8 standout staffing ideas

labor feature

Anyone out there have too many applicants for too few open jobs? Anyone? Experts say foodservice staffing hasn’t been this difficult in at least two decades.

But noncommercial operators know the situation has slowly festered into a full-fledged crisis. Consider this gem from the labor news ticker: Restaurants will need to pay an average of 33% more for temporary help if they hope to staff up for this year’s holidays, according to Snag, the job-placement service. And 86% of them will still have a tough time finding candidates.

Still, not every foodservice operator is opting for robots or trained otters. Necessity has birthed a slew of new ideas for attracting and keeping employees. Here are eight that caught our fancy.

Illustration by Adam Hayes

1. Playing games with prospects

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Free food has been a lure for prospective restaurant hires since the industry’s earliest days, and is still touted by such employers as In-N-Out. Now another sort of giveaway is catching hold, an opportunity for employees to try the entertainment that guests pay to enjoy. Restaurant-arcade hybrids such as Topgolf, Dave & Buster’s and Main Event are giving job candidates and employees access to their computer-based games in hopes of getting more young people into crew uniforms.

Illustration by Adam Hayes

2. Finding opportunity in others’ failures

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When Taylor Gourmet abruptly shut all 19 of its restaurants because the sandwich shops weren’t covering costs, a lifesaver was tossed to the employees who were put out of work. Cava, another fast-casual chain based in Taylor’s hometown of Washington, D.C., announced that it would hold a job fair four days after the mass layoffs for the displaced workers. The publicity prompted another local concept, Bub and Pop’s, to come forward and say it was hiring. Three other fast-casual employers would quickly do the same.

Illustration: Shutterstock

3. Doing right by moms

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Heads were turned by the benefits package Noodles & Co. announced in mid-September. In addition to providing six weeks of paid leave to new moms, the fast-casual chain intends as of Jan. 1 to let pregnant employees scale back their work time to 80% of a regular schedule for the four weeks leading up to a due date, while still collecting 100% of their usual pay. The same break is extended for the four weeks following the birth.

Illustration by Adam Hayes

4. Wordsmithing help wanted ads

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Kory Samuels, executive director of dining services at Rochester Institute of Technology in upstate New York, runs an operation that feeds 15,500 students and 3,500 staff daily. To fill kitchen positions, he no longer advertises for a production cook or production coordinator; he now recruits with more user-friendly and appealing keywords. “We found that on sites such as Indeed, the term ‘production cook’ dropped the ad way down to the bottom, but when we used the word ‘cook’ or ‘line cook,’ more applicants responded and they had better talent,” he says.

Illustration: Shutterstock

5. Tech to improve employee experience

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KFC is testing a series of employee-facing BOH technological innovations, including voice technology and QR codes to improve training and job satisfaction. “It’s becoming table stakes as you’re dealing with millennials,” says Ryan Ostrom, KFC’s chief digital officer. The company is conducting three tests of employee-facing technology. One is a voice-activated training program at restaurants in the U.S. and Australia. Employees can ask questions and watch videos while they perform tasks, even messy ones that require gloves, such as hand-breading chicken.

Illustration by Adam Hayes

6. Benefiting bottom lines

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Average household credit card debt is approximately $5,000, with the median debt at more than $16,000, according to Nasdaq. Harvard Dining Services partnered with Working Credit NFP, a not-for-profit credit-building company based in Chicago, to present a program that teaches employees how to manage their debts. Since it launched at Harvard, 112 dining services workers have joined the program, 73% of whom remained engaged for 18 months. At the 18-month mark, 67% of participants had increased their FICO scores and 57% had a prime score (up from 41%).

Illustration: Shutterstock

7. Coverage for Fido

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Kimpton Hotels & Restaurants offers pet insurance. Knowing many employees consider their pet a part of the family, the company decided coverage (through a private company) for unexpected veterinary expenses provides an appreciated financial safety net. Pet bereavement leave is also offered to Kimpton staff.

Illustration: Shutterstock

8. Rethinking a standard schedule

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Though identifying the right people for a job is tough in today’s market, the real challenge is retaining those folks once you do find them, Marge Kipe, director of nutrition services at Reading Hospital in Reading, Pa., told attendees of this year’s Association for Healthcare Foodservice national conference. To address some of those concerns, her team contracted with a company to redo staff scheduling (employees now work 40 hours in four 10-hour days, resulting in an extra day off). They also considered salaries across businesses competing for her team’s foodservice workers—not necessarily looking at hospitals, but companies like Walmart—and made adjustments.

Illustration by Adam Hayes

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