Culture: The Solution to the Restaurant Hiring Crisis

    Here are the keys to attracting and retaining the best talent.

    Barista making coffee.
    Unsplash/Brooke Cagle
    Many restaurant success stories begin with challenges.

    This past year brought us COVID-19 and now 2021 has introduced us to a new pandemic: The Staffing Shortage. While the pandemic offered remote work for some, essential workers resorted to unemployment benefits to help them get by. A year later, businesses are ramping back up, although some workers are still staying at home collecting benefits, leaving business owners to compete with the government for employees. A number of business alliances and administrations are even trying to take this fight to Congress, resulting in a back and forth of finger-pointing on who’s to blame. Is it politicians giving too much money for those to stay home? Is it employees finding the power to say “No” to undesirable work environments? Is it a shift in the social expectations for work? Intrinsic laziness? The influence of Social media? Whatever the cause may be, we believe that the solution is not that complicated. People want to have a purpose and a company with a culture that fulfills that need will have employees lining up for an opportunity.

    Take our company for example; when we first began hiring, we were two founders in their mid-20s who worked in the literal hallway of an office building. We were offering work that seemed far from glamorous with no benefits to cushion the risk, however, we managed to grow as a company without compromising on the quality of our candidates. Despite the challenges we faced as a small company, we found that everyone could see their growth opportunities and their purpose within our company. Most importantly, they found themselves wanting to be a part of the culture that we had created.

    So how does one achieve an ideal company culture? The keys to attracting and retaining the best talent will be enacting creative recruitment, kick-starting engagement initiatives, and revamping outdated scheduling alternatives.

    Five initiatives to build an attractive culture:

    Set Standards 

    We’ve heard the saying, “beggars cannot be choosers,” right? In this case, don’t fall into this trap. You are not a beggar; you are a business owner or a hiring manager offering an opportunity to provide someone with a job and a purpose. You shouldn’t settle for just anyone who walks through the door and can work the shift, even if you are desperate. Set standards and stick to them. 

    Build a Team 

    Now that you have a vision of who you want to hire, think of how they will fit into your team. Will they bring a new skill? Will there be personality clashes? Does this person uphold the same values of customer service? These are all important metrics to find the right culture fit to build a team. When hiring, you don’t just want a great individual; you want them to be the missing piece you need to create the best environment for your customers. When the market is competitive, business owners should be interviewing candidates, not just their managers. Will it be more work for a business owner to go and meet an entry-level employee? Of course, it will be, but right now more work is required. If you want people to put in an effort to work for you, you have to put in an effort to recruit them.

    Update the Flex Scheduling Model

    Every job ad boasts flex scheduling, but what does that mean? You may imagine someone could pick their own hours or request time off as they please, but in reality, it means that the employee will be waiting anxiously on a Saturday to receive the following week’s schedule. Flex scheduling is anything but flexible and it’s become outdated since the competition (i.e., Uber, Instacart, etc.) allows true flexibility. It’s time to adapt. It may not be feasible to allow employees to pick a shift sporadically, so instead, ditch the flexible scheduling model and create shifts with set schedules. You cannot compete with the gig economy’s “work when you please” initiative, so don’t! Instead, go after those who crave job security and stability to attract great candidates.

    Promote Growth

    This is where companies with the most severe staffing shortages can benefit the greatest. The service industry offers unparalleled growth and career opportunities. How many other industries allow you to begin by picking up trash and doing dishes, but grow in time to procure your own business? Many restaurant success stories begin with challenges, but those who go on to overcome those obstacles contribute to their communities and the economy, and offer that very same opportunity to hundreds or even thousands of their own employees. They create an environment and a culture that people will be compelled to be a part of. Younger generations especially want to feel a part of something. Don’t be afraid to share your journey with your employees. Promote your success story and create realistic paths for career advancement for your team.

    Invest in Perks 

    It’s important to note that free meals or employee discounts are no longer seen as perks. They’ve become the norm and therefore an industry standard. Instead, try Employee of the Month awards, commuting reimbursement, or even allow paid time off for employees to perform charity in their local community. These perks will set you apart and bring employees together. Engagement initiatives don’t need to break the budget either, even a simple “thank you” goes a long way in showing employees you care and recognize their efforts.

    Creating a personal, empowering, and purposeful culture will make all the difference in attracting new talent. The 2020 COVID Pandemic solution seemed to be standing apart, but the solution for the 2021 Staffing Shortage pandemic is coming together with purpose.

    Kelly Mota is the co-founder and COO of Pembroke & Co., a consulting company in Boston, Massachusetts that specializes in business consulting, loss prevention, HR consulting, and career services.