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SmartSummit: The role of technology in restaurant recruitment and retention

Three experts from the restaurant industry spoke about the role technology tools can play in recruiting and retaining employees during SmartBrief’s SmartSummit, “The role of technology in restaurant recruitment and retention."

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SmartSummit: The role of technology in restaurant recruitment and retention

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Many restaurants have faced staffing shortages during the pandemic, whether they are trying to staff back up after layoffs forced by pandemic shutdowns or seeking to replace staffers who left the industry amid the Great Resignation. As of April 2022, restaurants and bars were still 6.4% below their pre-pandemic employment levels – which the Bureau of Labor Statistics has called the  industry’s most severe labor shortage on record.

Three experts from the industry spoke about the role technology tools can play in restaurant recruitment and retention during SmartBrief’s July 21 SmartSummit webinar, “The role of technology in restaurant recruitment and retention” – sponsored by HourWork.

Staffing shortages require new solutions

Nine in 10 operators said being understaffed is having a significant or moderate impact on their restaurant’s ability to grow and succeed, according to the National Restaurant Association’s 2022 State of the Restaurant Industry report

The need to hire and retain staffers has driven restaurant operators to try new methods for recruitment and management – appealing to prospective employees in new ways and shaking up staffing models.

For Bartaco, paying employees weekly and promoting its higher pay rates – which fall between $19-30 an hour, including tips – has helped the 22-unit chain increase staffing levels to about 95%, according to Director of Talent Acquisition Jamie Starner, who noted that the restaurant receives about 30,000 applications a month.

Washington, D.C.-based restaurant group Destination Unknown Restaurants has also seen success with a new staffing model that gives full-time front-of-house employees a yearly salary, while back-of-house employees get competitive hourly pay.

 “We need to make our restaurants places where people want to come back to work,” said Kelly Phillips, co-founder and hospitality director for Destination Unknown.

“That has worked out well for us…Most of our restaurants are fully staffed at this point,” Phillips said.

Building a tech toolbox for restaurant recruitment and retention

While pay and benefits are certainly key to attracting and retaining employees, panelists also underscored the importance of tech tools that make it easier to connect with prospective employees and improve employees’ experience once they come on board.

About three-quarters of webinar attendees who responded to a live poll said they have invested in recruitment and/or retention technology solutions in the past two years. More than half of respondents (55.6%) said those investments have made a difference, while 22.2% said they haven’t seen a difference yet.

One tool that is simple to implement and has made a difference for many restaurants is QR codes. Many eateries turned to QR codes early in the pandemic to allow customers to order and pay from their mobile devices, but the codes can also help restaurants connect with potential new hires.

PJW Restaurant Group, which owns and operates 26 restaurants across six brands in Pennsylvania and New Jersey, uses QR codes on flyers and social media postings to connect applicants with the company’s career site.

“You don’t need a lot of bells and whistles in your technology to be able to set that up,” said Jen McGonigle, director of people and talent development for PJW, who is also chairperson of the National Restaurant Association’s HR, Safety & Risk Executive Study Group.

Bartaco, which offers QR code ordering and payment for diners, also added QR codes that connect to its career site to all of its recruiting materials, including business cards. 

Simplifying dining room operations with QR codes has also allowed Bartaco to expand its recruiting pool beyond applicants with restaurant experience to include people with retail or customer service backgrounds.

“We’re able to broaden that pool and really look at the soft skills that will enable them to come in and throw a party with us,” said Starner, who is also the founder and president of the Restaurant Recruitment Roundtable.

Using tech tools to offer staffers a simpler and more streamlined work experience – from seeing their schedule to waiting on customers – can create an environment that makes them feel valued and supported. 

“We’re using the latest technology so that’s really eliminated a lot of headaches, so it’s an easy restaurant for them to work in,” said Phillips, who cited Destination Unknown’s use of the Toast POS system for tableside payments. “It all comes down to making sure our team is happy, and technology is playing a really big role in that.”

When considering tech tools to add to the mix, McGonigle cautioned that new solutions shouldn’t be overly complicated. “It’s really easy to get caught up in the technology and it can be overwhelming when you’re trying to train people and teach some new aspect that they’re going to be incorporating into their day-to-day life. So I always look at that and what the user experience is going to be like,” she said.

Retention requires catering to employees’ needs 

To keep pace with the projected growth of the restaurant industry, operators will need to consider how technology factors into creating a company culture that aligns with what matters most to workers.

McGonigle said PJW tries to poll employees as frequently as possible to get insights into what matters most to them. “We’ve been reevaluating our benefits package and seeing how we can offer more based on what we’re hearing,” she said, noting that work-life balance, flexible hours and access to schedules are all top-of-mind for staffers.

Phillips pointed out that tech tools can help managers reduce the amount of time they spend on scheduling, payroll and inventory so they can spend more time working directly with their team members. “Management matters,” she said. “A lot of people stay and go because of a manager.” 

Bartaco offers mentorship opportunities for employees, as well as dining discounts and flexible schedules that allow for at least two days off each week. “We’re just trying to stay really nimble and open minded when it comes to the needs of our employees and how do we retain them, which is important because people can leave and go get a job next door,” Starner said. “Taking care of your employees is as important as hiring them…it’s the whole employee life cycle.”

To watch the event in its entirety and hear more insights about restaurant recruitment and retention from Starner, Phillips and McGonigle, access the SmartSummit on demand.

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