Carroll notes hiring efforts aren’t restricted to one specific geographic area. Applebee’s is aiming to cover its bases in all 1,600 franchised and company-owned units.
“As sales have picked up, and as local mandates are lifted and restaurants are able to open back up to 50, 75, 100 percent capacity, we found the need to get more team members everywhere,” Carroll says. “So I would say it is a systemwide push that we're making to get team members. It's really to meet the demand more than it is the fact that we found ourselves in a staffing crunch.”
Many operators have pointed toward the weekly $300 unemployment boost from the federal government as the reason why labor is so hard to come by. The issue has become so large that President Joe Biden announced unemployed workers must accept suitable job offers or lose unemployment benefits. Additionally, at least 16 states have decided to end benefits as early as June 12 and as late as July 10 even though the enhanced benefits don’t expire until September 6.
Earlier in May, Peyton described the labor shortage as a “point in time where the labor market is sorting itself out.” He estimated that it will take three to six months to reach steadier trends. Carroll says some may still be hesitant to return because of health and safety reasons. That’s why Applebee’s pitch to potential employees will not only include the lure of benefits, but also a host of ways restaurants have enforced COVID precautions, like creating a “sanitation specialist position,” removing condiments from tables, and utilizing digital menus.
“Our ability to deliver a great safe environment for a new team member is what we look forward to sharing with folks when they come,” Carroll says. “ … I think having a safe place to work is what people are looking for right now and I think we can provide that for them as is evidenced by the amount of team members that we have now.”
Carroll acknowledges the labor shortage has pressured the supply chain. He says, “You can't turn on the news without hearing about truck driver shortages or shortages with chicken and some other items.” The good news, however, is that Applebee’s has a solid partnership with the supply chain purchasing co-op that franchisees use. So even as demand has risen, the brand hasn’t run out of food in any location, and the COO is confident that will continue.
To improve labor efficiency inside restaurants, Applebee’s partnered with FlyBuy, a curbside pickup solution that helps restaurants identify when customers arrive. The new technology has improved speed of service anywhere from three to five minutes. Also, dine-in guests are able to pay by phone and workers in busy restaurants are using handheld tablets to wait more tables and earn more money.
Because of those initiatives, Applebee’s guest satisfaction scores are as high as they’ve ever been. The 10,000 hiring surge intends to keep it that way, Carroll says.
“If we had to fill up every seat in the dining room tonight, it might be a challenge, which is part of the reason, obviously we're going out to try to get ahead of that because we do know some governors will be opening their states and have started to do so,” Carroll says. “So we want to make sure that we're prepared for that. But to this point, we've been very excited about the guest satisfaction scores that we've been receiving in regards to affordability to food to service. We've been able to hold our own. We're happy about that.”
“ … My belief is that with the benefits that we offer and the fun environment we have, when they get in and they realize they can work with their friends and neighbors, they’ll have no reason they want to leave,” he continues. “The short answer would be, I hope it's all over Monday for us. And we'll keep hiring obviously every day. But this additional surge of team members to help our franchisees and get our restaurant staffed I think is really going to make a huge difference for us.”