As TDn2K’s latest People Report showed, there is a downside to a strong labor market. Restaurants are facing once of the most challenging staffing environments in recent memory, with turnover rates at the hourly and management levels touching record highs. It’s one of the many reasons brands are adjusting their service models to meet this fresh reality. Kiosks, anyone? Brands are also being forced to up the ante with benefits, like education opportunities, better wages, accessible and definable career ladders, and get creative with hiring practices.

Historically, Taco Bell has never shied from the challenge. The YUM! Brands chain’s latest effort is no different—something it’s calling “Hiring Parties.” For the first time, Taco Bell is hosting these events as it looks to meet a previously announced goal of 100,000 new employees by 2022.

READ MORE: The story behind Taco Bell’s plan to create 100,000 jobs

Taco Bell kicked it off Wednesday and is hosting another on Saturday at four locations in Indiana (Lawrence, Plainfield, Greenwood, and Indianapolis). The “Hiring Parties,” take place from 2–5 p.m. and offer free food (Nacho fries and Watermelon Freezes), party games, on-the-spot job interviews, and gift-card signing bonuses. No need for advanced applications and hope for a callback. Taco Bell said the events generated nearly 80 in-person applications and 40 new hires. Additionally, there were more than 300 online applications as a result of Hiring Party promotion.

“The tight labor market has created staffing challenges for companies across the country,” said Bjorn Erland, Taco Bell’s vice president of People & Experience, in an email. “At the same time, Taco Bell’s business is growing, making it more important than ever to hire and retain great employees. We’re testing and implementing a number of ways to do this, including our Hiring Parties concept, which we just piloted in Indianapolis. We wanted to put a Taco Bell spin on traditional job fairs and invite job-seekers into restaurants to check out employment opportunities and experience Taco Bell’s unique work culture first-hand. The number of applications and hires exceeded our expectations, so we are now in the process of analyzing the approach and results to determine how we might expand this initiative.”

This is the latest initiative in Taco Bell’s Start With Us, Stay With Us campaign. Back in March, Taco Bell announced it was extending its Guild Education pilot to all 210,000 employees in its system of 7,000-plus U.S. restaurants. Previously, Taco Bell piloted the program in about 700 company-run restaurants, a pool of more than 2,000 employees. Taco Bell saw a 30 percent increase in employee retention for those enrolled over the first six months. Employees enrolled in a course, program or degree through Guild had a 98 percent retention rate in that same space—a 34 percent increase over those employees who were not enrolled.

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Through the program, employees have access to personalized college advisers and tuition discounts for thousands of classes, certificates, and degrees the moment they start working with Taco Bell. So those who attend the hiring parties and walk away with a job are instantly open to the benefits. Taco Bell said it’s using the events to hire a variety of positions, from front line to management, and will help the company add to the 3,000 existing employees it has in the area already.

Taco Bell promotes a robust benefits program for employees at corporate-owned stores as well. Shift Managers and above, as well as Team Members on one of Taco Bell’s medical plans, have year-round access to board certified physicians who can prescribe prescriptions via phone consultations through the Teladoc program. For all company-owned stores, there’s $5,000 in company paid basic term life insurance for Team Members. YUM! also offers a 401K plan with company-matching contributions, dollar for dollar up to 6 percent. Other benefits include: $10,000 in company-paid basic term life insurance for Shift Managers (amount increases with level); vacation of 1 to 4 weeks based on job title; and a free tobacco cessation program through KickButs.

Taco Bell unveiled its plan of 100,000 new jobs by 2022 in fall 2016. It lined up with the chain’s goal of 200 store openings annually, and 8,000 stateside, 9,000 globally, within the next four years.

All Taco Bell corporate and franchise employees have access to Guild’s academic and financial aid coaches and discounts to Guild’s education partners through the platform—a network of 80 online non-profit universities and learning providers, offering Bachelor’s and Master’s degrees. These programs include high school completion and English-as-a-second language, and there is also a wide selection of certificates available.

Taco Bell corporate employees, along with those at participating franchises, also have access to up to $5,250 per calendar year in tuition assistance, including books and supplies, paid up front to avoid out-of-pocket costs. All employees can also get college credit for on-the-job restaurant training, which could save an employee an additional $5,000, Taco Bell said, bringing their potential total savings to more than $10,000.

The “Start With US, Stay With Us,” platform arrived in November. Education was center to this strategy. The Graduate for Mas Program, which to that point had enrolled nearly 600,000 people, helped participants who promised to graduate gain access to resources, mentorship support, prizes, and rewards, such as scholarship.

Then there was also the GED Certification Program in tandem with GED Testing Services; an Excelsior Program through Excelsior College, an accredited non-profit institution that offers Taco Bell staff the chance to earn a flexible online degree at discount prices; and the Live Mas Scholarship aimed at students who don’t fit into the typical athletic or academic mold.

Taco Bell’s same-store sales rose 1 percent in the first quarter of 2018.

Employee Management, Story