One of the major reasons employees churn so quickly in foodservice is an unclear communication surrounding job roles and company culture.

In the midst of the Great Resignation, every industry is scrambling to fill staffing shortages. Yet no industry has been impacted quite as hard as accommodation and foodservice. According to the Bureau of Labor Statistics, quit rates in this sector rose from 4.8% to 6.9% over the past year alone, more than any other industry, while hiring has remained stagnant.

There are countless reasons why foodservice is so acutely susceptible to labor shortages: long, oftentimes unpredictable hours, low pay in many cases, lack of benefits, and increased risk of COVID exposure representing just a tip of the iceberg. With prolonged government relief in the lockdown months early in the pandemic, many foodservice workers were afforded time and opportunity to explore different career paths. The result is an industry desperately attempting to reopen but unable to attract the workers needed to meet demand.

Hiring efforts for restaurants—particularly multi-location quick-service restaurants (quick-service restaurants)—need to adapt for a changing labor force. Short-term incentives are an essential first step, but to truly address and scale efforts for an unpredictable market, restaurants need to revamp and reprioritize their hiring systems, incorporating automation and adaptability to make the hiring experience simple for not only candidates, but hiring managers as well.

The Trouble with Focusing on Short-Term Incentives

Foodservice work is a highly competitive landscape. For most employees, there is little difference from one job to another; and often this means that an applicant looking at one location of a quick-service restaurant could just as easily take a similar position at a restaurant a few doors down. This competition is the driving force behind new hiring incentives many restaurants are adopting to address their labor shortages. Higher wages, signing bonuses, and other similar incentives are becoming the norm for restaurants looking to stand out from the pack.

While all of these incentives are important, and help address the needs many workers are facing, they’re short-term fixes. As wages rise across the industry, there will eventually be a parity where incentives are the same everywhere and restaurants will no longer be able to use higher pay as a distinguishing point.

These incentives also do little to address the core problem facing foodservice hiring efforts: employee retention. A new hire could be lured by higher pay, but once they have worked for weeks or months, they may find that the job doesn’t meet their expectations, and they move on. In order for restaurants to truly adapt to a changing market, they need to not only be able to hire at scale, but hire the right people at scale.

Small adjustments in the hiring process like realistic expectation setting for the position, communicating opportunities for growth, and transparency in hours and compensation are major first steps towards long-term employee retention. These efforts, however, are nothing without follow through. By approaching job postings and the hiring process with transparency and living up to the expectations set in the long-term, employers build a foundation of trust that can greatly contribute to retention efforts.

How Adopting New Hiring Systems Can Transform Long-Term Staffing Objectives

For how much quick-service restaurants have invested in making the customer experience as innovative and enjoyable as possible, very little has been done on the people and culture side. In order to create a hiring process that focuses on not only hiring, but retention as well, restaurants need to rethink their entire hiring infrastructure. New systems need to focus on three core principles: expectation setting, providing a frictionless experience, and velocity of hire.

One of the major reasons employees churn so quickly in foodservice is an unclear communication surrounding job roles and company culture. A worker may take a job, but after a few weeks may be dissatisfied with the position and move on because it was never made clear to them what they would be doing. In the application phase, employers need to give candidates realistic job previews to set expectations for their role. The hiring process should be a two-way street; not only do employers want the best candidates, but the candidates need to evaluate whether the role is the best fit for them.

The hiring experience needs to be as frictionless as possible. In current processes, a candidate may be interested in applying at a restaurant but face a number of bureaucratic hurdles that can dissuade them from continuing. For example, a candidate may go to the restaurant’s website, create a profile and fill out application materials; then, they are moved to an applicant tracking system (ATS) site where they need to also create a profile and fill out additional materials. This information may be time-consuming and redundant, and every step gives an applicant an opportunity to abandon the process.

By instituting a unified system that leverages automation and only asks minutes of a candidate’s time, employers can remove barriers to the process. The result is velocity. At a time when a major distinguishing point between two competing quick-service restaurants can be as simple as who a candidate can start working for immediately, a fast hiring process can make all the difference.

Lastly, with new tools in automation, these hiring systems can integrate evaluations designed to identify candidates with a likelihood for retention. Using smart tools can not only aid in volume hiring efforts, but can provide a more focused hiring process without the burden of recruitment placed on time-strapped restaurant managers. Instituting a unified system enables quick-service restaurants to scale their hiring efforts across multiple store locations based on need.

The labor shortage in restaurants is a multifaceted issue that doesn’t have one clear solution. By focusing on structural change in hiring systems themselves, however, quick-service restaurants are able to create the conditions for a frictionless, transparent candidate hiring experience that focuses on retention. Instituting new hiring systems that leverage automation enables hiring efforts to be easily scaled up and down depending on candidate demand, which is essential now more than ever given the unpredictability of the foodservice landscape.

Wesley Suitt is the Head of Client Success for the Americas Group at Harver, the leading volume hiring solution for hourly and professional roles.


Expert Takes, Feature, Labor & Employees