The heat is already on for summer seasonal hiring, as quick-serve managers are hiring summer help earlier in the year to have their pick of top-shelf applicants.

Snagajob, a Richmond, Virginia–based hourly employment network, released its annual summer job survey in March. The report found that 23 percent of summer positions will be filled by the end of April, while 79 percent will be filled by the end of May.

Rick Parker, Snagajob’s senior vice president of marketing, says that during the recession, restaurants knew there was a qualified pool of applicants they could tap into at any time. Many waited to hire until they were confident they’d have enough summer business to justify the headcount, he says.

Now, however, with a stronger economy making operators more optimistic for summer traffic, they’re no longer waiting to fill positions.

“They’re hiring earlier this year, and that shows they feel like they have to hire sooner to get quality hires,” Parker says.

Jamba Juice hired early, holding its first National Hiring Day on March 27. The early hiring was a part of the Summer Jobs+ program announced by The White House in January. Summer Jobs+ aims to increase employment opportunities for young people during the summer, and hopes to add 180,000 jobs through public-private partnerships.

After a trip to Washington, D.C., by CEO James White, Jamba Juice signed on to the Summer Jobs+ program and committed to 2,500 jobs. (The company made a summer jobs commitment last year as well, hiring 2,700 for the season.)

The company’s National Hiring Day, held at 80 stores from 2 p.m. to 6 p.m., was its first, and some locations saw lines of applicants 25 people deep. General and district managers interviewed the applicants, says Kathy Wright, vice president of human resources at Jamba Juice, and a select number were selected for a follow-up interview.

“Feedback from our general managers is [that] this was perfect timing,” Wright says of Jamba Juice’s National Hiring Day.

Jamba Juice expects all of its summer hiring to be completed within the next month and a half. The company also expects to go beyond the 2,500 Summer Jobs+ pledge. Wright says the leadership team is very pleased with their hiring outreach. “We would say it was a resounding success,” she says. “The number and quality of the applicants we received was stellar.”

About 23 percent of summer positions will be filled by the end of April, while 79 percent will be filled by the end of May.

Snagajob reported that 10 percent of hiring managers will hire more summer seasonal help this year than they did last year, while 30 percent intend to hire at the same level.

Fazoli’s, the Lexington, Kentucky–based Italian chain, has experienced 20 consecutive months of sales growth. Anticipating a busy summer, the company is looking to increase its staffing by about 500 people for the season, says Dave Craig, vice president of human resources.

“As the recovery continues, business has improved dramatically, so we’re staffing above and beyond what we normally would for the summer,” he says.

Fazoli’s uses a variety of methods to recruit summer staff, Craig says. About 25 percent of hires are found online, with the rest found through more traditional methods, like college campus outreach, in-store recruiting, and open houses.

The majority of Fazoli’s applicants are in their 20s, Craig says, the demographic hardest hit by the recession. This is slightly older than the majority of summer-job applicants, who are mostly high school and college age, a return to the pre-recession norm, according to Snagajob.

“There’s less competition from older, more experienced workers going into the summer market out of desperation,” Parker says. However, the average pay remains about the same as last summer’s, at $10.90 an hour. “The market is a little tighter, but not tight enough they feel they need to pay more.”

Bucking the trend, Fazoli’s is expecting to increase its pay levels. The company’s midpoint compensation is up about 6 percent this year, Craig says. The company also plans to institute referral and sign-on bonuses for staff, anticipating a tighter labor market this season as unemployment eases in some markets.

“We’re going to be adding some more cash compensation to the recruiting process than we’ve had to in the past few years,” Craig says.

A new report released by the National Restaurant Association (NRA) in Washington, D.C., says restaurants have added more than 200,00 new jobs in the past six months. In fact, job growth in the restaurant industry has outpaced the economy, although the industry has yet to hit pre-recession levels.

Hudson Riehle, senior vice president of research for the NRA, says the organization expects 2012 summer jobs to match last year’s more than 400,000 positions, and possibly more.

“The restaurant industry really is a jobs juggernaut,” Riehle says. “There are almost 13 million individuals employed in the industry now … so the industry is an important jobs generator in the national economic infrastructure.”

Of course, all of the new hires could force quick-service and fast-casual operators to dust off their human resources and training skills. Fazoli’s Craig says the company is looking to do some retraining for the operations staff, which hasn’t needed to hire for the last three years.

Back of House, Employee Management, Web Exclusives, Fazoli's, Jamba Juice