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Many restaurants have faced staffing shortages during the pandemic, whether they’re trying to bring back staff after layoffs forced by pandemic closings or looking to replace employees who left the industry amid the Great Recession. As of April 2022, restaurants and bars were still 6.4% below their pre-pandemic employment levels – which the Bureau of Labor Statistics has called the industry’s worst job shortage in history.
Three industry experts spoke about the role technology tools can play in restaurant recruitment and retention during the July 21 SmartBrief webinar at SmartSummit, “The role of technology in restaurant recruitment and retention” – sponsored by Working hours.
Lack of personnel requires new solutions
According to National Restaurant Association State of the Restaurant Industry Report 2022.
The need to hire and retain staff has driven restaurant operators to try new methods of recruitment and management – appealing to potential employees in new ways and changing staffing patterns.
ABOUT Bartacopaying employees weekly and promoting higher wage rates — which fall between $19-$30 an hour, including tips — has helped the 22-unit chain raise staffing levels to about 95%, according to the Director of Acquisitions of Talent Jamie Starner, who noted that the restaurant receives about 30,000 applications a month.
Washington, DC-based restaurant group Destination Unknown Restaurants has also seen success with a new staffing model that gives full-time housekeepers an annual salary while housekeepers receive competitive hourly wages.
“We need to make our restaurants places where people want to come to work,” said Kelly Phillips, co-founder and director of hospitality for Destination Unknown.
“This has worked well for us…Most of our restaurants are fully staffed at this point,” Phillips said.
Building a technology toolbox for recruiting and retaining restaurants
While pay and benefits are certainly key to attracting and retaining employees, panelists also highlighted the importance of technology tools that make it easier to connect with prospective employees and improve the employee experience once they come on board.
About three-quarters of webinar attendees who responded to a live survey said they have invested in recruiting and/or retention technology solutions in the past two years. More than half of respondents (55.6%) said that these investments have made a difference, while 22.2% said they have not yet seen any change.
One tool that is simple to implement and has made a difference for many restaurants is QR codes. Many restaurants turned to QR codes at the start of the pandemic to allow customers to order and pay from their mobile devices, but the codes can also help restaurants connect with potential new hires.
PJW Restaurant Groupwhich owns and operates 26 restaurants across six brands in Pennsylvania and New Jersey, uses QR codes on flyers and social media posts to link applicants to the company’s career page.
“You don’t need a lot of bells and whistles in your technology to be able to deploy it,” said Jen McGonigle, director of people and talent development for PJW, who is also the National Restaurant Association’s chair of HR, Safety and the Risk Executive Study Group.
Bartaco, which offers QR code ordering and payment for dinners, also added QR codes that link to its careers page with all of its recruiting materials, including business cards.
Simplifying dining room operations with QR codes has also allowed Bartaco to expand its recruitment pool beyond applicants with restaurant experience to include people with retail or customer service backgrounds.
“We’re able to expand that group and really look at the soft skills that will enable them to come in and throw a party with us,” said Starner, who is also the founder and president of Restaurant Recruitment Roundtable.
Using technology tools to provide employees with a simpler and more efficient work experience – from viewing their schedule to waiting on customers – can create an environment that makes them feel valued and supported.
“We’re using the latest technology so it really eliminates a lot of headaches, so it’s an easy restaurant for them to operate,” said Phillips, who cited Destination Unknown’s use of a POS system. Toast to payments on the table. “It’s all about making sure our team is happy, and technology is playing a really big part in that.”
When considering technology tools to add to the mix, McGonigle cautioned that new solutions don’t have to be overly complicated. “It’s really easy to get caught up in technology and it can be overwhelming when you’re trying to train people and teach them a new aspect that they’re going to incorporate into their daily lives. So I’m always looking at that and what the user experience is going to be like,” she said.
Retention requires meeting the needs of employees
To keep pace with the projected growth of the restaurant industry, operators will need to consider how technology affects creating a company culture that aligns with what matters most to employees.
McGonigle said PJW tries to survey employees as often as possible to gain insight into what matters most to them. “We’ve re-evaluated our benefits package and looked at how we can offer more based on what we’re hearing,” she said, noting that work-life balance, flexible hours and access to schedules are all at the top of mind for the staff. .
Phillips noted that technology tools can help managers reduce the amount of time they spend on planning, payroll and inventory so they can spend more time working directly with their team members. “Management matters,” she said. “A lot of people stay and go because of a manager.”
Bartaco offers mentoring opportunities for employees, as well as meal discounts and flexible hours that allow at least two days off each week. “We’re just trying to stay really nimble and open-minded when it comes to the needs of our employees and how to retain them, which is important because people can leave and go find a job next door, Starner said. “Taking care of your employees is as important as hiring them…it’s the entire employee life cycle.”
To watch the event in its entirety and hear more insights about recruiting and restaurant retention from Starner, Phillips and McGonigle, access SmartSummit on demand.
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