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WORKSPAN
WORKSPAN DAILY |

The Food Industry Sweetens the Pot to Attract Talent


andresr / iStock


The restaurant industry continues to struggle filling jobs in a tight, worker-friendly labor market.

 

Now, with COVID-related restrictions lifting and restaurants slowly returning to a semblance of normalcy, some in the sector are getting creative in an effort to attract and retain talent.

 

Take McDonald’s, for example. Individual franchisees operate most of the fast-food giant’s locations, making hiring decisions and offering perquisites independently of the corporation. McDonald’s franchise owners in Florida are currently offering candidates $50 cash just to come in for an interview, along with signing bonuses and referral programs. A McDonald’s location in Fayetteville is reportedly offering $500 signing bonuses to new employees.

 

San Antonio, Texas-based Whataburger is hiring for 50,000 positions, and is hosting free leadership conferences and adding benefits such as emergency pay and increased 401(k) matching.

 

Chipotle is looking to hire 20,000 team members to help staff the 200 new restaurants the fast casual food chain plans to open this year. To help the cause, the company made a pledge to raise its average wage to $15 an hour by June and is offering referral bonuses to employees who help bring in new talent — $200 for crew members and $750 for apprentices or general managers.

 

Meanwhile, Applebee’s is hopeful that the way to would-be hires’ hearts is through their stomachs. Seeking to hire 10,000 new employees, the chain hosted a national hiring day on May 17. Applebee’s offered every candidate who attended an in-person interview during the event a voucher for a free appetizer as part of its “Apps for Apps” program.

 

The shrinking pool of restaurant labor is not a new phenomenon and is not simply a result of economic conditions shaped by the coronavirus, said Myrna Hellerman, senior vice president at benefits and HR consulting firm Segal.

“Pundits like to blame the current labor shortage in the restaurant industry on the expanded pandemic-era unemployment benefits, saying, ‘they can make more money on unemployment,’” said Hellerman.

 

“That’s an oversimplification of the situation and perhaps a false assumption that money is the key motivator for this industry’s workers. … For decades, workers have been driven away from the restaurant industry because of the grueling, stressful, often thankless nature of both front-of-the-house jobs such as servers, hosts, bartenders and back-of-the-house jobs including chefs, sous chefs and line cooks.”

 

Layoffs precipitated by the pandemic have offered restaurant workers the chance to consider employment alternatives, Hellerman continued.

 

“Some have abandoned the industry altogether, while others are using the restaurant labor shortage to their advantage. Rather than return to their prior employers, back-of-the-house talent are seeking jobs in higher-level kitchens where they can master new skills, while front-of-the-house talent seeks restaurants with higher tip potential.”

 

Restaurant workers could indeed be on the verge of fleeing the industry in large numbers. One recent survey, for instance, found 53% of more than 4,300 food workers saying they are considering leaving their restaurant jobs. The largest percentage of respondents (76%) cited low wages and tips as the biggest reason why they’re thinking about a career change, followed by COVID-19 safety concerns (55%) and worries over hospitality and harassment from customers (39%).

 

The steps that companies like McDonald’s, Whataburger and others are taking in the midst of the pandemic are “creative quick fixes to marketing employment opportunities that attract talent,” said Hellerman.

 

The trend toward these types of perks “will likely continue and will likely be expanded upon, given the fierce competition for restaurant industry talent.”

 

The real battle, however, will be retaining that talent, she added. And that fight won’t be won with perks alone.

 

“Retention will be influenced by employers’ willingness to create a trusting culture where restaurant workers are treated respectfully and compensated competitively as restaurant professionals rather than as an easily replaceable commodity.”

 

The hospitality industry “is very addictive,” said Hellerman. “Employees are invigorated by the energy that comes from the teamwork, camaraderie and the satisfaction that results from delighting the guest or customer. There will be more limited talent shortages for those employers who create a reputation as offering a fair, equitable, trustworthy culture.”

 

About the Author

  Mark McGraw is the managing editor of Workspan. 


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