In September, the addition of 61,000 restaurant jobs meant U.S. restaurant employment reached pre-pandemic levels for the first time in over three years. The gains in restaurant and bar employment were nearly double the average of 37,000 jobs added monthly throughout the past year. Of course, this comes as welcome news for many restaurant operators that have been struggling with the labor stresses of the past few years – and it provides some reasons for optimism about the potential for ongoing recovery in the sector.
But it’s also a good time to pause and take steps to help keep – and even build upon – these long-awaited gains. Labor attraction and retention is a perennial challenge in the sector. Restaurant operators have an opportunity right now to strengthen their culture in ways that help retain talent. Fine-tune your methods of communicating with employees – and for your team to share concerns or other input with you in ways that don’t feel intimidating. Survey them regularly to collect their feedback on what is going well and what support they need. Whenever you use their input to select a new employee benefit or adjust procedures or training practices, make sure they know you’re responding to their concerns.
Give them some flexibility and autonomy. Allow them to schedule their shifts far in advance – ideally with an automated system they can access themselves – so they can balance work with other responsibilities and avoid burnout. Adapt training to accommodate different learning needs and native languages.
Of course, the compensation you offer is important in getting people to apply for jobs at your restaurant – but it may not be enough to make them stay. Where possible, offer retention bonuses once they have been with you for a certain period of time and referral bonuses when they recommend new hires who stick around. If you offer rewards for performance, take cues from your loyalty program and allow people to choose the reward that best suits their personal tastes. And don’t neglect nonmonetary benefits that can make people feel more connected to the larger team – personal thank-you notes, team meals and mentoring opportunities can help improve engagement too.