Much has changed since John Baldino entered the restaurant HR game 24 years ago.
“Back when it was still called personnel,” jokes Baldino, the director of human resources for New York–based LDV Hospitality, which claims 23 restaurants across five states, including such noteworthy spots as New York City’s Scarpetta and American Cut.
When needing to fill restaurant staff positions in those early days, Baldino relied almost exclusively on newspaper ads, word-of-mouth, and the obligatory sign in the window. Sometimes he received the right candidate at the right time; quite often, however, the weighty recruiting and hiring process consumed him.
“Turnover is a constant reality in our business,” Baldino says.
For hiring managers like Baldino, recruiting and hiring tasks are often time-consuming, frustrating endeavors. Employers might spend hours sifting through resumes to simply identify the best candidates—only to then have to schedule one-on-one meetings, interview the prospects, call references, and complete other important tasks to gauge a potential employee’s fit.
And, now, the challenges might only intensify.
According to the Bureau of Labor Statistics, job openings in the restaurants and accommodations sector rose to a six-year high earlier this year with an estimated 534,000 job openings at restaurants and lodging places as of January 31.
“While this upward trend is a positive indication that the economy continues to improve, it also likely signals a reemergence of traditional labor challenges for the restaurant industry,” National Restaurant Association (NRA) chief economist Bruce Grindy said in a March NRA statement.
Further validating this assessment, the NRA’s “Restaurant Industry 2014: Workforce Outlooks & Trends” report states that roughly four out of 10 restaurant operators expect recruiting and retaining employees to be more difficult for their business in 2014 compared with 2013. If turnover increases, so does the need to recruit and hire new staff—a time-intensive process that limits the restaurant’s ability to address other business areas.
While Craigslist has long been the recruiting and hiring default for many restaurant operators—and understandably so given its localized approach and ease of use—a number of online resources, such as Harri and Shiftgig, are emerging. These social media-like vehicles help operators navigate the process in a more modern way, an appealing prospect for restaurants looking to discover employees, particularly from the Gen Y set, in a more dynamic environment.
“Most people working in the hospitality industry are recruiting again and again, and typically focusing on employees under age 35, the vast majority of whom turn online for just about everything, including employment opportunities,” says David Kincheloe, head of Denver-based National Restaurant Consultants.
Hospitality industry veteran Luke Fryer, who launched Harri in April 2013, describes his platform as a two-sided process inspired by online dating. Employers can post a job and accept applications, and can also use the site’s intelligent data to proactively identify prospective candidates for an open position.
“We know how difficult it can be for restaurants to hire [the best candidates], and optimizing our platform can lend some help,” Fryer says, who compares Harri’s visual experience to LinkedIn.
A Harri user, Baldino appreciates that he can personally seek out candidates who possess the skill sets and experience he needs for a given position, as Harri enables categorization in searches such as position, type of establishment, and duration of employment.
“I like that I can jump right into the candidate pool and immediately reach out to those who fit the criteria we need,” Baldino says.
As of March, Fryer says more than 1,200 restaurants and 40,000 professionals are using Harri, the vast majority of those folks in New York City. In the coming months, however, Fryer looks to expand Harri’s geographic reach to other cities, namely Philadelphia, Washington, D.C., and Las Vegas.
Playing with a much larger pool, the veteran among the upstart hospitality-focused HR sites is 2-year-old Shiftgig, which currently claims 17,000 employers and 750,000 employees around the country use its platform.
Chicago-based Shiftgig provides free syndication of its job postings to more than 20 job websites and deploys the matching algorithms of an online dating site to identify the most suitable candidates in an employer’s search. In fact, employers receive a fit score for each applicant who applies for an open position as well as a more well-rounded candidate profile that includes basic resume details as well as photos, social media statistics, reviews, and ratings from peers and former employers.
This, however, is only the beginning: Shiftgig co-founder and CEO Eddie Lou expects Shiftgig’s candidate pool to reach 1 million people this summer, and the company will soon roll out Shiftgig’s mobile app.
“Since most restaurant owners and managers are extremely busy and not in front of their desktop … they will be able to post jobs, review candidates, and arrange interviews whenever and wherever they want [with the mobile app],” Lou says.
Fryer, too, looks to continually evolve Harri into a better HR tool for restaurants. His team is working on features such as assessment and digital onboarding.
“Our vision is to be a full suite of tools for restaurant operators to manage the employment relationship beyond just talent acquisition,” he says.
For HR folks like LDV’s Baldino, the continued emergence of these online tools and resources is a welcome development. “The ability to be more efficient and travel quickly through different spheres is incredibly attractive, given how cumbersome hiring can be,” he says.