Not Enough Cooks in the Kitchen: Recruitment Challenges for Back of House

In an industry associated with fierce competition and high employee turnover, restaurant owners and operators face the ever growing challenge of how to attract and retain top talent.

As the economy continues to improve and commodity costs decline, the restaurant industry is enjoying rising profits. For 2016, the National Restaurant Association is projecting record food service sales of $782.7 billion. That’s a 5 percent increase over the $745.6 billion in sales for 2015. In the next decade, restaurants will add 1.7 million new positions. This expansion comes with a downside, however, as the demand for quality employees continues to grow.

According to a study by the National Restaurant Association, more than one in four restaurant operators say they have difficult-to-fill job openings, and their biggest challenge is finding applicants for back-of-the-house. Part of the problem may be that owners and operators are fishing in a shallower labor pool, so openings take longer to fill.

Additionally, the changing demographic composition of the labor force means that employers may need to rethink the hiring process. Teens now represent a smaller portion of the labor pool, and there is a greater proportion of older workers looking for career opportunities, as opposed to transient positions. Appealing to older, career-minded workers can help fill positions sooner, and combat notoriously high turnover rates.

It’s no secret that turnover is a constant challenge for hiring managers, especially in the restaurant industry. In 2015, the turnover rate for the restaurant segment rose to 72.1 percent, up from 66.7 percent in 2014, according to data from the Bureau of Labor Statistics’ Job Openings and Labor Turnover (JOLTS) program.

When the economy is doing well and employees are confident that more restaurants are hiring, they’re more willing to move to another job. Confidence in the labor market translates to more competition for experienced workers, both with other restaurants and in other industries.

High turnover can end up costing your business in a big way, which is why we’ve compiled a list of four tips to help you find – and keep – top talent.

1. Find the right fit. Hiring the right people from the start is the single best way to reduce employee turnover. Often, restaurant operators are so keen to fill a position quickly that they can’t spend as much time vetting whether a potential candidate is the best fit for the job. Focusing on finding candidates who fit with the company culture, and providing a clear job description upfront, are two ways to zero in on potential hires that will stay with you longer.

2. Nurture new hires. Starting your employees off on the right foot can go a long way toward ensuring they’re in it for the long haul. Have a planned training period to show new hires that their success is important to the company. Get them familiar with how your restaurant works and how they’ll be trained. Be sure they are given a job description, training manual and policy handbook, if applicable. You want to make sure they receive adequate training to feel confident in their position. 

3. Provide competitive benefits. Offering your employee competitive wages can be a good tactic to keep them around. Still, beyond base pay increases, there are several ways you can compensate your employees to help boost retention. Providing shift meals for employees is a nice perk, and offers the owner or manager an opportunity to connect with employees. Offering rewards to managers for low turnover is a great way to incentivize management and lower attrition rates. Finally, you can offer traditional benefits, such as insurance or regular pay increases for longtime staff, which can go a long way in keeping experienced employees.

4. Offer opportunities for growth. Not all employees leave their position for a better salary or specific benefits. Often, employees leave when they have reached a cap in their career advancement or training. Whether it’s the opportunity to move up in the management structure or the opportunity to learn new culinary techniques, give employees a way to further their career, and they’ll be more likely to stay.