connect with potential employers. Get job postings in front of a greater number of potential teenage employees by engaging them on a variety of mobile platforms since that is where they are most likely to be found. Also, make sure to connect the career page to a QR code, and put this QR code everywhere in the restaurant (menus, host stand, bathrooms, table tents).

Create a professional career page

While it is important to list openings on popular sites like Indeed and ZipRecruiter, many operators find that a number of their applicants are coming from the restaurant group’s own career pages. If a restaurant doesn’t have a career page, now is the time to create one and promote it. A career page should make clear what perks and benefits a restaurant is offering to stand out in this competitive hiring market.

Utilize pre-screen questions and assessments

Most restaurant managers know the pain of scheduling a dozen interviews, only to find maybe just one or two applicants actually show up. Implementing phone screening or using an online prescreening assessment will not only help to understand the knowledge level of applicants, but more importantly, will demonstrate how interested an applicant is in the position. Restaurateurs can save time and effort by measuring engagement through an applicant’s willingness to participate in extra steps before inviting them to an in-person interview.

Act quickly

In a candidate’s market, the longer a restaurant business deliberates on a hiring decision, the more likely they’ll lose the candidate to a competitor. Managers often hear, “I wish you had offered me the job yesterday. I just accepted another offer.” Quickly responding to each candidate and shortening the hiring process is a key part of a successful recruiting strategy. 


If the predictions for increased sales in the final quarter of 2022 are accurate, it’s likely that operators will be competing with one another for temporary workers. Don’t get discouraged. Finding candidates can be challenging in a worker’s market, but a little planning and creativity can work to find great seasonal help.