Web Exclusive | December 2014 | By Christine Blank

Holiday Hiring Heats Up

Restaurant operators report an optimistic holiday hiring season.
Quick service restaurant brands hire more employees for Christmas shopping season.
Newk's brings in 5–10 percent more employees in three weeks after Black Friday than rest of the year. image used with permission.

Quick-service restaurants—along with retailers, hospitality firms, and other companies—are hiring more employees this holiday season than past holidays. Many restaurant operators are also paying those seasonal hires more than they did last year.

According to the latest U.S. Department of Labor jobs report, employers added 321,000 jobs in November, far surpassing estimates of 230,000. U.S. wages also rose an average of 9 cents per hour in November, 2.1 percent higher than a year ago.

Meanwhile, 89 percent of retail, hospitality, and foodservice employers said they planned to hire the same or more hourly seasonal positions for the 2014 holiday season than last year, according to a recent survey from employment network Snagajob. Forty-five percent of restaurant employers told Snagajob they planned to hire more seasonal employees than in 2013, and 43 percent planned to hire about the same.

“In this relatively thriving economy, employers have been able to justify additional full-time and seasonal hires, leading to the increases we are seeing in holiday hiring this year,” says Kim Costa, job coach and senior marketing analyst for Snagajob, via email.

Limited-service restaurants often see an uptick in traffic this time of year as shoppers look for dine-out opportunities. Newk’s Eatery is one brand that brings in extra help to better manage the traffic increase.

“For the three weeks after Black Friday, we bring in 5–10 percent more employees than we hire throughout the year,” says Kevin Anderson, vice president of operations for Jackson, Mississippi–based Newk’s, which has 74 stores. “However, we don’t go into it with the mindset of holiday hiring. We want to keep them as long as we can.”

Forty-five percent of restaurant employers told Snagajob they planned to hire more seasonal employees than in 2013.

Newk’s generally starts new employees out at 75 cents higher than minimum wage and pays many employees more than that, based on their previous experience. “You aren’t going to get people with experience if you offer minimum wage, especially with new store openings when you are hiring 60–70 people,” Anderson says. “Typically, we bring in employees from $8 to $11 per hour, depending on experience.”

Foodservice operators plan to pay an average of $9.40 per hour for holiday hires, according to Snagajob. Among all the companies Snagajob surveyed, most (38.8 percent) plan to pay between $7.25 and $11 per hour, while 28.2 percent are paying holiday hires $11–$16 an hour, 12.6 percent are paying between $16 and $30 per hour, and 13.6 percent are paying more than $30 an hour.

Some 42.7 percent of the companies surveyed by Snagajob believe the federal minimum wage should be “somewhat higher,” while 25.4 percent said it should be “significantly higher.” Of restaurant operators, 67 percent said they think the minimum wage should be higher. However, 43 percent of restaurant operators said that a minimum wage increase would reduce the number of employees they would be able to hire.

“We’ve learned through our conversations that a large number of employers and seekers are in favor of raising the minimum wage, but on average to a lesser degree than that proposed by [President] Obama,” Costa says. “Hourly employers—both large and small—are mostly in favor of slowly raising the minimum wage, but doing so in a fair and predictable fashion.”

Not all limited-service brands hire seasonal employees. Firehouse Subs, for example, enjoys one of the best months of the year in December—check averages are around 10 percent higher than other months—but manages with its regular restaurant staffs, says Don Fox, CEO of Firehouse Subs.

“It is not enough of a variance to really lead us into additional staffing,” he says. “Instead, more labor hours are generated and the typical restaurant is able to cover that.”

Instead of raising the wage it pays new employees, Firehouse Subs shifted more employees to full-time status this year, which eliminated some part-time positions. “In conjunctions with the Affordable Care Act, we had to clearly define who our full-time people were,” Fox says. “We made their income more predictable, which, in some cases, is better than a raise.”

Hiring practices, both seasonal and otherwise, are increasingly being integrated with mobile tools in the restaurant industry, according to Snagajob’s survey. Eighty-three percent of restaurant employers said they’d be willing to use an app to aid in the hiring process.

“Approximately 60 percent of our job-seeker application flow is now done through mobile, which has built a very strong case for employers to jump on board,” Costa says.

Anderson says Newk’s has had the greatest success in hiring new employees through local job fairs. “We haven’t had that much success with the apps just yet,” he says. “It could be the markets our company restaurants are in, including Jackson, Mississippi, and Mobile, Alabama.”

While Firehouse has used Snagajob and other mobile apps to hire, the “personal touch” still works best, Fox says. “The manager or the franchisee is able to really give a lot of personal attention to the interview process, which trumps technology,” he says.

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