Not a week goes by without news of the country’s worsening labor shortage. For restaurants and other industries that rely on young, entry level workers, the divide has left franchisees and business owners grappling with a clear path forward that fixes their employment problem without draining their resources. From sign-on bonuses to paid interviews, franchises are ginning up incentivizing tactics to draw in more prospects. Stimulus and unemployment impact aside, workforce challenges will be a long-term battle for restaurant franchises. Which is why it’s important to act now, adapt, and explore the novel ways to support an evolving workforce.

Embrace Flexibility

Workers are answering to growing demands; managing school schedules, working part-time, meeting family obligations, and maintaining a healthy, balanced lifestyle are all competing priorities. It’s a tall order and has left workers choosing which shoe will drop. Franchisees need to be agile to cater to workers juggling these tasks. Now that remote lifestyles are commonplace, younger generations have grown to appreciate the flexibility of alternative work patterns.

But restaurant franchises don’t traditionally lend itself to a remote workforce model, at least not until recently. Restaurants can adopt greater schedule and shift flexibility, such as flex times, compressed work weeks, and culturally inclusive holidays. Additionally, modern innovations to workforce challenges are coming from staffing companies. Bite Ninja positions workers to take drive-thru orders remotely—from home or wherever they choose to work—and send them to the kitchen without friction.

Implement Upward Mobility

Restaurant work at the fast casual level relies heavily on teens and college-aged adults for its customer facing and order preparation roles. And while these positions were originally intended as starter gigs, restaurants need to improve their upward mobility strategies in the workplace, and heavily advocate for it in their recruitment.

This approach is reinforced in education, too. Work-based learning and skills development is edging out academic rigors as students demand more “real world” context in college. By offering workers opportunities to learn about business management, teamwork, scheduling, and other skills that go into the day-to-day running of a franchise, employers can offer workers a trajectory that includes eventual wage raises, promotions, and applicable skills for any trade.

Fortify Leadership

It’s no secret that most workforce issues trickle from the top down. If retaining workers and lack of worker engagement is affecting your franchise, the problem is likely arising from your management. Leaders need to be entrusted to better the worker experience and steer the performance and standards of the restaurant. Effective leadership also helps to implement the upward mobility mentioned above.

Collaboration is at the heart of workforce success. Consider mentor/mentee programs between management leaders and employees, regular management training opportunities to support their own career goals, and touchpoints to ensure managers are carrying out the vision of the brand.

Examine Culture

A significant gap exists between fast food and fast casual brands and the execution by their franchises. Corporate campaigns and catchy marketing are disjointed from the customer service and quality of its franchises. When that happens, it’s not just the customers that have lackluster experiences, but workers too.

A lack of company culture or a severe departure from its corporate roots are a detriment to any business, even a 10-person franchise team. Aligning expectations, implementing accountability, rewarding performance, and scheduling periodic appreciation events are all good tenants of a company culture that supports worker satisfaction.

Evaluate Incentives and Wages

While franchisees may hope to recruit more workers without resorting to a wage hike, the chances are slim. Workers hold the power right now and they can afford to be picky. If you can’t afford an hourly jump across the board, consider incremental raises, sign-on bonuses, increasing perks such as PTO and commute stipends, and rewards for meeting certain sales quotas.

Being ahead of the curve works in your benefit here. Discussions on minimum wage increases on a federal level are likely to come to a head, and if you can outdo your competitors, you’re one step closer to meeting your employment requirements.

Turn to Technology

Recent technological advances in ordering, food preparation, and delivery can help ease the load on workers, and franchise owners. Companies like Bite Ninja, a tech startup that provides a virtual workforce to restaurants, gives current employees the freedom to focus on food prep and quality control while ordering happens in a virtual environment.

Encourage customers to utilize online ordering to manage employees’ workload more effectively. By pre-empting drive thru and in-store orders, franchises can eliminate half the process for order completion and operate on leaner teams.

Train to Upsell

When times are tight, making the most of every sale is key. Instead of resorting to a typical script, provide professional development to employees to train them to upsell and exercise their sales skills. Bite Ninja workers, for example, achieve $40–$60 in upsells per shift. That bump is enough to afford a new worker at a higher wage or contribute to additional PTO days.

Business owners consider this to be the worst workforce challenge in decades. But with perseverance and a willingness to try novel solutions, restaurant owners can learn what works for today’s incoming workers. Because pandemic aside, these trends are here to stay.

Orin Wilson is the co-founder of Bite Ninja, a tech startup that provides a virtual workforce to restaurants. Using thousands of U.S.-based “Ninjas,” Bite Ninja helps drive-thrus and counters create a more efficient and error-free ordering system, allowing in-store workers to focus on food quality and customer service.

Employee Management, Fast Casual, Outside Insights, Story