5 Restaurant Leaders on How to Win the War for Talent

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Adobe Stock
Young woman serving takeaway coffee and breakfast at bakery shop while wearing protective face mask.

The labor challenge for restaurants today has more layers than wedding cake. And when you tackle one crisis another is waiting. In the fall, a survey from Alignable.com found 9 percent of operators were laying off workers and another 55 percent suspending recruitment efforts altogether in light of rising costs and broader economic challenges. But still, the high-turnover reality of running a restaurant keeps this topic central to every playbook in every segment this industry has to offer.

So let’s ask the experts.

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Cousins Subs
Jason Westhoff.

Jason Westhoff, president, Cousins Subs

What are you accepting that you thought you’d never allow?

“The no-call no-show. Used to be two no-shows and you were out, but those days are gone … And the second thing is not holding people to the brand’s standards for uniforms. Now we’re letting people wear jeans with a Cousins branded shirt or hat. It’s more everyday wear that they choose rather than a strict uniform.”

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Cousins Subs
Cousins Subs store.

How are you recruiting?

“We’re using everything: Digital billboards in markets where we need immediate hires, social media, and—as far as job boards go—Indeed is still one of our best sources. And, we put stickers on every sub: “Work for Cousins Subs!”

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Cousins Subs
Cousins Subs employee.

Where are we failing and how do we fix it?

“In the restaurant industry, we’re just stealing from each other, and our industry is going to have to adapt to how the workforce has shifted since the pandemic. We have to figure out how we can take advantage of the gig economy and those part-time workers who want to work multiple places. The franchise groups that own multiple brands may have a huge opportunity parsing out employees across all of their brands.”

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Cicis Pizza
Cicis Pizza employee.

Jeff Hetsel, president, Cicis Pizza

What’s your best advice for hiring?

“Act fast. If you don’t hire them when they’re in front of you, they’re gone. If you call them two days later, they’ve already taken another job. That goes for managers too; you need to move fast to check references, do background checks, and extend an offer.  And if you put off orientation until next week, they may have taken a better option.”

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Jordan Boesch, CEO, 7shifts

Why do your employees quit?

“We asked 3,700 restaurant employees why they quit and the top three answers were wages, schedule flexibility, and school—in that order.”

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Unsplash/Jennifer Bedoya
Employee makes coffee behind a counter.

How do you get employees to show up and stay put?

“When employees choose their own schedules, they’re more likely to show up for the shift. No-shows happen for many reasons including scheduling conflicts, a desire to avoid working with specific people, and illness—but self-scheduling allows employees to trade shifts to prevent these types of no-shows. Flexible self-scheduling can also be a powerful recruiting and retention tool.” 

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Adobe Stock
Staff inside a fast-food restaurant making chicken.

What’s the best way to ramp up for 4Q/holiday labor demands? 

“Refine your hiring strategy to be enticing and resonate with workers. You should incentivize your existing staff for referrals and get creative around how you market your brand—think videos of your team, pitching the vision and giving folks a glimpse into what it’s like working there.”

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Wetzel’s Pretzels

Jennifer Schuler, CEO, Wetzel’s Pretzels

Is there a way to ease the pain of employee turnovers?

“Keep your business model simple. For most store-level staff, this is a starter job; they’re young students working part-time so keep the menu streamlined and training easy. Turnover becomes more painful as complexity increases. For instance, don’t bring out a new item in the holiday season. LTOs and new items add complexity to the supply chain and to training. We decided to postpone introducing a new item until February timeframe because our stores will have 4Q traffic even without adding new items, and franchisees will be better equipped to manage the holiday traffic if we keep it simple.”

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Beyond Juicery + Eatery
Beyond Juicery + Eatery CEO.

Mijo Alanis, co-founder Beyond Juicery + Eatery

How can corporate make sure franchisees get staffing right?

“When a potential investor comes in and wants to franchise, my question is: ‘Who’s your operator?’ You need someone with skin in the game who is dedicated and loves what they do.