Hiring Restaurant Employees: Key Takeaways from Hiring Panel Webinar

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The restaurant labor shortage 2022 prompted Restaurant365 to present a webinar on overcoming restaurant hiring challenges to help operators. The company recruited an all-star customer panel who shared their strategies for hiring restaurant employees during the restaurant staff shortage.

The panel featured Luis Ruvalcaba, Chief Operating Officer at Urbane Café; Erin Detrick, Director of Franchise Operations & Technology, Big Whiskey’s American Restaurant & Bar; and Denise Brown, Director of Finance and HR, Molly Moon’s Homemade Ice Cream; with Joshua Graves, R365 HIRE Solutions Manager as the moderator.The labor shortage has profoundly affected the restaurant industry, with operators trying different strategies to overcome the challenge of hiring restaurant employees. The discussion included how to attract restaurant employees, employee benefits, how to retain restaurant employees and more. Here are some of the key takeaways from the webinar:

Streamline processes for hiring restaurant employees

With so much competition for a small pool of candidates, all panelists agreed that it’s imperative to streamline the hiring process to get from application to offer in a timely manner. One panelist said, “We’ve eliminated a lot of the steps that used to delay hiring so that a candidate now has a phone screen, an in-person interview, and get the job offer within a week.”

“Additionally, we hire for all our locations at the same time. Our managers meet twice a week to talk through their own hiring decisions. So, if there are any questions or if it seems like a candidate might be a better fit for a different location, they’re able to be nimble and make those decisions as a group.”

All panelists agreed that immediate contact with applicants is important to a positive hiring experience, remarking that text messages help to ensure quick to/from communication with prospective employees.

Offer employee benefits that workers want

Historically, restaurants have not offered benefits to hourly employees. The hiring crisis has prompted restaurants to rethink benefits. Providing benefits to hourly workers has become part of the hiring strategy for many restaurant operators, including the panelists.

One panelist said “we have fully paid health insurance that all our employees are eligible for after 30 days. It covers employees and their dependent children. So, we’re trying to offer something that, above and beyond what most other restaurant businesses provide.”

To attract applicants, restaurant operators must know what benefits employees want. Rather than assuming what they want, it’s best to ask them by gathering and analyzing data from employees and applicants.

While most restaurants might not be able to afford a full health insurance package, there are other benefits that are popular among many restaurant employees, such as same-day pay, paid time off, tuition reimbursement and a four-day workweek.

Provide and promote a career path

Many potential applicants see restaurant work as short-term jobs because restaurant businesses haven’t historically been good at communicating the potential of entry-level restaurant roles being the first rung on a career track. With 90% of restaurant managers having started in entry-level positions and 80% of restaurant owners having started in entry-level positions, many restaurant businesses are missing out on hiring these future managers and owners because they’re not promoting the restaurant industry as a career.

Fortunately for the panelists, focusing on promoting from within has not only attracted the right employees, but has helped retain them.

One panelist said, “We have not hired an external manager in four years, so everyone has been promoted from within the company. Everyone is a really known quantity to our leadership team, and we’re looking at who to promote. Just the knowledge of who we are working with and seeing them grow and progress in our company and the leadership team talking about how we can best support those managers when they’re promoted and set them up for success, is what has been very effective for us.”

Be creative in where you recruit employees

One panelist has focused on making connections within the community. “We have a recruiting person who is focused on going out and making connections with high school career counselors, the high school guidance office, making connections with all the technical colleges, and all the community colleges in our area. We also partner with community organizations to reach out to people who maybe have some barriers to employment.”

All the panelists are embracing technology to attract employees. In addition to using applicant tracking systems, they also put QR codes linking to their hiring page on as many places as possible, including store windows, outreach newsletters to customers, on receipts, etc. – anywhere to get the job postings out to as many people as possible.

Use referral bonuses in hiring restaurant employees

Referral bonuses are another tool suggested by the panelists as it communicates that the restaurant group values its employees and are willing to pay to get more people like them as new employees. If referral bonuses are ingrained into a restaurant group’s culture, employees are more likely to refer their friends.

One panelist mentioned that “stay bonuses” worked as part of the organization’s retention strategy.

Give sign-on bonuses

While not all panelists had good results with sign-on bonuses as it is difficult to track their ROI, one of the panelists was successful with this approach for a location in a heavy tourist area – offering the first half of a sign-on bonus on the first paycheck and the second half at the end of the season.

Promote a welcoming, inclusive culture

The panelists all stressed creating and promoting an inclusive culture, including providing racial bias training. One panelist noted that, “We’re really working on addressing the things that are most meaningful to our employees. This has been very effective for employee retention.”

The panelists also said that employees want to be heard and suggested that other restaurant groups solicit employee feedback and address that feedback. One panelist noted that management’s perception of what employees want may not be accurate and said that “we want to listen more than we talk.”

Another panelist said, “We do a great job about celebrating our culture and making sure that our culture is ingrained in everyone.”

Provide professional development

The webinar panelists all work for organizations that focus on professional development, which may explain why they’re all successful at restaurant employee retention.

Investing in employees for the long haul by providing professional development for both store managers and hourly employees is a smart retention strategy. To reduce turnover, it’s advisable to create opportunities for career growth, and then develop staff members to build their value.  Providing ongoing development is how to cultivate loyal, committed employees.

As previously mentioned, 90% of restaurant managers start at the entry level, so thinking of all new hires and existing employees as potential managers, then developing and training them accordingly is a smart retention strategy.

Match employee contributions to charitable causes

As a retention strategy, one panelist suggested matching employee contributions to charitable causes, noting that the company is a values-based organization and focuses on doing good in the world.


If you aren’t using these hiring ideas for restaurants, you might want to add a few of them to your hiring and retention strategy to see if they help move the needle.

Also consider a restaurant-specific applicant tracking system. R365 HIRE makes it easy to attract, hire, and onboard the best employees for your restaurant group and is part of the Restaurant365 all-in-one management suite that incorporates accounting, inventory, schedulingoperationspayroll +HR, and reporting within one cloud-based platform. R365 integrates with your POS system, vendors, and bank.

Request a demo of Restaurant365 today.