Here are five ways operator can entice workers amid today's labor shortage.

While the COVID-19 pandemic seems to be finally coming to an end, challenges remain for restaurant owners. As restrictions lift and business resurges, many restaurants are finding it difficult to attract workers again. The industry now faces a hiring crisis, hindering its ability to keep up with swelling demand.

Roughly 40 percent of U.S. restaurants now say they’re understaffed, often needing to fill around a dozen positions. Workers laid off during the pandemic seem unwilling to come back under the same conditions they left.

While this restaurant hiring shortage is troubling, it’s not a problem without an answer. Here are five ways restaurant owners can entice workers to apply.

1. Offer Competitive Pay and Perks

Many people have pointed to high unemployment insurance and stimulus checks as the source of this issue. While the hiring crisis goes beyond finances, economic incentives are a substantial part of it. If workers can make a similar amount of money from unemployment benefits, they have little incentive to go back to work.

The most straightforward solution to this problem is to raise employee wages and provide more benefits. After such widespread economic pressure, many workers are likely holding out until someone offers them what they need to pay the bills. While this strategy may seem costly at first, competitive pay can also decrease turnover, reducing long-term costs.

Perks like retention bonuses or tuition coverage will also encourage workers to apply. These give potential employees an extra incentive that they can’t find in government support.

2. Enable Flexible Hours

While many people want a reliable source of income, pay isn’t their only consideration. Workers will also look for a job that can work with their schedule, especially after such a tumultuous year. Consequently, offering flexible hours can entice people to apply.

More than 80 percent of hourly workers are willing to work multiple jobs to get the hours they need. Restaurant owners can help these employees by being flexible with their scheduling, enabling them to balance multiple jobs sustainably. This flexibility is especially crucial for people with family members they need to care for.

As the gig economy grows increasingly popular, more workers will value flexibility. It may make scheduling more challenging, but if it attracts more workers, that’s less of an issue.

3. Use Referral Programs

Many restaurant hiring efforts rely on job sites like Indeed or mass hiring events. While these are certainly valuable, businesses should go beyond these methods, too. Referral programs are one of the best ways to reach potential workers that may not otherwise apply for a position.

Offering cash incentives for successful referrals entices workers to help expand hiring efforts. These employees may also find applicants who weren’t actively looking for a position or wouldn’t have considered the establishment otherwise. Many restaurants find that workers recruited from referrals are often more productive.

Hiring out of referral programs ensures that new employees already know at least one co-worker. This familiarity can help them adapt quickly and promote a positive work environment. As a result, these hires can be some of a restaurant’s most successful.

4. Foster a Positive Workplace Culture

Many workers may not be eager to return to restaurants because of negative workplace culture. Restaurant owners can combat this and mitigate the hiring crisis by making an effort to promote positivity. One of the most critical parts of this endeavor is fostering empathy within the workplace.

A 2020 survey found that 75 percent of all employees will choose an employer with a strong culture of empathy over one with higher pay. Similarly, 83 percent would consider leaving their current position for one in a more empathetic organization. Restaurant owners should listen to their employees, be flexible and encourage open communication to foster these workplace cultures.

Restaurants’ actions must reflect what they say about their workplace environment. If they say they value empathy and positivity but don’t offer flexible scheduling or listen to employee complaints, it will drive workers away. By contrast, taking these steps to promote positivity can attract people who are tired of negativity in other workplaces.

5. Streamline the Application Process

Restaurant owners should try to make the application process as painless as possible. If it takes too long to apply or the form is too complicated, people may abandon it. Making things easier is more attractive to potential applicants.

Restaurants should also try to respond to applicants earlier. According to hiring website Glassdoor, it takes 10 to 14 days on average for people to hear back about a position. Long waiting periods can drive potential employees away, while a history of quick responses encourages others to apply.

Part of streamlining job applications today is ensuring the process is mobile-friendly. If people can apply from their phones, it’s far more convenient for them, so they’ll be more likely to do so.

Restaurant Staffing Will Have to Adapt

It’s become evident that old restaurant hiring methods are no longer adequate. They must adapt to a changing workforce amid the ongoing hiring crisis. Often, this means offering higher pay and more benefits, promoting a positive work environment, and modernizing application processes.

When restaurant owners embrace these methods, they’ll see positive results. More applicants will come, and they’ll likely stay longer and be more productive.

Emily Newton is the editor-in-chief of Revolutionized Magazine. She has over three years experience writing for the food and beverage industry.

Expert Takes, Feature, Labor & Employees