Over the past year, many restaurants have been struggling due to a labor shortage that’s affecting a wide range of industries. Whether you want to call it “The Great Resignation” or “The Great Reshuffle,” a lack of reliable staffing is currently crashing up against high consumer demand, leaving business owners scrambling as they try to keep up.

While a large number of restaurants had to let people go at the beginning of the pandemic, not everyone has been willing to come back — not to the way things were before, anyway. Therefore, an effective restaurant recruitment strategy is going to be crucial for staying afloat in the year ahead. 

The Reasons Behind the Labor Shortage

There are multiple reasons for the labor shortage experienced in 2021. One factor involves the fact that many employees in the restaurant industry switched careers for more stability when the opportunity presented itself.

After all, the pandemic put a lot of things into perspective for people. Many restaurant workers had been working long hours for inadequate wages and benefits, leading them to pursue a different path when the floor came out from under them in 2020. 

In addition, some former restaurant employees pursued their own business ventures amid the newfound independence experienced during the pandemic. Meanwhile, many more worried — and continue to worry — about the health risks of serving the public and a lack of child care options when schools went hybrid across the country.

Even before the pandemic, many experts in the restaurant industry already anticipated an increased demand for cooks that would be difficult to meet. Specifically, the demand for cooks in cafeterias, schools, and hospitals is projected to increase by 6% between 2016 and 2026. The industry would then require 1,377,200 cooks in 2026, whereas 2016 saw 1,231,900 cooks employed.

Ultimately, there are myriad factors contributing to the labor shortage. But restaurant owners can still take certain steps to optimize their restaurant recruitment strategy.

With the help of an improved recruitment process, you can successfully bring in new staff to enable your restaurant to flourish. To get you started, the following are some specific ways to go about recruitment in today’s environment.

Revamp Your Job Descriptions

As you seek new recruits, job descriptions must provide them with all of the details to help them determine whether there’s a fit. These days, many restaurateurs are having to deal with new hires not showing up or leaving shortly after starting. By setting the proper expectations from the start, you can reduce some of this churn.

To make sure candidates know exactly what a position entails, give them in-depth information about the job in your listing. Instead of simply listing the position, hours, and daily tasks, enrich your job descriptions with other engaging aspects of both the job and your business.

For example, you could include a description of your company culture and the history behind your restaurant. Other aspects to cover include the types of food you serve and what sets your cuisine apart. You may also want to discuss the kinds of skills that people must have on your team, including attributes like being able to work with a team and display empathy for customers. And of course, being transparent about pay certainly never hurts.

When you lay out more specifically what the job entails, people will have a much better idea of whether they should apply, leading to more quality applications. However, make sure all of the details in your descriptions are true; turnover is likely to be more frequent if employees feel like they’ve been lied to from the start.

Draw Attention to Open Positions

After perfecting your job descriptions, begin sharing them on all relevant platforms. This includes your website, social media profiles, and websites for job listings. Simply putting a “help wanted” sign on your door isn’t going to cut it in this digital world.

In addition, you can spread the word about available positions in several other creative ways, including:

  • Developing an employee referral program that drives employees to refer friends, family, or former colleagues in exchange for a reward
  • Connecting with people in your community, including people you know who are seeking work or know someone who might be interested
  • Highly targeted ads on social media and job boards that reach wide audiences in your geographic location

Update Employee Benefits and Offer Higher Wages

Although finances may be tight these days, offering higher wages to employees could go a long way in attracting new employees while retaining current staff.

Keep in mind that turnover comes at a steep cost, which could set you back more than higher wages. As of 2021, the average cost of hiring a single employee is $4,425, but it can cost up to 40% of an employee’s base salary — all that on top of the time and resources it takes to have to continually train new staff.

Offering increased wages as part of your restaurant recruitment strategy could lead to decreased turnover. This approach can help you save more money and time in the long run. However, you may not have the option to increase wages. In that case, offering more competitive benefits could achieve the same goal.

In the process, you could think of some differentiating incentives to help you stand apart from competing restaurants. These incentives may include company events, professional training and development programs, and overtime opportunities, among others.

Embrace Diversity (and Actually Mean It!)

Restaurant owners often hire people who seem most likely to blend in with the rest of their existing team. While this is a comfortable approach for many, it could put potential candidates off if they feel like they won’t be accepted or respected in the workplace.

Creating a more diverse, inclusive team opens the door for more opportunities. By incorporating more diversity into your work environment and actually committing to it (rather that just doing it for show), you’ll ultimately have more people available to you when hiring.

Additionally, your restaurant could benefit from different viewpoints and perspectives that reinforce your business and help build better connections within your community. Developing a workplace that embraces a wider range of people, including people with disabilities, will make you more appealing to new, better hires who will put as much dedication and respect into their job as they get out of it.

Reduce Turnover by Giving Attention to Your Existing Team

Restaurants and other businesses have historically determined how to better improve their operations through exit interviews with employees. Today, a growing number of business owners are finding that it’s better to check in with employees over the course of their employment, i.e. before they decide to leave. This keeps them from quitting out of dissatisfaction and frustration.

Try to conduct frequent one-on-one meetings with your employees to get their feedback. Figure out whether they’re truly happy with what they do or if there are areas that could benefit from improvement.

Of course, some employees may be reluctant to bring up certain issues on their own or to your face, so you can make the process more comfortable by offering the ability to submit anonymous surveys. For instance, you could have employees go online and submit a survey via Survey Monkey. This will provide valuable anonymous feedback that you can still use to help increase employee satisfaction. 

If you can keep your existing team happy on a regular basis, you’ll be able to further avoid the pains of turnover while laying a better foundation for future hires.

Enable Employees to Progress

Oftentimes, employees with ample skills feel stuck where they are, so they jump ship for better opportunities. If employees who qualify for higher positions find themselves relegated to entry-level work, they’ll likely begin seeking employment elsewhere, and will probably begin to underperform at their current job due to the lack of enthusiasm around it. That’s why it’s important to offer paths for progression and improvement to all of your existing staff.

Giving your employees the ability to climb the ranks can significantly boost employee retention. Simultaneously, advertising this possibility in job listings can appeal to new qualified hires who have the drive to succeed. They will understand from the start that they’ll be able to move into higher-level positions, and therefore will give their all when they come on board.

Implement a Solid Restaurant Recruitment Strategy to Overcome Labor Shortages

This industry is tough, but resilience and an open mind go a long way when it comes to surviving in it.

Restaurant owners who integrate a strong restaurant recruitment strategy will be able to get through the current labor shortage. You’ll also have a strategy for shortages that are likely to develop again in the future.

When the overall quality of your workplace increases, you’ll find over time that your existing staff will be much more willing to stay and help you weather whatever storm comes next.