Your dream restaurant team is out there. Here’s how to find them

One restaurant team member trains a new team member

The once temporary “We’re hiring!” window sign at restaurants has become a permanent fixture. The restaurant labor shortage is a challenge. In fact, the recent National Restaurant Association State of the Industry Report revealed that 87% of restaurants plan to do some hiring in the coming year.

Finding and recruiting new team members may be an ongoing effort, but practice hasn’t made the process perfect. If anything, it’s become more difficult as many seasoned restaurant pros have moved on to new fields.

In spite of the challenges, new folks have their first day on the job at restaurants every day. Read on for smart strategies for discovering and recruiting new talent from tried-and-true as well as unexpected places, including high school students, career changers, college students and recent grads, and nontraditional candidates.

Quick links
How to recruit high school students
How to recruit career changers
How to recruit college students and recent grads
How to recruit nontraditional candidates
How to recruit from within the industry

Start them young

If you ask a group of hospitality pros when they got started in the industry, many will wistfully mention summer jobs they had bussing tables, running food, hosting, or washing dishes during high school. And there are still plenty of teens out there looking for part-time work to earn money and build experience.

Here are some low-lift ways to get on their radar:

  1. Call your neighborhood high schools: Let the guidance counselors or career services offices know you need part-time help and ask them to mention it to their students.
  2. Go to job fairs: Some high schools host job fairs to connect their students with local businesses. Don’t miss a chance to meet plenty of potential hires in person in a low-stakes setting.
  3. Spread the word on social media: Focus on the channels where this group spends time. Teens are more likely to be watching YouTube or scrolling TikTok than they are to be checking Facebook or Twitter, according to a Pew Research Center survey.

Image depicts a young server taking an order from a guest in a restaurant.

Connect with career changers

Yes, people have left the restaurant industry. People are leaving all kinds of industries right now. But countless cubicle-dwellers dream of a life where they can be physically active at work, enjoy a social setting, work on a team, and escape clock-watching.

A lot of these people haven’t considered a restaurant career as a viable option because they don’t see hospitality as a career path with opportunities for advancement and a good income. There’s a stereotype that restaurant jobs are a temporary stopgap between “real” jobs. You can change that one conversation at a time.

Here are some strategies for recruiting career changers:

  1. Attend job fairs: Job fairs are filled with career changers who are actively searching out new opportunities. It’s the ideal time to have one-on-one conversations about the true potential of a restaurant career.
  2. Post on a variety of job boards: Think beyond culinary or food-service focused sites. Websites like Indeed and Glassdoor are popular among job seekers of all types, including career changers. Post your job openings on many different sites to cast the widest possible net.
  3. Offer job training: Career changers, by definition, won’t have restaurant experience. Provide on-the-job training or partner with local or online culinary schools to provide training programs to help people crossover.

Image depicts two servers walking through a doorway as they carry plates of food.

Go back to college

Like career changers, college students often overlook a hospitality career because of prevailing attitudes about restaurant work.

This can be true even if students have loved the restaurant jobs they’ve worked throughout their studies. Educating people on opportunities, earning potential, and other advantages is a big part of recruitment for this group.

This group often has some industry experience, a passion for food and restaurant, an aversion to sedentary office work, and a willingness to keep learning.

Here are some strategies for recruiting college students and recent grads:

  1. Sign up for career fairs: Most colleges and universities host career fairs to connect students with a post-graduation opportunity. Don’t miss the chance to open someone’s eyes to a rewarding career in hospitality.
  2. Post on college job boards: Some colleges have job boards specifically for their students and alumni. Consider posting here to target this group.
  3. Offer internships: Consider offering internships for college students interested in the culinary arts or hospitality. This can give the student experience and college credit while you get to know a potential new team member before offering them a job.
  4. Speak at your alma mater: Reach out to your school’s alumni office to explore opportunities to share your story with students. Hearing your story can spark an interest in a restaurant career for those who may not have considered it otherwise.

Image depicts a restaurant worker talking on the phone as they take an order on a pad of paper.

Think outside the box

Nontraditional candidates can include: returning veterans, people aging out of foster care, retired people, people with disabilities, formerly incarcerated folks, and more. People from these groups have a lot to offer restaurants and other workplaces, including a fresh perspective on how your restaurant could be more inclusive.

Nontraditional candidates may not have traditional experience or qualifications, but don’t overlook the talents they bring to the table.

Here are some strategies for recruiting nontraditional candidates:

  1. Attend community events: Many nonprofits support different types of nontraditional job candidates. Attend their events to meet potential hires. Consider partnering with local organizations to promote job openings and offer training programs.
  2. Look for transferable skills: Nontraditional candidates may have transferable skills from other experiences. Look for people who have demonstrated teamwork, problem-solving, and attention to detail.
  3. Offer training: Consider offering on-the-job training or partnering with local organizations to provide training programs for nontraditional candidates who might need a little extra help.

Image depicts two restaurant workers chatting as they look at a tablet.

Attract experienced pros

No matter how crazy hiring and the job market gets, hiring from within the industry is still going to be the preferred way to find great new talent. You likely already know how this is done, but as a refresher, here are some strategies to tap this prized talent pool:

  1. Hit up industry events: Food and beverage trade shows, conferences, and expos can be ideal networking settings. You can meet possible new team members or just make connections that will help grow your team down the line.
  2. Keep in touch with your fave staffing agency: Agencies that specialize in hospitality really understand the current job market and the business overall. These agencies’ most valuable asset is their database of pre-screened candidates.
  3. Up your referral game: Encourage your team to refer their friends and colleagues to the restaurant through a referral program. Choice incentives (like cash) for successful referrals can motivate employees to help with recruiting efforts.
  4. Offer career development: Skill-building opportunities show that you’re serious about promoting from within and helping team members grow professionally. In today’s market, that means as much as pay to many job seekers.

When it comes to hiring new team members, it’s tough out there. Keep these tips and strategies top of mind to make the whole process a little easier.