restaurant staff

The ultimate guide to hiring and retaining restaurant staff

Posted by
Eamonn Curley
Eamonn Curley
on 13 May 2022

In this #snack, we want to give an overview of the labour shortage landscape and give you practical and proven solutions to attract and retain restaurant staff in a highly competitive industry. 

Restaurant staff shortages are affecting everyone – there’s no getting away from it. 

High turnover rates have always been a factor in hospitality. But now we face the problem of not enough talent coming in to fill those vacant roles. 

In the UK there were around 164,000 vacancies between January and March 2022.

UK Hospitality Chief Executive Kate Nichols told the BBC last year that it’s a “reset moment” for the industry, where the focus should be put on improving training, skills development and working conditions to attract more people to hospitality. 

The stark reality is that we need to attract people now, and improvements in how we hire and retain talent need to happen fast.

The important issues around hiring and retaining restaurant staff 

Demand is high for restaurants right now. After two years in and out of lockdown, people want to get out and enjoy life again. 

Big Hospitality reports that the UK restaurant market will grow by 59% in 2022 and recover 94% of its 2019 value. The market will be worth £18.3bn in 2025. 

So far, so good. 

However, the reality on the ground reveals things aren’t as straightforward as they seem. 

Speaking to industry publication The Staff Canteen, chef owner James Allcock says his restaurant has been bustling since restrictions were lifted. 

The problem is he doesn’t have enough staff to keep up with demand, forcing him to scale back when he should be capitalising on a new wave of new business.  

Unfortunately, James’s story isn’t uncommon right now. 

Demand is there and the industry seems to be bouncing back – but why isn’t there enough talent entering the industry? 

Let’s take a look at some of the main issues around this current labour shortage 

The great resignation 

The Great Resignation, coined by Professor Anthony Klotz of Texas A&M University, describes the recent trend of workers quitting their jobs due to COVID-19.

In the US, thousands of workers began leaving their jobs voluntarily in 2020 and 2021, with an all time high of 4.4 million people leaving in September 2021. 

This trend has trickled over to the UK and Europe. In the UK, vacancies are at their highest for over 50 years and almost a quarter of workers are planning to change roles within the next three to six months. 

Hospitality top the charts when it comes to the number of resignations by industry. 

Check our in-depth article on The Great Resignation for a closer look at why this is happening.

EU workers leaving the labour market

Many EU hospitality workers have chosen to leave the UK hospitality sector or have been forced to due to new visa income requirements. About 90,000 EU workers have left the hospitality sector over the past year according to a report by hospitality jobs site Caterer.com

This has massively contributed to the labour shortages we see now – for example, it’s estimated that 75% of London’s hospitality workers were from the EU. 

Visa income requirements aren’t helping the situation. 

The average salary for hospitality staff is £21,862. Under the UK’s new visa scheme, applicants must be paid a salary of £25,600. This is well above what many can earn in the hospitality sector. 

The Isle of Man have relaxed visa requirements for seasonal workers to attract workers – but more needs to be done nationwide

A new, younger workforce is entering the industry

Millennials are also leaving the industry in droves – with almost 210,000 exiting the industry since December 2019.

Millennial workers are a crucial, experienced bedrock in hospitality – and they are getting harder to attract and retain. 

Between December 2019 and October 2021, Millennials in the fast food and casual dining sectors declined from 51% to 43%.

In their place, a new, younger workforce is entering the industry – Gen Z, defined as anyone under 25.

In the same period of time that Millennial workers declined, Gen Z workers actually increased from 26% to 38% 

Gen Z comes with a different set of needs than generations before them. They value a better work/life balance, career progression and a digital-first workplace. 

Restaurant operators need to be aware of these if they want to hire and retain the best Gen Z talent. 

Check out our article on engaging and retaining Gen Z in your restaurant for some more expert insights.

Hiring restaurant staff

Hiring restaurant staff is becoming more challenging due to some of the factors we’ve discussed. 

