Restaurants turn to parties and perks to recruit, retain employees

As the number of restaurants in the US continues to climb and unemployment levels decline, operators are turning to several tactics to attract and retain employees.

The restaurant and foodservice industry will provide 16.3 million jobs by 2027, an increase of 1.6 million positions from the estimated 14.7 million industry jobs in 2017, The National Restaurant Association predicted in its 2017 State of the Industry report. With so many positions available, job-seekers have a wealth of options and competition for staffers can be stiff.

“As a result of sustained economic growth and lower unemployment, restaurateurs are having to confront a shallower labor pool, and must find more ways to hire and retain the best candidates in the workforce,” said Hudson Riehle, the National Restaurant Association’s senior vice president of research.

To attract employees, restaurants are making efforts to stand out from the pack with unique recruiting strategies. Taco Bell tested hiring parties with free food where prospective employees could interview for jobs on the spot. San Francisco franchise operator Golden Gate Bell, which operates 80 Taco Bell locations started using software that sends text messages to potential hires with links to the company’s career page, Bloomberg Businessweek reported.

“The traditional way of trying to hire folks just isn’t working,” Tom Douglas, vice president for operations for Golden Gate Bell, told the publication. “We’re just trying to make ourselves a little bit different and stand out from the competitors.”

McDonald’s recently announced its partnership with writing platform Textio, aimed at improving its hiring process. The restaurant chain will use the platform to write more inclusive job posts and recruitment emails. “Textio’s innovative augmented writing platform will give us the insights to know, in real time, whether the language we are using is attracting the most qualified and diverse candidates we can,” McDonald’s Sr. Director of Global Talent Attraction Joshua Secrest said in a statement.

In addition to recruiting, retention is a key part of the restaurant workforce equation. The rate of turnover in the restaurant industry reached 72.1% in 2015, according to the Bureau of Labor Statistics’ Job Openings and Labor Turnover Survey.

To keep top talent on the payroll, eateries are expanding programs aimed at employee development, especially tuition assistance. More than a quarter (27%) of bar and restaurant employees are enrolled in school, compared to just 11% of the total US workforce, according to the US Census Bureau’s 2015 American Community Survey data.

Programs that help employees pay for school can encourage them to keep their restaurant job while enrolled. Many major restaurant brands including McDonald’s, Starbucks, Chick-fil-A, Chipotle and Taco Bell offer some form of tuition assistance.

In February, Papa John’s began a partnership with Purdue University Global to offer free tuition for corporate employees and subsidize school fees for employees of its franchisees. Taco Bell launched its Start With Us, Stay With Us platform in 2017 in an effort to get employees to remain with the company. The program includes its Live Más Scholarship and the Guild Education program.

“In Taco Bell’s partnership pilot with Guild Education, those who enrolled in a course, program or degree through Guild had a 98% retention rate over six months, a 34% increase over employees not enrolled,” a Taco Bell representative told Nation’s Restaurant News. “In addition to boosting retention, we hope these programs attract new talent to support our hiring goals.”

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