Given current challenges and the labor shortage, it's time to modernize the hiring experience.

As if the pandemic wasn’t enough of a wrench to throw in the gears of the restaurant industry, long-term staffing challenges continue to stunt recovery efforts. Even with jobs returning, the industry is still struggling to keep pace, needing to add nearly a million and a half workers in both kitchens and hospitality to reach pre-pandemic levels.

There are a number of factors contributing to the labor shortage, from increased government assistance compared to wages that haven’t kept pace with inflation, to enduring safety concerns post-COVID. Restaurants have been getting creative to attract talent, offering higher hourly wages, signing bonuses, and other solutions like weekly cash-outs for employees.

Addressing the labor shortage goes beyond simply getting a large quantity of applicants. It requires building a candidate experience that identifies the correct candidates while simultaneously getting them excited about the position and the company. In order to build back to pre-pandemic labor levels, particularly when it comes to larger restaurant chains that may see as many as 500,000 job applications per year, restaurants need to leverage cutting-edge technologies in automation, artificial intelligence, and machine learning.

By modernizing the hiring experience, restaurants are able to find the qualified candidates they need at scale, walking the tightrope of addressing immediate staffing needs and finding quality applicants to reduce employee churn and the collateral costs of retraining staff. With a more advanced hiring experience tech stack, brands are able to address their own needs while also enabling candidates to drive their own hiring experience.

The Importance of Quality and Quantity

Facing the reality of a staffing shortage can be daunting, and can lead restaurants to prioritize quantity of applicants as a metric for success. Even in large-scale hiring efforts, however, it can’t be understated how important finding the right candidate is. There are obvious up-front costs to hiring the wrong candidate: getting staff oriented, trained, and set up for success is a major investment compared to the efficiencies of long-term employees.

Outside of those up-front costs, there is additional value to hiring the right candidate. As an example, casual-dining restaurant Chili’s Grill & Bar began adding online assessments for their candidates in 2011. These assessments helped determine which server candidates would be most likely to offer a differentiated experience, drive sales, and encourage return visits.

Chili’s receives, on average, more than 500,000 applications per year and hires more than 15,000 candidates. After instituting assessments that target these key hospitality traits, Chili’s was able to increase sales per server by $.80 per hour, or roughly $850 per year. When extrapolated across all locations, this totaled more than $13.5 million in annual sales.

Building a Better Hiring Experience With AI

The traditional hiring experience is subject to the flaws and inefficiencies of the human element in decision making, especially when not supported by objective data. The reality of a hiring team responsible for evaluating 500,000 applicants is unrealistic. Qualified candidates may wind up on the bottom of a pile, candidates may go weeks without receiving feedback on their application, the inherent biases of a people team may favor a specific type of candidate, and more.

By leveraging automation within the hiring experience, brands are much better able to scale their hiring efforts while ensuring a positive candidate experience which can be paramount in preserving the employer brand. After all, in many cases, a candidate for a position may also be a customer. Having a negative interaction with a brand through their hiring process can be damaging over time; some 72 percent of candidates will tell others about a bad experience in the hiring process.

Inserting automation into the hiring experience automates the early stages of the process including pre-screening, initial interviews, and assessments. This scalable solution ensures that every candidate is evaluated fairly, reducing the risk of human bias.

Using Automation to Center the Candidate in the Hiring Experience

Because the process is automated, the hiring experience is able to be driven by the candidate. They determine when to take assessments and asynchronous interviews can be conducted on their timeline. What’s more, the use of automation means large stores of candidate data can be leveraged to provide individualized candidate feedback throughout the hiring process. Instead of a traditional hiring process where a candidate may not receive a simple “Thank you for applying” email, an automated hiring process guarantees that each candidate receives valuable feedback on their application at multiple points in the process. Brands can use specially focused assessments to determine which candidates are suited for leadership to aid in succession planning and broader employee retention strategies.

Within an automated hiring platform, candidates are offered a brand-driven experience that builds excitement around the company, and helps the candidate determine if it’s the right fit for them. At the end of the process, even if a candidate doesn’t get the position, brands can even provide candidates discounts or other offers to the restaurant. This helps preserve a positive relationship for future employment opportunities, thereby bolstering their employer brand.

Though there is no silver bullet to solving the staffing shortages currently impacting the restaurant industry, by implementing modern hiring tools in automation and AI, employers are able to scale their hiring efforts while providing a candidate-driven experience that offers value at every stage of the process.

Zack Birkelbach is responsible for leading Outmatch’s Client Success organization with a focus on providing world-class service to each of its clients. In this role, Zack works with clients to understand their business challenges and help create solutions that are going to drive their business goals through building relationships and demonstrating ROI. Zack has 15 years of experience in SaaS organizations and he previously served as Director of Customer Success for Infor leading the Human Capital Management team.

Casual Dining, Chain Restaurants, Expert Takes, Feature, Chili’s Grill & Bar