Five Tips for Navigating the Restaurant Labor Shortage

Dan Jacobs of RASI shares suggestions for overcoming restaurant labor challenges and retaining employees for the long haul.

  • Think carefully about the job descriptions you create for open positions at your restaurant, focusing on the “sell” or the unique offering that sets the job apart from others.
  • An overlooked yet great place to find qualified job candidates is directly within your team, whose members already have friends currently working in the restaurant industry.

Related: 10 New Year’s resolutions for pizzeria owners

By Dan Jacobs, RASI

If finding great people to work in your pizza restaurant has become a significant operational challenge, you’re not alone. According to Aaron Allen & Associates data, there are 77,000 pizza restaurants in the U.S. Apply that number to the job market. That means more than 70,000 operators struggling to win over candidates from the same pool of job seekers.

Many pizza restaurants and QSRs like Domino’s have cited challenging labor shortages as a substantial factor accounting for the decrease in same-store sales at the close of Q3. Fortunately, however, it’s not all doom and gloom. The expiration of the pandemic’s economic stimulus is forcing people living on unemployment benefits to re-enter the workforce.

Here are five top tips to overcome the operational challenges for restaurants caused by the labor crisis and to keep those employees engaged and in it for the long haul.

1. Utilize an integrated point solution like an applicant tracking system.
A crucial step in a successful recruiting and hiring process is selecting an integrated Applicant Tracking System (ATS). ATS solutions help restaurant management through their comprehensive lifecycle processing from recruiting through onboarding. These systems streamline the hiring process so restaurant managers can still focus on their day-to-day operations within their stores while actively engaging in their hiring duties. A few ways an integrated ATS solution can help to conquer operational challenges for restaurants include:

  • Speeds up the recruiting process
  • Reduces administrative hours
  • Ensures brand integrity
  • Enhances the candidate experience
  • Promotes quality hires

2. Establish the roles you need to fill and write compelling job descriptions.
Throughout the pandemic, most restaurant employees wore multiple hats. Restaurant management had to determine the most efficient ways their team could job-share. Pizza restaurants’ off-premises delivery increased considerably, and many staff members became regular delivery drivers. Fast-forward to the present, and foot traffic from in-store dining is up 52% from the beginning of 2021, per data from Zenreach.

Because of the disparity and roller-coaster job atmosphere created from increased deliveries to booming in-door dining, front-of-house (FOH) hiring issues have now become an obstacle. Many FOH employees performing alternate duties during the pandemic have sought and found other opportunities for a better sense of job security. The job market for restaurants has changed dramatically as a result. As restaurant employees consider their future career paths, operators should step back and determine what roles they need to fill. Considering the labor shortages and selective job pool, operators must identify which positions are essential and the greatest contributors within their restaurant.

Once an operator identifies their essential roles, the foundation of making a great hire begins: writing a compelling job description. When writing job descriptions, the hiring manager often fails to include the “sell” or the unique offering that sets the job apart from any other. As mentioned before, there are 77,000 pizza restaurants in the U.S., so creating a convincing picture of why employees should choose your restaurant over all others is critical. Writing a job description is essentially a marketing pitch; the most attractive pitch will always win. Some things to consider are:

  • Brand vision and future goals
  • Clear expectations and job functions (this sets the applicant up for success from the get-go)
  • Salary range, bonuses, and benefits (including health insurance, retirement plans, etc.)
  • PTO and Sick Days
  • Career advancement opportunities
  • Additional workplace highlights

3. Post your positions where quality traffic lives and think inside the pizza box.
You’ve heard it before: Quality over quantity. While it’s tempting to recruit on every job board you can find because of the labor crisis, this strategy is inefficient, cost-prohibitive, and will likely churn out countless unqualified applicants. Like determining the right fit for a position, operators must determine the right fit for their job posts. Operators should start with industry-specific job boards first and foremost. This enables you to narrow your focus and target job ads to the correct audience, producing higher-quality candidates.

“Thinking inside the box” seems a bit counterintuitive to usual advice. However, it can be the key ingredient to a great hire in this scenario. An overlooked yet great place to find qualified candidates is directly within your team. Many restaurant employees have built a group of friends in the industry. Think about creating a referral program for your existing employees and incentivizing quality referrals.

Related: 4 ways to deal with the supply chain shortages in the pandemic era

4. Ask Thoughtful Interview Questions and Hire for Fit Over Function. 

Preparing interview questions is more than asking about a person’s skills that match the job criteria. Each restaurant has a unique brand culture and standards to ensure that culture resonates with the guest. Operators should ask questions beyond the measure of competence, pertaining to work ethic, goals, challenges, etc. The interview process is your chance to understand the person behind the job function for which you’re hiring. You must position questions for more than a “yes” or “no” answer. The applicant should tell the story of why they’re the right candidate for the opportunity.

When deciding who you’re going to hire, search for specific personality traits that fit your company culture rather than job functions that you can easily teach. Think about where you see this person in the existing team and how your organization and current staff will benefit from that team member.

5. Offer the right benefits that help you stand out.
The job market has changed since the pandemic began, and the labor shortage has driven restaurant operators to redefine their work environment to ensure they stand out. Standard considerations like stringent health and safety measures, competitive salaries and incentives like bonus plans and health insurance, and ensuring that jobs can turn into hospitality careers are only a few benefits enticing job seekers. A large area of opportunity for operators lies within payroll compliance. With changing regulations on matters like meal and break compliance and tip pooling, it’s important for every worker that they get paid properly and on time. Environments where workers trust their employer because they consistently meet their payroll requirements will forever win the day.

Dan Jacobs is the chief operating officer of RASI and a tenured expert in the restaurant industry, building long-standing relationships with numerous QSR/TSR, single, and multi-unit operations for 20-plus years in various leadership roles. He previously worked across North America implementing MICROS, Aloha, Digital Dining, and their respective back-office enterprise applications into SMB, Mid-Market, and Enterprise hospitality.