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How to Attract and Retain Great Restaurant Employees

Believe it or not, it's NOT only about money. Discover how to attract and retain great restaurant employees through an expanded recruitment reach, training, culture, and more.

With the looming effects of the pandemic slowly receding globally, the hospitality industry begins to recover. While a next wave of COVID-19 may still not be ruled out, official forecasts remain cautiously optimistic. Indeed, the Department of Labor's statistics reveal higher hire rates (10.1%) than separation rates (7.1%) for April 2021. Still, restaurants across the US face a curious workforce shortage, which one may attribute to various factors. Analyzing the phenomenon would undoubtedly be interesting, but combating it might make more practical sense. Thus, let us explore some ideas on how to attract and retain great restaurant employees in these trying times.


Texas’s Road to Recovery

Before we begin, let us briefly stress that local and federal regulations massively affect how different states experience this phenomenon. Texas, for example, has seen a sharper turn toward economic recovery, following Governor Greg Abbot's executive orders. Indeed, as of April 2021, the unemployment rates in Texas were 6.7%, a far cry from last April's staggering 12.9%. Thus, if you are planning to become a business owner and start your business, Texas may offer immense opportunities this year.

Finally, to briefly explore this multi-faceted phenomenon, we should note that bare statistics may not fully account for its entirety. For example, Reuters notes that "[t]he unemployment rate fell to 5.8% from 6.1% in April". They continue, however, to deduce that "[t]he jobless rate has been understated by people misclassifying themselves as being "employed but absent from work"". They then conclude that "[w]ithout this problem, the unemployment rate would have been 6.1% and about 8.5% […]".


Attracting Great Restaurant Employees

Reuters's conclusion above leaves us with two takeaways. One, that numbers alone may not fully underline the ongoing workforce shortage. Two, that both attracting and retaining great restaurant employees may pose challenges, despite the ongoing journey toward a full recovery.

As such, and since the two are distinctly different tasks, let us begin with the former. That is, attracting great restaurant employees as you reopen.


#1 Expand Your Reach

Initially, you may need to expand your recruitment efforts’ reach. Meaning, talk to EVERYONE. EVERYWHERE. ALL THE TIME. Being proactive and recruiting constantly and consistently may only help so much if your reach is short. Thus, you may consider new avenues and practices you may not have before, such as the following.


  1. Use online recruiting sites. Consider such sites and services as Indeed, Google for Jobs, and other broad or local job boards and sites.

  2. Promote your brand on social media. As we’ve covered in a previous article, you may do so through showcasing your staff and their stories, reaching out to food bloggers, and more. These and other social media strategies will enhance both your recruitment efforts and raise awareness with customers, at that.

  3. Get involved in your local community. Sometimes local recruitment works best, and social credit with your peers always benefits your business on the whole. Thus, you may participate in local internship programs, sponsor local events, and more.

Finally, as we've also covered in the aforelinked article, Google My Business (GMB) is also an invaluable tool. In the context of this article, it won't just enhance your local SEO but also expand your local recruitment's reach.


#2 Start an Employee Referral Plan

In addition to the above, you may also start an employee referral program. However, it will not typically substitute for recruitment campaigns, so ideally, it should only complement your efforts. Still, it does come with distinct benefits.

  1. It helps attract great restaurant employees indeed. In much the same way as referral traffic tends to yield more engagement, employment referrals often attract more qualified employees. One may likely identify the reason for this in personal relations; employees will refer friends and family they deem suitable.

  2. It attracts employees with higher retention rates. Due to the above, referred employees tend to stay with businesses longer.

  3. It helps retain existing employees. Finally, such programs reward existing employees; combined with their personal relation to these new employees, this practice helps foster investment and loyalty.

#3 Refine Your Website’s Careers Section

Finally, once you secure more reach, you may make one very substantive but often overlooked improvement to your site itself. That is, your careers section.

