How Restaurants Can Attract Employees in a Tightening Labor Market

In June 2021, a record 10 million job openings made the news. Unfortunately, what this number transpired to was 5.7%–the growing rate of quits per share of employment in the accommodation and food services sector. The leisure and hospitality industry currently reports the fastest growing quit rates, with manufacturing and retail following. CNN reported that those who study labor relations believe that this trend may continue, leaving restaurants facing one of their most significant challenges since the peak of COVID-19.

In response, Black Box Intelligence and Snagajob recently released “The Post-Pandemic Restaurant Employee: Who Wants to Work and Why”—a survey of 4,700 former, current, and future hourly restaurant workers.

Let’s take a look at what the survey revealed—who’s willing to serve, cook, and seat, and how restaurants can subvert the labor shortage and retention crisis.

The Current Labor Shortage

According to the report, full-service restaurants are currently operating with 6.2% fewer employees in the BOH and 2.8% fewer employees in the FOH compared to 2019. Additionally, about 70% more job openings in all sectors and 10% fewer people searching for positions, resulting in the greatest workforce gap in recorded history.

While high turnover rates have always been a hurdle in the restaurant industry, today’s figures are growing, with 106% in June for full-service restaurants and 144% for limited service. Reasons cited for this growing crisis include low wages, lack of childcare, and finding jobs in industries with better pay and consistent work schedules. The second quarter of 2021 saw a year-over-year 10% increase in hourly wages for limited service.

The Current Labor Pool

Not surprisingly, 16–24 year-olds represent the largest percentage of restaurant employees—a whopping 69% in limited-service restaurants and 47% in full-service restaurants.

We’ve all heard about why workers leave the industry, but Black Box broke down what employees like about working in restaurants. The largest number, 51%, reported flexible hours as the draw, while 43% like the fast-paced environment and 30% appreciate the social aspect of the job.

Who’s Looking for Jobs in the Industry

Interestingly, the survey also revealed that almost 40% of those considering restaurant work are currently employed but looking for a new job, while 17% were first-time job seekers.

These potential employees are searching for jobs online and at restaurants close to home, with a smaller percentage checking out restaurants they enjoy, places their friends work, and social media sites.

What Potential Employees Want

When looking for a new job, the top consideration is the wage, followed by a working environment that offers advancement opportunities, health benefits, and flexible schedules. Some incentive bonuses that seem to be working include a cash bonus for interviewing and upon hire and a retention bonus.

Another illuminating statistic was that 87% of those surveyed would rather have a livable wage than work for tips.

What Restaurants Can Do to Attract Employees

After surveying these current and potential employees, Black Box came up with several suggestions—actions restaurants can take to appeal to those seeking restaurant work.

  1. Hiring Perks: Be sure to include any hiring incentives or benefits in your job advertisement. Mention company culture, if it’s a good one, and additional pluses like free meals or if you have an employee rewards program.
  2. Childcare: According to Snagajob, 35% of hourly workers and those seeking employment are parents, and 18% had to leave their jobs to take care of children or other family members. While restaurants aren’t in the position to supply childcare, they can find ways to help staff. Offering a flexible schedule is helpful and creative solutions like developing an informal network of parents with children that can help each other out.
  3. Retention: If retaining guests is the cornerstone of a successful restaurant, retaining employees ensures the guest satisfaction that makes this happen. Even when difficulties arise, working in a caring and supportive culture can mean open communications that result in direct conversations before an employee makes an exit strategy.
  4. The survey also found that 62% of restaurant workers put up with disrespectful customers, while 49% dealt with emotional abuse from managers. First, determine why customers may be getting cranky. Is the supply chain disruption affecting your menu? Do staff need additional training? If so, part of this training needs to focus on psychology 101 and how to deal with irritable guests. Again, a culture built on open communication means that an employee who feels belittled by a manager can talk to someone else in authority about it without setting themselves up for a potential backlash.

While none of these solutions are easy, those in the restaurant industry know that they’ve been a long time coming, escalated by the pandemic and resulting labor shortage. However, the operators willing to make some changes will find better opportunities in attracting and retaining employees.

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