Tips for Hiring in a Tight Labor Market

Posted by Molly Riordan on Thu, 9/10/2015

Restaurants, especially independents, have been feeling a growing sense of relief as the economy slowly inches back to pre-recession conditions. More people are eating out, and spending more per meal than at any time since 2008. July 2015 saw the fourth straight month of sales growth, although operators aren’t convinced that’s going to continue, according to the latest Restaurant Performance Index from the National Restaurant Association.

Some of this unease is stemming from a tightening labor market. As the economy improves and the unemployment rate declines there is a smaller pool of applicants, competing for more open positions. Ironic isn’t it, that the same engine that is loosening wallets and bringing back diners is also creating a shortage of workers?

If you live in areas with low unemployment, like UT or CT, you’ve been dealing with this for a while now. No one is answering your ads! You put them on craigslist, you advertise in the paper, you have an online hiring system that is shooting out your openings all over the web. And very few people are responding.

So what do you do? How do you compete in a tightening labor market?

  1. Don’t forget to focus on your current employees. Obviously, you need the staff you currently have to stay put. According to a recent survey by SABA, a talent management tech company, at least one third of workers are considering leaving their current jobs, and this statistic would be much higher if it focused only on restaurant employees.  What would you do if three out of every nine employees you have suddenly walked? You need to show them, every day, that they are appreciated, necessary, and reward their loyalty. Even if it’s not necessarily through a bigger paycheck, you can reward them with flexible and preferred scheduling, recognition of their work through praise or small rewards, and a clear and attainable goal for advancing their careers.
  2. Along with that, implement an employee referral program. Your employees will tell their friends and families about any job openings you have, and you should reward them for bringing in new hires. Of course, if you aren’t doing #1 they will warn people against working for you, so take care of that first. But, if you give them incentives for bringing in new hires, possibly with retention tiers for those who stay longer, you’re sure to have them begging their responsible and reliable friends and family to come work for you! Don’t think you can afford it? Poached Jobs, an online staffing solution for the food industry, estimates that turnover costs are close to (or more than) $12,000 annually per location. So giving out a bonus of even $500 can be a bargain, if you gain a few employees who will stick around more than a year.
  3. Leverage your customers! Hang up banners, have your staff hand out hiring cards at each table or with each meal, and blast your social media and loyalty program lists. People who eat at your restaurant have lots of friends and family, and some of them probably are looking for a job. Nothing beats helping a friend find work, so they will be happy to pass along the word. If you are running any advertising for your restaurant throw in a line about your current job openings.
  4. Make it super easy to apply. Have your application always ready; whether it’s a paper app or online, it needs to be available. Most importantly, everyone in your restaurant should know how a potential hire can get started. If you hire online make sure the application is scaled to the job that you are filling. If you are hiring a crew member, cashier, dishwasher, or other position that doesn’t require a lot of experience make sure your application reflects that. No one wants to have to answer a ton of questions, take personality assessments, or spend ridiculous amounts of time applying for a job that, being brutally frank, doesn’t show a huge return on that time investment. It should take your average crew member around 10 minutes to complete your application. You need the basics: name, age, eligibility to work, and when they are available. You don’t really need to know their last 10 years work history, where they went to high school, and you really don’t need to ask them to complete an essay on why they are the right person for the job. You need them to tell you what shifts they can work, and when they can start. For management and other higher level positions you do need more information, but you still don’t want to go crazy. That’s what the interviews are for!
  5. Don’t take 10 years to hire. Every single applicant deserves an answer, quickly. You need to tell them “yes”, “no” or “maybe”, and you need to do it right away. That is just common decency. You need to have a streamlined and efficient way to get the applications, review them, schedule interviews and hire and reject. Online systems, like WyckWyre, can help you do this in an easy way, with oversight for multiple location organizations and instant communication with your candidates through emails or text messages.  Once you’ve picked your preferred applicant you need to get them in the door as quickly as possible. You don’t want to give them time to hear from other jobs, and believe me, they have multiple applications in the works. Be ready to hire at a moment’s notice. Have your onboarding and training geared up and ready to go. And make sure it’s a smooth process. Don’t give them reason to doubt their wisdom in accepting your offer.  
  6. Finally, don’t stop recruiting. Keep the applications that you’ve received handy. If you had to make a tough choice between a few great candidates keep the ones you couldn’t hire in your back pocket. You may need them down the line. Keep a steady flow of interested people by continuously posting your higher turnover positions. It takes on average 28 days from posting a job opening to the first day of work for the new hire, and having a pool of applicants on hand can help shorten that. 

The days of having tons of applicants to choose from are over, and it's possible that it will only get worse if the unemployment rate continues to drop. While WyckWyre can't promise to solve all of your hiring problems, it can be a useful tool to help you develop a complete and effective hiring process. Contact us for more information.