Referrals will typically know exactly what they're applying for, so a polished careers section is but a bonus. For all others, however, transparent, honest career prospects may be the deciding factor. As such, consider the following and other factors and make refinements you deem appropriate for your business:

● Advancement prospects

● Training

● Testimonials from other employees


Finally, consider your tone and presentation style, as what works for one recruit segment may not work for another. Weigh professionalism against approachability, and lean closer to what best resonates with your target audience.


Retaining Great Restaurant Employees

However, attracting great restaurant employees is only the first step. The second, as evidenced by DOL’s aforelinked statistics, is retaining your employees once they’re there. In this regard, consider the following key practices.


#1 Encourage Growth Through Training

As highlighted above, employees value training, skill growth and leadership development opportunities as much, and sometimes more, than they often admit.


Even in these economically turbulent times, it's NOT only about a salary; many have their own advancement and growth plans.


So, also consider aspirations your employees may have, such as:

● Opening their own restaurant

● Acquiring specific skills for specific positions

● Earning promotions to managerial and other roles


While it may seem counterproductive, at a glance, to train employees intent on leaving, it does actually incite investment. The internet is rife with stories of employees who, in essence, "repaid" restaurants with bolstered dedication. Moreover, training employees on skills they're interested in can only benefit both parties and hopefully enhance retention rates in the process.


#2 Forge Bonds and Reward Excellence

Similarly, a key retention strategy comes from the same psychological tenet; people invest in welcoming and helpful work environments. While this practice may be a given for many, forging bonds and rewarding excellence still deserves mention here.


In this regard, depending on your ability and approach to business, consider such practices as the following.

  1. Offer the best pay and benefits, reflecting your employees’ efforts. At a local level, simply outpaying your competitors will give you a recruitment edge, but only in the short-term. Internally, rewarding your employees’ performance ongoing fosters loyalty and commitment and doesn't have to be expensive - or even money! Get Creative!

  2. Offer impeccable management. As with most industries, retaining great restaurant employees hinges on offering great management. Consider coaching, training, and overall treatment your managers aspire to and provide a work environment they won't want to leave.

  3. Reward employees in other ways. If it’s consistent with your culture, you may reward employees through such means as simply taking them out. These kinds of excursions help foster deep personal relationships, enhance productivity, and often increase retention rates.

There are, of course, many more ways to do so. They will, however, depend on your business and other factors, so the above should serve as a feasible starting point.


#3 Cultivate a Strong Workplace Culture

Finally, having mentioned culture, workplace culture is very commonly a deciding factor as regards separations.


As such, to both boost productivity and reduce turnover rates, you should likely prioritize cultivating a strong workplace culture.


Among other factors, consider the following:

  1. Take COVID safety extremely seriously and understand each employee may view COVID safety very differently. In these times, staying safe is a crucial factor for many employees – and understandably so. Thus, don’t simply adhere to safety measures superficially. Instead, show that your culture values employee safety organically and honestly.

  2. Create and continually foster a safe and clean environment work environment. Ensure you are taking the steps necessary to ensure both employee and customer safety and expecting your employees to do the same. Examples of this would be ensuring employees are cleaning the kitchen area each night to remove possible health hazards and contamination. Cleaning cooking equipment and exhaust system equipment regularly (and professionally if needed) to reduce the risk of fire and airborne contamination or disease.

  3. Encourage and value employee feedback. A more timeless factor, employees will very often leave when they feel underappreciated and unheard. You may not at all times be able to act on their feedback, but it is wise to encourage it. Take the time to process feedback and make it clear that you do; it may often benefit all parties involved.

  4. Combat sexism and discrimination. Finally, another timeless factor lies in workplace discrimination of any kind from any business echelon. While it may be unwise to explicitly infuse politics into your culture, ensuring everyone is treated fairly is not just prudent, but should be expected and you should be setting the example. Forging personal bonds, taking in employee feedback, and other practices mentioned above can offer invaluable assistance in this regard.

As with the above, this is by no means an exhaustive list. It should only serve as a healthy foundation toward attracting new employees, improving culture, retaining great, hard-earned restaurant employees in the process.


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