The National Restaurant Association has said that employee turnover in the restaurant industry is nearly 75 percent, compared to about 49 percent for the total private sector. So as painful as the Great Resignation has been for the US economy overall, restaurant operators have felt it especially severely. Restaurant companies that are succeeding at recruitment and retention right now are taking steps to be as proactive as possible at bringing in potential staff and then giving them the career options and stability they need to stay. In a recent webinar, “The Future of Food: The Role of Technology in Restaurant Recruitment and Retention," presented by SmartBrief, Jamie Starner of Bartaco mentioned that every one of their applicants is likely applying for seven other jobs at the same time, so it’s critical to make it easy for people to apply for open positions and then respond to their inquiry promptly. To make that happen, the company uses QR codes to connect people to their open positions, sends applicants a text in response, and uses the Calendly app to encourage applicants to schedule their interview on the spot. Keeping staff happy, according to the restaurant leaders on the webinar, has been about showing them potential career paths at the company, polling them regularly to better understand what they need, and offering the stability and flexibility that comes with offering a salary and other benefits. Instead of accepting tips, some incentivize good service through bonuses provided in exchange for high online reviews each month. For Kelly Phillips of Destination Unknown Restaurants, being able to provide a salary and a career path more akin to what someone might find in other parts of the private sector has been about operating as leanly as possible – using handheld POS devices has helped the company slim down the number of staff needed, for example, so the company has the resources to take good care of the ones on hand. As a result, she says, she doesn’t often have server openings, doesn’t have the ongoing expense of recruitment, and some former servers have stayed to become partners in the company.
Pre-pandemic, it may have been a given that Friday and Saturday nights were your peak times for guests. The past few years have thrown such assumptions up in the air as consumers have shifted their working hours and workplaces. As a result, your biggest happy hour crowd may have shifted to early evenings on Wednesday and Thursday. Your business lunch crowd may instead be coming for breakfast or a late-afternoon snack. During a recent discussion with veteran restaurant operators and industry experts that was organized by Nation’s Restaurant News and its CREATE educational program, participants acknowledged the shift. Victor Fernandez, vice president of insights and knowledge at Black Box, said the fastest-growing time of day is late afternoon between lunch and dinner. This blending of dayparts can be both a blessing and a curse for operators: Blurred lines between meals mean that consumers may crave a range of food and drink at all times and it’s always a good time to visit a restaurant. On the other hand, the lack of definition makes it difficult for operators to know how to plan and what to offer. It’s more important than ever to understand how your guests use your physical restaurant at every hour and how profitable they make your business per square foot during the times they are with you. Having this knowledge will help you know if and how to scale down your menu, staff or hours if business slows in the months ahead. At a time when consumers expect a lot from restaurants, understand where you’re best able to provide it and where you need to draw the line.
Remember when the public was just coming out of lockdowns and happily shrugged off restaurants’ limited hours, restricted seating, and unpredictable menus if it meant they could still enjoy a meal from their favorite establishments? You may have noticed that sentiment has faded a bit as consumers have lost patience with the ongoing pandemic. For many customers, the pre-pandemic mentality that “the customer is always right” has returned. They aren’t afraid to voice their dissatisfaction with a restaurant meal – or simply offer unsolicited comments about how the operator could improve the experience. This is despite operators’ ongoing challenges in recruiting and retaining staff, sourcing supplies, and paying larger bills for everything from ingredients to fuel. (A recent Eater report detailed the account of a much-lauded California restaurant that launched early in the pandemic but couldn’t continue operating amid the many demands it faced in the current economy.) Times are far from normal and a looming recession adds to existing pressures, so consider running your business with the same rigor as you did early in the pandemic. That means focusing on the basics of why you’re in business – know what values you stand for, who your ideal customer is, where you are (and aren’t) willing to compromise, what core things you want to make sure you execute well right now, and how many staff members are needed to help you accomplish them. Then don’t be afraid to stand your ground if guests ask for more.
While the leisure and hospitality sector added 67,000 jobs in the latest report from the Labor Department, indicating the ongoing rebound of the sector, the demand for restaurant food is continuing to stretch labor. In other words, it’s more important than ever for the people restaurants do successfully hire to stick around. Have you adapted your recruitment and retainment approaches to fit the current candidate’s market? Focus on finding the right fit from the start. In a recent report from QSR Magazine, the head of client success at Harver, a recruitment partner for McDonald’s and Chili’s, shared that it helps to identify the key skills you need from a person by giving them situational judgment tests. These include a series of scenarios that relate to the role and ask a candidate how they would respond. Much like considering the experience of a guest, streamline the application process and remove obstacles that could get in the way of their understanding the role accurately. Be crystal clear about the requirements of a job by avoiding jargon and providing examples of the kinds of situations a team member is likely to have to manage on the job. Think about your business as a launching pad for hires – what opportunities do you offer to help people develop new skills that help them progress in your business or can transfer to other industries? Where are there opportunities for you to offer flexibility? Finally, while your perks and benefits may get a person in the door, they won’t earn their loyalty if there isn’t a strong workplace culture in place. Focus on building and sustaining a close, supportive team.
As inflation continues to weigh on the economy and consumers’ level of comfort in making discretionary purchases, there is that much more pressure on restaurant operators to make the experience of restaurant meals worth the expense. But doing so doesn’t have to be about expending significant additional effort. It can be about using your technology to drive an easier, more engaging, more personalized experience with your brand – one that will tip the scales in your favor when a guest is wavering about whether and where to order a meal. Your loyalty program is a key tool in this effort, but operators shouldn’t simply lean on a cookie-cutter program – particularly at a time when it’s increasingly common for tech stacks to integrate plug-and-play options to help operators gain a competitive advantage through building loyalty. Looking at the information you have collected about your customer base, what offers drive them to purchase repeatedly from you? As a recent report from Pymnts.com indicated, brands are currently looking to differentiate themselves with such features as in-app concerts, gamified rewards, and meal subscription services that allow users to earn back money with each purchase. Others are partnering with complementary brands to build engagement and ramp up the potential rewards on offer. To maximize your opportunities for continuously capturing the interest of loyal guests, ensure that at every step of a transaction, you’re weaving in your business brand language, making sure users’ experience is consistent regardless of how they are ordering from you, and that you’re collecting data that helps you monitor guest responses and making adjustments based on what you’re learning.