How to Adjust Your Restaurant Recruiting Process to Cure Your COVID-19 Staffing Woes

By Bora Kang, Colin Kopel

Restaurant staffing was hard enough before the pandemic, with common hurdles such as no-shows, mistake hires and high turnover rates (1). But the COVID-19 pandemic may have only made it worse. Despite the fact there are more unemployed foodservice workers and less competition now that there have been more than 100,000 restaurant closures nationwide (2, 3), most restaurants face a tighter labor market, and operators are finding themselves in a bind to find more talent. According to the National Restaurant Association (NRA), for example, 30% of restaurant operators admitted that they have job openings that are difficult to fill (4).

Moreover, the pool of younger workers in the industry is expected to drop sharply in the next five to ten years, with the NRA predicting 1.2 million fewer 16 to 24-year-olds in the labor force by 2028 (4). This signifies a drop in younger recruits that compose a larger part of the restaurant workforce, not to mention how workers may be leaving the restaurant industry for good in search of more stable, reliable jobs (5).

According to an analysis from Workstream, a text recruiting and hiring tool for local businesses, this is partly due to the disruptions in the normal hiring process (6). In their recent survey, more than 55% of hiring managers (out of the 5,000 interviewed) said they had difficulty sourcing hourly workers, while about 45% expressed difficulty scheduling interviews. Desmond Lim, the founder and CEO of Workstream, stated that the applicants may be concerned about the virus and may also look for additional benefits beyond competitive pay (7). These benefits could include a safe work environment, proper enforcement of social distancing and mask-wearing; they could also include paid leave, flexibility to communicate and schedule shifts via a mobile device, as well as stability (7).

So, what can restaurant operators do to improve the hiring process and ensure that you have the best applicant pool? Here are some tips on streamlining your hiring process.

Be Flexible

You may have candidates applying to positions and they are over or under-qualified. An easy-to-make mistake is dismissing their applications entirely without taking a closer look at their resumes and seeing what else they have to offer. For example, you might have candidates applying for server positions who can still be qualified to be server assistants; there may be a bartender applicant with no previous bartender training but a perfect fit for a server. Instead of judging a candidate based on their qualifications for a specific position, consider the candidate based on their experiences, behaviors and what they can offer. Match them a job that you think fits them best and send them an offer, notifying them of potential growth opportunities, if not possible cross-training. Doing this accomplishes two things. It increases the number of applicants you can select from. Second, it increases the attractiveness of your business because it communicates to the applicants that you are willing to help them grow.

Easy Scheduling

Flexibility and communication are crucial components to attracting and hiring your best candidates. Having a recruiting software, preferably one that allows you to track applicants and automate tasks such as screening and scheduling, helps to make hiring faster and more efficient. Letting candidates schedule ahead of time and on times allowed in their schedule also increases interview attendance rates. A text-driven scheduling system is also a powerful tool that increases interview turn-out.

Be Quick to Respond

Speed is one of the most critical factors in recruiting, particularly in the restaurant industry. “The first employer to respond with an interview and offer almost always snags the best people,” stated an article by Paradox, an AI integrated recruiting software company that now works with Wendy’s (8). In order to respond to the candidates as fast as possible, recruiting software help to automate tasks like screening, scheduling and candidate Q&A. Such programs allow hiring managers to stay ahead of their competitors in accessing their best candidates early and allow room for more flexibility in hiring workers who are the best fit for their restaurant.

While recruiting software is not necessarily needed to hire new workers, operators should always stay active in the hiring process, and be prompt in responding and offering applicants their interviews.

Likewise, you should be ready to offer your best applicants jobs on site. It is not at all unusual for candidates to schedule multiple interviews in a day. You could lose a good hire if you wait more than a few days to offer them the position. If you are unable to make a decision quickly, you should at least follow up with the candidate and communicate when you would notify them of your decision.

Always be Hiring

Post open positions online, as well as positions that are likely to open. Here are some top search engines and job boards where you can post jobs online, recommended by CareerPlug. See (9).

You should also always be on the lookout for suitable candidates to join the team. We recommend that you schedule interviews every week so that if there are open positions or a sudden shortage of staff, you have a list of candidates you can consider.

Still Consider Fit

Although you may be struggling to find new candidates to fill an open position, it’s best to keep in mind that a rushed hire may end up causing more trouble for you in the future. Hiring recruits without considering professional and cultural fit—beliefs, behaviors, and values of an individual and how it aligns with those of your organization—can result in employee isolation, dissatisfaction and ultimately, employee turnover. We recommend prioritizing your business’s core values and seek candidates you feel share your restaurant and team’s values.

The Takeaway

Considering that hiring will only become more difficult in the future, operators must learn to adjust their restaurant recruiting practices to make hiring easier during and after the COVID-19 pandemic.











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