Over the course of the last two years, restaurants have demonstrated they are nothing if not resilient. Recovery from the pandemic has proven to be an ongoing process of navigating unprecedented challenges and evolving health regulations. Among these obstacles has been a particularly difficult and universal issue among the service industry: attracting and retaining talented employees.

The COVID-19 pandemic has highlighted and exacerbated ongoing employee concerns, such as feeling undervalued or lacking incentives for hard work. While the labor gap is a significant pain point for restaurants, it brings about an opportunity for the industry to create more permanent workforce solutions. Restaurants have the chance to reinvent themselves as progressive employers who cultivate quality of life for their employees.

A cross-functional team at The Coca-Cola Company recently conducted proprietary research and analyzed insights from third-party sources to create an overview of the labor landscape, including insights and recommendations for foodservice operators to address the constrained labor supply.

Coca-Cola’s research identified that to begin combating workforce challenges, restaurants must re-strategize how they communicate employee benefits. Understanding that employees are looking for more than money is key to successful hiring. Additionally, it is important to explore a new approach to how restaurants support the personal goals of future and existing employees.

Following are four key insights that could help restaurants build a strong staff while developing updated hiring practices and competitive benefits.

Workers want a livable wage, but it’s about more than money. When it comes to understanding how to attract talented employees, it’s first important to evaluate why workers have left the foodservice industry during the pandemic. When surveyed, workers who quit during COVID-19 cited low wages and lack of opportunity for career growth as top considerations. Current and former foodservice workers note paid time off, better base pay and performance bonuses as top ways to keep or bring them back. When reconsidering compensation structures, restaurants should think long-term over quick fixes. For example:

  • Offer bonuses for current employees who refer great new staff members.
  • Raise wages for top-performing team members.
  • Offer phased rewards, perks or bonuses that inspire employees to stay and help them feel invested in the business.


Restaurants should also consider presenting wages as part of a more comprehensive opportunity, including training, career development, leadership opportunities and more.

Workers want better quality of life. By communicating the unique opportunities they offer as employers, beyond competitive wages, restaurants can engage and captivate their ideal candidates. Offering schedule flexibility, benefits and advancement opportunities within a role, and promoting balance between work and personal life are all ways that employers can rethink and reframe the value they bring to workers. Potential employees are not necessarily seeking an elaborate benefits package; rather they are looking to work in safe conditions that allow them the flexibility to spend time with their family while prioritizing their quality of life.

Young workers require an adjusted approach. To attract and retain Gen Z employees, restaurants should help them find meaning in what they do, allow them to set their own shift schedules and highlight the social aspect of the industry. Foodservice employers can also get creative about where they post job openings to attract younger candidates, including newer or unconventional channels like TikTok.

The current labor landscape isn’t a blip but the beginning of a long-term shift. Some have theorized that the labor shortage will resolve itself once unemployment benefits run out. However, only 2 percent of former foodservice workers surveyed were collecting unemployment, indicating that the solution is not so simple. Neither is it a temporary problem for certain restaurants in specific areas. The issue is pervasive across regions and indicative of a long-term shift to an employees’ (rather than employers’) market. To stand out among job postings, restaurants can more clearly outline what the work will look like, opportunities for advancement and the types of people that might succeed in the role. Once hired, workers should be regularly surveyed to determine job satisfaction and identify areas for improvement. Employee referral programs can exponentially increase the impact of a single quality hire.

Restaurants have proven their ability to evolve to overcome pandemic-era challenges. Just as they responded to dining room closures with curbside takeout and contactless delivery, now they must innovate to attract and retain a workforce whose needs and priorities have shifted. By listening to what workers want, restaurants can emerge with a stronger, happier workforce, poised for growth in the eventual post-pandemic era.

Kelley Emrey Clark is the Senior Manager of Foodservice Channel Strategy and Execution at The Coca-Cola Company and specializes in Crew and Labor programs for Coke’s customers. Kelley started her career in foodservice at the age of 16, where she learned the value of teamwork, good crew relations and exceeding expectations while having fun at work.

Jill Danieli is the Director of On Premise Channel Strategy and Execution at The Coca-Cola Company. Over her 20 years at Coca-Cola, Jill has held various roles across the Foodservice, Retail and On Premise channels including Marketing Lead on Global and Domestic Customer Teams.

Employee Management, Outside Insights, Story