As the restaurant industry struggles with the lingering effects of the pandemic and its ripples, finding, hiring, and retaining kitchen staff remains one of the biggest challenges for restaurants looking to find a sustainable path forward.
Industrywide, there were 1.7 million job openings at the end of July 2021, according to the National Restaurant Association’s (NRA) 2022 State of the Restaurant Industry Report. The Job Openings and Labor Turnover (JOLTS) figure from the Bureau of Labor Statistics (BLS) were drastically higher than at the start of the year and the highest level since BLS began tabulating the data two decades ago. For individual businesses, these figures have a stark impact. A quick search reveals months’ worth of news articles about restaurants across the country closing due to inadequate staff.
In an NRA survey of currently understaffed restaurants, 75% of operators said they were more than 10% below necessary staffing levels, and 31% were more than 20% below where they should be.
To combat this compound problem, restaurant operators should treat BOH positions as rungs on a career ladder, almost similar to managers, and develop robust and meaningful strategies and tactics for promoting openings and hiring and retaining critical employees.
Promoting Kitchen Staff Openings
When advertising open positions, it’s essential to start with the fundamentals. Here are a few questions to consider:
- How do your restaurant’s available openings appear to potential employees across various channels?
- Is the website informational, up-to-date, and visually appealing?
- Do you have a jobs page or a career page? The latter is preferable and communicates growth potential and a more robust company culture.
- Is your application process a smooth digital experience that syncs with your HR system to allow candidates and hiring managers to move through the process quickly?
- Internally assess your compensation levels. Do they match or exceed what your competitors are offering?
Get creative when advertising positions. Social media is a vibrant, valuable hub for food culture and potential employees, but don’t expect results without active social media accounts. You may also consider industry-specific job boards over general ones and college and diversity boards for a more targeted approach.
Incentives are another option but must be carefully planned before implementation. For existing employees who refer outside candidates, ensure that the payments are large enough to incentivize them to scour their networks. Require that new candidates stay for some predetermined period before paying out. For referrals or bonuses for new employees, split the incentive into a smaller upfront payment with the rest paid after three or six months.
Interviewing potential kitchen staff
Given the staffing strain many kitchens face, managers may be tempted to hire any willing candidate who walks through the door. Don’t. This can negatively impact kitchen operations or guests’ experiences and could seriously harm the bottom line with high turnover costs or disarray among staff.
The foundation of any impactful hiring system is an applicant tracking system (ATS) with features that allow both candidates and managers to quickly and easily communicate. An ATS can collect candidate data, automatically track applicant progress, and share information securely across an organization.
Restaurant operators can begin the process here:
- Implement digital screening questions that save managers time and help ensure they only interview the most serious, qualified candidates.
- During in-person interviews, managers should use the same bank of questions to ensure candidates satisfy the most important requirements and create fair criteria for comparing candidates.
- Ask situational questions to see how potential employees would act when faced with various scenarios and ensure their thinking matches company culture and values.
- Reserve time during every interview to allow prospective employees to ask questions.
Retaining kitchen staff
Once you’ve spent the time and resources to find, interview, and finally hire a candidate, there should be a system dedicated to retention. Given the restaurant industry’s high turnover rate and the current climate, with nearly two million candidates pursuing a drastically recruiting pool, it’s more important than ever to keep positions filled with the right fit.
If that’s not enough, consider the cost of turnover per employee, according to the Cornell Hospitality Report from Cornell University’s Center for Hospitality Research: $5,864, on average. That number could be as low as $2,604 but could climb as high as $14,019. Multiply that a few times and combine it with the potential business lost due to too many open positions, and the need for a fully formed retention strategy becomes even more apparent.
Restaurant operators can use a two-pronged approach. First, use technology to drive ongoing processes and put incentives and programs in place so that current employees see their work as a career and not just a job. Next, use an industry-specific technology platform to streamline and manage the entire employee lifecycle from hire to retirement. With this in place, operators can smooth the onboarding process to make new employees as effective as possible from day one. Thanks to efficient and accurate benefits administration and payroll, they will also have confidence that they chose the right company.
From there, operators have a range of tools to keep employees satisfied and growing:
- On day one, pair new employees with a more experienced and vetted employee who can teach them procedures and impart company culture.
- Conduct regular check-ins to ensure that employees meet expectations and see if and where they need help.
- Ensure your organization is dedicated to improving kitchen operations, both physically and with tools that help drive efficiency behind the scenes and grow resources for further investment in better tools and more people to get the job done.
- Provide a pathway for growth and celebrate employees when they reach new heights or milestones.
While restaurant staffing is more challenging than ever, the good news is that the industry is also on pace to see more demand than ever by the end of 2022. National food and beverage sales in 2019 reached $864 billion. By the end of 2020, that figure plummeted to $678 billion. According to the National Restaurant Association, that figure is projected to rise to $898 billion. With the right systems and strategies in place, those restaurants that survived the pandemic and waded through the supply chain crunch will be able to build cohesive BOH teams that deliver high-quality service and help operators meet their financial goals as they capture a piece of that nearly $1 trillion pie.
Restaurant365 Payroll + Hire enables you to cast a wider net and filter for the best employees faster with an easy-to-use applicant tracking system (ATS) built so you can hire the right candidates. R365 Payroll + HR makes it easy for you to hire, onboard, pay, and support your workforce.