This time of year, usually restaurants are adding team members to meet increased demand from holiday diners. But this isn’t a usual year. No one could have imagined last year that the 2021 holiday season would continue to be filled with uncertainty. And as the labor crisis goes on, there’s no aspect of running a restaurant right now that’s more uncertain than staffing.
Though it’s unclear if the Delta variant or some new curveball will drive down the normal holiday rush on restaurants, many eateries still need to hire people simply to get back to their pre-pandemic hours of operation. As another unusual holiday season approaches, here are some ideas to tackle seasonal hiring while building the kind of positive culture that attracts and retains great talent.
Get clear on your needs
Before you set out to hire new team members, get specific about what your needs truly are. Look at your shift occupancy reports to get a sense of the trends and precisely where you’d get the biggest benefit for an extra employee. You can use this information to learn precisely what are your busiest times and how many tables each server can efficiently manage. Consider your turn times as well—increasing turn times can be a signal you need to hire additional help. It’s sometimes possible to speed up table turnover without compromising hospitality by tweaking how many tables are assigned to each servers’ section. After some evaluation and tinkering, you may realize you need fewer (or more) new people than you initially thought.
Look at different resumes
Whether we’re talking front or back of house, the dream is hiring a seasoned pro with experience doing the same job you’re looking to fill. In the current environment, that’s not always an option.
A recent OpenTable diner survey showed only 10% of respondents were interested in working in hospitality. According to a recent Joblist report, 38% of former restaurant workers say they’re not even considering a hospitality job for their next job. It may be time to look outside the restaurant sector for talent. For front of house roles, interview people with any kind of customer service or sales experience. Former receptionists, assistants, and retail associates all have strong hospitality potential. For back of house, look for people who demonstrate a genuine interest in food and cooking and a willingness to learn and work hard. And always check references to get a sense of how people have performed in past roles, regardless of industry.
Don’t rule out younger people
With hourly wages trending up, teenagers ages 16 to 19 are returning to restaurant jobs at rates not seen since before the 2008 recession, according to QSR Magazine, making them possible applicants during the labor crunch. In the absence of candidates with more substantial work (and life) experience, you may want to consider applicants in their teens (that is, while following labor and employment laws). People in this age group, particularly college students who are returning home for the holidays just in time to help you meet increased demand, can be especially good for temporary seasonal work.
Use social media
To reach this untapped pool of Gen Z workers, some companies are using new channels to reach potential workers where they already spend time: online. Over the summer, some restaurants began recruiting via the social media platform TikTok, where people were encouraged to send their video resumes.
TikTok is certainly not the only network you can use to get the word out that you’re hiring. Spread the word on your other channels, like Instagram, Facebook, and LinkedIn, as well. Even if you feel like you’ve been hanging the digital help-wanted sign on social media on repeat for months, you never know whose eyes you’ll catch on any given day.
Make working holidays fun—and worth it
Let’s face it: It can be a drag to be stuck at work while your friends and family are enjoying a holiday. But it is possible to create a festive atmosphere for your team so they can work and enjoy the day at the same time. Organize a fun holiday event, like a secret Santa or holiday scavenger hunt with prizes. And make sure those who do sign up to work holidays are treated to an extra-special family meal before service.
If at all possible, offer time-and-a-half holiday pay for those willing to work. If that’s not in the budget, try offering extra days off in the new year or other non-cash perks. And whatever you do, show those who work on holidays your appreciation by thanking them. These strategies may not pay off in terms of attracting new seasonal team members right now, but they will help you retain the talent you have and build your reputation as a great place to work during the holidays and all year round.
Promote opportunities for advancement
For many employees, the chance to learn and grow as a hospitality professional is just as important as payment. If your restaurant offers opportunities for professional development or advancement, it’s helpful to make that part of your messaging when you’re recruiting, even for seasonal roles. Write it into your job posting and add it to social media posts. If you plan to hold a job fair or other hiring event, consider highlighting one of your current employees who has grown within your restaurant by having them tell their story. It can inspire ambitious job hunters who have their choice of opportunities to pick your restaurant over other offers.
Keep in touch with seasonal employees, past and future
Even when you’ve hired someone for a short time, train them well, get to know them, and keep in touch when the holiday season is over. The labor crisis isn’t likely to become a thing of the past anytime soon. A short-term hire can be the start of an ongoing professional relationship. College students need jobs in the summer as well as over winter break. Young people trying on several types of work may decide that hospitality will be their career and come back to you if they’ve had a positive experience.
You may even have luck adding employees this holiday season by checking in with those who have worked with you in the past and moved on. There is a lot of churn in the job market right now, and you never know who may be available until you reach out.
Keeping restaurants adequately staffed in 2021 has been a challenge, and the demands of the holidays certainly don’t make things easier. Remember, taking these proactive steps to handle seasonal hiring now can help strengthen your team, bolster a positive culture, and set you up for success in the new year and beyond.