The competition for great restaurant employees is fierce! At the end of 2021, there were 11,200,000 restaurant employees in the United States. Just two years earlier, there were 13,490,000. In case you’re counting, that’s a drop of 2,290,000 employees—or nearly 17%.
As the supply of available employees has decreased, it may feel challenging for restaurants to keep shifts and rosters filled. It’s not enough to post a “help wanted” ad when there’s so much competition for the best staff.
Here’s how you can make your establishment a more attractive choice for servers, bartenders and cooks, as well as find top-notch employees to fill your roster.
Focus On Workplace Culture
No restaurant, whether it’s a mom-and-pop shop or a nationwide chain, is going to have the resources of tech giants like Facebook and Google to spend lavishly on employee perks. Nap pods, juice bars, and onsite fitness facilities are probably not in the cards.
But even without a big budget for employee benefits, restaurants can foster a warm and inclusive workplace culture. Popular burger chain In-N-Out frequently ranks very high in employee satisfaction, and much of that boils down to the positive workplace culture and focus on training and flexible scheduling. Employees report that they’re treated with respect, and the company sponsors events like annual trips, social sports play, and summer picnics. According to Glassdoor statistics, 86% of employees at In-N-Out would recommend working there.
Another important cultural consideration is diversity, equity, and inclusion (DEI), particularly among Gen Z and Millennial employees. Data by Pew Research shows that just 52% of Gen Z are non-Hispanic white, and Gen Z workforces expect both their colleagues and leadership to reflect that diversity. A culture of inclusion and respect for different ages, races, sexual orientations, and gender identities may help a restaurant to create a welcoming space for all restaurant employees.
Finally, there’s the opportunity to build a culture of open communication. The brigade de cuisine system (created by our namesake Auguste Escoffier) focuses on top-down communication from leadership to the rest of the team. But it’s also important to foster communication from staff back up to leadership. When employees have a mechanism by which they can make suggestions and provide feedback, they feel more engaged and valued at work. This may allow restaurants to not only attract employees, but keep them.
Provide Educational Opportunities
Some restaurant employees just want to work their shift and go home. Nothing wrong with that! But the best employees want to learn and grow. Give them that opportunity by providing educational resources as part of their employment.
This could include participating in Escoffiers’s Work and Learn program, where restaurant employees can earn their degree or diploma in a culinary discipline online while they continue to work full- or part-time. Work and Learn students can quality for a scholarship from Escoffier, and some restaurants choose to provide additional assistance. With this program, restaurants can help to upskill some of their top-performing cooks while keeping these valuable employees on their payroll. Some restaurants may also choose to provide tuition reimbursement.
Some restaurants may choose to offer education in-house, hosting their own classes and workshops to teach employees about wine, beer, service, or leadership. Or they could reimburse students who choose to pursue credentials like a sommelier or cicerone certification.
Offer Paths for Career Growth
Some employees are just looking for a job. But high-quality employees are often working on a long-term career in the hospitality and service industries. That’s why it’s important to have goals for employees to work towards, where they can learn additional skills and responsibilities along the way.
A restaurant that makes an effort to promote from within rather than hiring advanced positions from without will be a more attractive prospect for a potential employee who wants to grow. These roles could include training positions, shift leads, lead line cooks, bartenders, and managers.
As an employer, it’s important to help staff members understand where they stand in the company. Whether they’re already excelling or have room to improve, regular evaluations can help employees feel seen and show them where their strengths and weaknesses lie as they work for promotion.
Guide Newer Employees with Mentorship
In any career, an experienced mentor can be an invaluable resource. These industry veterans can help a newer employee to make a plan for their future, assess different opportunities, and provide a sounding board for new ideas.
In a restaurant, we often think of mentors as executive chefs or general managers. But they’re not the only options. Any more experienced colleague could be a valuable mentor.
As the restaurant operator, you have the opportunity to help facilitate these relationships. You could implement an internal mentorship program, connecting a new hire with a willing mentor who has been on staff for a year or more. This structured relationship building could help new employees to adjust more easily to their new jobs and may reduce turnover.
Offer Competitive Pay and Benefits
Competitive pay and benefits like health insurance are huge attractors of talent. There are financial realities to consider of course. You may want to pay everyone $20/hr, but the restaurant may not be able to afford that. So you have to assess what is possible for your specific establishment. But keep in mind that restaurants paying higher wages could attract the cream of the crop in their employees, and they’ll also have the room to demand higher standards of service.
Beyond pay, affordable health insurance may be the most attractive benefit a restaurant can offer. While businesses with fewer than 50 employees are not required to offer it, it can be a huge draw—especially to older employees and/or those with families.
Another common benefit is free or discounted shift meals. Or perhaps you could offer sick pay to encourage employees to stay home when they’re not feeling well (a rarity in restaurants).
You may also want to consider instant pay through an app like KOHO. This lets restaurant employees access their pay on-demand, instead of waiting for a paycheck. This can be valuable to new employees who may be getting back to work after a gap of weeks or months, and who need cash right away.
Attracting the Best Restaurant Employees May Take Innovation
Updated tech and more attractive compensation are all part of the new restaurant environment. In a competitive employment market, you have to stand out from the rest. And benefits like health insurance and higher wages, educational opportunities, and a friendly internal culture can help you do just that.
Cooks and servers may be quick to share their experiences working for you with their network. Make sure they have plenty of flattering things to say!
Not sure if you’re ready to be the leader your employees need? An online education in Hospitality & Restaurant Operations Management may help you bridge that gap. Get all the details about this associate degree program that you can earn from home while working full-time!
To learn more about managing your restaurant, explore these resources next:
- How to Train Your Restaurant Employees
- Food Inflation: How Restaurants Can Adapt Their Menus to Rising Prices
- What Does a Restaurant Manager Do?
*Information may not reflect every student’s experience. Results and outcomes may be based on several factors, such as geographical region or previous experience.