How HR experts encourage pizzerias to approach hiring
The hand-printed sign in the window of Dino’s Pizza in Chicago speaks volumes about current troubles testing the restaurant industry.
An establishment dazzling patrons on the city’s Northwest Side for more than five decades, Dino’s rich legacy and familial atmosphere have long attracted job applicants. These days, though, it’s not enough.
“Experienced Help Needed. Apply Inside,” the sign reads, followed by a list of four in-demand positions: servers, cooks, pizza maker and bartenders.
Dino’s, of course, isn’t alone, as pizzerias across the U.S. continue seeking workers.
For independents and chains alike, a massive and ongoing labor shortage has proven a significant hurdle to operational stability in the post-COVID age – and reason for critical reflection, creativity and calculated investment.
Past, present and future
Amid pandemic-forced shutdowns, restaurant layoffs and resignations reigned – and the industry has struggled getting workers back ever since.
To corral employees, many operators initially responded by boosting pay. From September 2020 to September 2021, the average hourly earnings for employees in the leisure and hospitality sector jumped 13 percent from $14.80 to $16.71, according to the U.S. Bureau of Labor Statistics.
The pay increases, however, have not been strong enough to fill the ranks and deliver stability. While U.S. restaurants saw steady hiring gains throughout the first half of 2021, the momentum stalled by later summer with the nation’s restaurant workforce down about 900,000 from pre-pandemic levels, the National Restaurant Association (NRA) reports.
Over the second half of 2021, restaurants turned – reluctantly, in many cases – to various interventions designed to attack the continued labor shortage. Some leaned more heavily into technology and automation, altered operating hours, closed dining rooms, trimmed menus or supercharged benefits packages to include perks like transportation assistance, paid time off and retention bonuses. Others unveiled referral bonuses to use staff as a recruitment army, touted growth opportunities and offered sign-on bonuses – anything and everything to attract applicants.
And still, the labor pains persisted. In a September 2021 survey conducted by the NRA, four out of five full-service operators reported they did not have enough employees to meet customer demand.
In the near term, many industry analysts expect labor shortages to continue frustrating restaurant owners, 75 percent of whom told the NRA that recruiting and retaining staff is their top challenge – a remarkable statistic given the other hurdles confronting the industry. It is an undeniably trying issue. So, what are HR experts suggesting operators do to grab new employees?
Prioritize health and safety. Set and adhere to safety protocols, says Jennifer Chang, a knowledge advisor with the Society for Human Resource Management (SHRM). She suggests restaurants provide personal protective equipment (PPE) to staff and include paid sick leave in their benefits package to alleviate the pressure sick employees feel to report to work. The pandemic awakened heightened attention to health and safety and individuals are prioritizing employers who value their health.
“Especially in this climate, demonstrating a willingness to take care of your staff and treat them well matters,” Chang says.
Leverage technology to move fast. On the revenue front, many restaurants have adopted technology to capture orders, reservations and drive repeat visits. Technology can also be employed to bolster hiring. Landed, for instance, uses artificial intelligence to automate the hiring process and eliminate rote tasks that prolong or complicate the hiring process.
“Given the competition, you have to act fast,” Landed CEO Vivian Wang says. “Within 24 to 36 hours after initial candidate interest, you need to be interviewing them.”
Wang urges restaurants to use SMS text, not e-mail, for outreach since texting is faster and spurs a higher response rate. She also suggests restaurants adapt to a “digital-first environment,” including using familiar platforms such as FaceTime or Google Meet to conduct virtual interviews that require less coordination and planning.
“Then, you can utilize the in-person time to sell the candidate on your business since many candidates today are job shopping, not job hunting,” Wang says.
Cast a wide net. While traditional talent acquisition strategies – digital platforms like Indeed, Monster and Craigslist as well as the simple “Help Wanted” window sign – retain their merits, restaurants must attract candidates in other ways. This might include using social media websites like Instagram or TikTok to brand the restaurant as a fun place to work, partnering with a local culinary institute or technical school to provide apprenticeship opportunities or teaming with nonprofit organizations that help veterans or formerly incarcerated individuals transition into the workforce.
“There are groups of people easily overlooked you might turn to here,” Chang says.
Involve everyone in solutions. So often, Wang says, a corporate office or owner pushes the hiring responsibility directly onto store-level leadership. Yet, that group is already taxed and understaffed, scrambling to fill holes created by worker shortages and extinguishing operational fires.
“Why ask them to do more?” Wang wonders.
Rather than pushing it down, she encourages operators to “provide support and make investments in something that’s sustainable,” such as involving current staff in recruiting by investing in referral bonuses. A recent SHRM study found nearly 60 percent of businesses are using referral bonuses to attract job applicants to their most difficult-to-fill positions.
“And often, like attracts like, so you’re going to get individuals on par with your current employees,” Chang says.
Thinking beyond pay. In a tight labor market, competitive pay is necessary to attract talent, but it takes more than that now. Health benefits, even for part-time employees, are becoming more commonplace, while additional perks ranging from free meals to educational supports – one Arkansas restaurant group has given student workers a paid hour to do their homework – can also lure candidates. Even daily pay options powered by mobile apps like Tapcheck can drive applicants. Detailing mentorship, training and advancement opportunities can prove appealing as well.
“Treating your employees well and being a flexible, inclusive and engaged workplace where employees feel valued is so important,” Chang says. “It’s so easy to go to traditional solutions like higher pay, but it’s important to focus on your company culture as well.”
Daniel P. Smith Chicago-based writer has covered business issues and best practices for a variety of trade publications, newspapers, and magazines.