So here are four areas you can improve in your hiring process. 

Rethink what you’re offering

A competitive salary is essential – low wages are often cited as a key reason people are leaving the industry. 

Money alone though won’t attract talent. 

According to this BBC Worklife article, hospitality workers are typically moving into office or warehouse work. Better benefits and more flexibility in their working hours were cited as the key reasons why they changed industries. 

An all aroud package has to be attractive to a potential employee. Take a look at Amercian fast-casual chain Chipotle for example. 

On top of making their wages more competitive, they offer employees the chance to pursue degrees in subjects such as culinary arts and supply chain management. 

Other benefits include a pathway for hourly workers to progress to a six figure management position within three and half years, referral bonuses and access to healthcare and fitness discounts. 

While you may not have the budget to offer all of this you should take inspiration from Chipotles mindset of trying to develop and nurture their employees – this is what will make people want to work in your restaurant. 

Tidy up your interview process

Hiring new staff can be made even more difficult when you hire someone and it doesn’t work out

It happenes all the time and, although we’re all used it, it’s quite frustrating. 

Now that we are experiencing major shortages in the industry, making the wrong hiring decisions can have a bigger impact than before. 

But how do you make sure you’re making the right hiring decisions? 

Chef and restauranter Chris Hill has laid out some tips around asking questions in the interview process that really identify who the person is. 

According to Chris, instead of typical generic questions you should ask questions based what kind of team member they will be, what values they hold and how they deal with failure. 

Here is a few examples of the questions in each category: 

  • Team: What kind of team environments do you thrive in and what makes them meaningful? 
  • Values: What values are important to you and how do you live those values everyday? 
  • Failure: What was your biggest failure and how did you respond to it? 

Speed up your hiring timeline

Competition is fierce in the labour market at the moment. 

If you take too long to hire, your ideal candidate might go elsewhere. 

Generally, 57% of candidates lose interest in role if the hiring process takes too long. 

With thousands of vacancies available across hospitality and moving into new industries a huge attraction, a candidate has more options than ever before. 

When hiring candidate you need to move quickly. Here are a few key tips to help get things moving along faster. 

  • Review your current hiring timeline: Take a look at the time gaps between each stage in your hiring process. Where do candidates typically drop off? Where is the longest gap between stages? 
  • Get a structured hiring process down on paper: Map out each stage of the process and the actions that need to take place at each stage. If there’s too much time between stages, shorten it.
  • Make applications easy and accessible: Make sure the jobs page on your website is easily seen on your home page and pin links to the applications page on the top of your social media channel feeds (or link in the bio for Instagram).
  • Respond to candidates quickly: It may seem simple but respond as quickly as you can so people don’t fall through the cracks. Always respond to candidates who don’t get the roles so they still have a good experience with your hiring process. 

Use the right channels to post your open positions

According to these statistics gathered by Socially Recrutied, 79% of job applicants use social media for their job applications while 70% of hiring managers have successfully hired through social media aswell.

 Candidates are clearly searching online for positions now. The days of just putting a job notice on your window are over.

Here’s a few essential places you should place your job posting.

  • Job sites: Look a general job sites like Indeed and Monster and more specific sites like Hospitlaity Jobs UK, Caterer.com and the Institute of Hosplitality’s jobs board.
  • Social media: Linkedin is the primary place for job posting. Once you have a profile page it’s quite straightforward to post jobs to their jobs board. Use your own social media profiles to advertise job opportunities.
  • Your own website: Place a call to action button on the top of your website that takes the applicant to a page where they can fill in their details and apply. 
  • Your current staff network: Provide bonuses for staff refferals. It shows you value the judgement of your staff to recommend the right people. 

Retaining restaurant staff

Once you’ve hired the best talent, the next challenge is retaining them.

This can be tough in an industry with historically high turnover rates. 

To improve your restaurant staff retention rates, we’ve put together four important retention strategies. 

Invest in your staff

Employees today are interested in personal development when choosing a role. 

To make sure they achieve this, invest in your staff and build out programs that help them reach their goals.

As we’ve seen with the Chipotle example, it’s about investing in education programs, creating defined pathways to management positions and giving access to health and fitness related benefits.

It’s not just Chipotle who are making big strides with staff investment. 

Shake Shack is investing over $10 million into its restaurant staff. $9 million is being invested into increasing wages for hourly workers and the rest is going into well-being initiatives, career development programs and hiring bonuses. 

Offer comprehensive, digital first training

Proper training will help retain restaurant staff longer. A study found it’s one of top three reasons they would stick with a company for longer. 

A lot of aspects of how you run a restaurant are digital. This requires more familiarity with how digital technology works. With a younger workforce now entering the industry, its important to make training seamless and digital first.

For example, for Gen Z, an online onboarding process will appeal more as they are tech-savvy and able to pick up ideas quickly.

When training your staff also think about how your training is structured – here are three areas you should cover. 

  • Foundational training: Communicate the vision, values and mission statement of your company. Its essential that new staff are bought into this from day one. 
  • Specific training: Make sure each new staff member knows exactly what is required of them for the role. At this stage a person should shadow them so they can ask questions and be guided properly.
  • Ongoing training: Training should never be one and done – you should always schedule on-going training for staff so they can improve their current skills and also learn new skills

Use technology for a better employee experience

Technology is now embedded into the most successful restaurant businesses. The days of random spreadsheets, scheduling rosters and countless notebooks are over. 

Now, any restaurant company worth its salt runs its performance forecasting, inventory and workforce management on one seamless platform.

Having an easy to use app where employees can do their onboarding, day to day tasks, general admin and work communications will make their daily work experience way more streamlined and less time-consuming. 

As well as that use smarter scheduling to ensure you have the right number of staff on at the right time. 

By forecasting the busiest times during the week, you’re better able to bring staff in at the right times to maximise the quality of your service and give employees a reason to be there.

Offer a career path

The common theme that emerges from the example’s we’ve profiled is career development – it’s clearly important to todays worker.  

But where do you start? 

Take inspiration from the best in the business. 

Most major chains in the US offer a type of career development program. Here are some of the most well known. 

  • Shake Shack: The company have defined exactly what is required at each level of progression with its Shacksperience Steppin Up Model. It’s career development program is called Shift Up . It offers entry level managers the opportunity to to learn leadership and management skills. 
  • Chick-fil-A: The Jumpstart Experience is a 30 month program that helps train and develop people in key leadership positions. It offers hands on training and 1 on 1 coaching to help them on the path to succes in leadership positions,.
  • Chipotle: To give hourly staff a clear pathway to leadership, Chipotle developed the “Restaurateur” programme where staff can advance to a leadership position within three and a half years.

Finally – just be nice! 

Restaurants can be stressful environments and people can lose their temper at each other easily. 

This creates a negative environment which will eventually push staff out the door. 

That’s why it’s important to build a culture of respect, camaraderie and most importantly – fun! 

Celebrity chef and restauranteur Tom Kerridge says that the secret to high retention isn’t complicated. It’s about being nice and building a family like bond between everyone in the business.

Speaking on the Grilled podcast, he says aswell as offering competitive salaries and benefits and empowering people to make their own decisions, good staff retention is about being nice to people so they actually love coming to work – not dread it. 

According to him, this will also create a better atmosphere for your customers. And a better atmosphere will keep them coming back again and again

Wrapping up

Brexit and the pandemic were two seismic events that shook hospitality to its core in recent years.

Both have had consequences which can’t be taken lightly – and their impact on the labour market is especially critical. 

The market is highly competitive and the pool of talent is getting smaller. So you need to offer candidates a welcoming environment were they can develop both personally and professionally. 

This is the key to building the best team you can for your restaurant.