Restaurant employees looking stressed

How to Retain and Attract Restaurant Employees in a Hiring Crisis

Jan 26, 2022 10:45:59 AM

Training & learning | Restaurants | Employee engagement

It’s a tough time for restaurant owners when it comes to hiring. In November 2021 alone, 4.5 million Americans quit their jobs. 1 million of them were restaurant and hotel employees. It's now 2022 and the restaurant industry’s labor shortage shows no signs of slowing down, with chains as iconic as Starbucks and McDonald's cutting store opening hours due to a limited workforce.

Reports suggest that more than one in ten restaurant employees in the UK have left the industry since the start of the pandemic. Victor Fernandez, VP of insights and knowledge for the researcher Black Box Intelligence explains that as Covid created labor shortages in other industries, such as essential retail and logistics, “the industry lost jobs to the industries that were hiring”.

The problem also stems from displacement in skills. Restaurants are finding it particularly tough to find back of house staff, yet FOH roles receive 3.3 times the number of applicants and interest than BOH roles do on Landed, despite BOH being where most of the jobs are. Without BOH workers carrying out food prep, cooking, and washing dishes, it’s impossible for a restaurant to function.

Relatively high turnover is normal for restaurants compared to other industries. Many employees are young, part-time workers fitting shifts in around studies or another job and often don’t plan to work in the industry long-term. However, times are particularly testing and the industry is facing a hiring crisis where many businesses can’t hold onto enough employees to be able to run their business.

Chefs and servers curate the way that restaurant guests experience the restaurant, guiding them to their tables, attending to their needs, creating their meal, pouring drinks and answering questions. The performance and reputation of a restaurant is dependent on the people working in it. Understaffing creates overstretched, stressed employees who are not able to provide the best service that they are capable of, which negatively impacts the customer experience and makes guests less likely to return.

Having a reputation for a great employee experience is the keystone of a brand’s reputation with jobseekers. Improving the employee experience not only makes employees less likely to look for a new job, but also more likely to recommend a restaurant as a workplace to attract new talent. Companies which invest most heavily in employee experience feature 11 times more often in Glassdoor’s Best Places to Work, and more than four times as often in LinkedIn’s list of North America’s Most In-Demand Employers. 

This post will explain how restaurants can improve the employee experience and why this is critical for tacking the industry’s hiring and labor crisis.


Why existing employees are key to the hiring process

Attracting and retaining employees is a circular process. Treating employees well builds an employer’s reputation as a positive place to work, making it more attractive to job-seekers, who are then more likely to apply for roles with the company and stay in their jobs for longer. 

To beat the hiring crisis, employers need to invest in the employee experience of the people they already have - as well as investing in hiring initiatives.

Furthermore, it is more practical and cost-effective to retain existing employees than hire new ones. Hiring costs are expensive, as are the costs of training new hires, and existing employees are already invested in the business with personal connections with colleagues, brand loyalty and workplace experience.

In January 2020 the average time for an 18-19 year old employee to work for a company was less than 10 months and this was before Covid forced millions of employees into sudden unemployment, furlough, or searching for new opportunities. The cost of losing a new employee within the first 12 months equals 2 years of salary, so it’s a clear business advantage to create an employee experience where employees want to stick around for longer.


How to create a great restaurant employee experience

Start with a strong onboarding

A great onboarding improves retention by up to 82%. It’s essential to a great employee experience as it provides a warm welcome and equips employees with the knowledge and tools they need to work effectively in the restaurant. 

It demonstrates to employees that the company wants to see them succeed. 51% of employees say they’d go “above and beyond” for a business if they were given a good induction. 

Concerningly, just 28% of millennial frontline employees find it easy to understand whether their work meets company expectations, so a well-planned onboarding is an opportunity to clearly lay out role expectations and company standards.

When done well, onboarding immerses employees in the company culture and instills in them the values and ethos of the business, helping to build brand loyalty. It’s important to make it clear from day one that employees are valued and successes are celebrated. 

The most efficient way to onboard is by using digitized forms, checklists and training, to make sure that the process is seamless and no onboarding steps are missed. Digitized training that can be accessed using a mobile device offers new hires a safety net as they can access the information they need whenever they need a refresher, reducing the pressure they face when being thrown into a new, face-paced environment.

Related: 5 Reasons Workplace Training is Failing Frontline Employees 


Create space to listen and share

Restaurant employees won’t meet most of their colleagues if they work in different branches or on different shift patterns - a survey of 1,000 frontline workers found that 34% feel disconnected from their company

Additionally, ever-changing Covid-restrictions and local guidelines mean that restaurant employees need to be regularly updated with the latest guidelines. Disconnected employees are more likely to be left out of the loop and feel overwhelmed with responsibilities if they have not been properly kept up to date. Employees who feel isolated in their working environment won’t want to stay working in it very long, so it’s important for restaurants to remedy this in order to improve retention.

Providing a space for employees to communicate and connect creates a sense of belonging and demonstrates that their contributions are valued. 76% of employees know they would feel more connected if they could access company communications on a mobile device.

A communications platform gives employees a voice, offering a space for them to share feedback with employers, ask questions, share concerns and discuss topics with colleagues who they don’t get to meet in person. This is useful for employers too, as employees who feel their voice is heard are 4.6 times more likely to feel empowered to perform their best work and an open line of communication with restaurant teams allows HQ to regularly clarify expectations and how employees can meet them. 

With a communications platform, employers can rapidly receive and act on feedback from employees, such as clarity of instructions , how they can improve the employee experience and what extra support might be useful. 

Related: 3 Benefits of Connected Frontline Employees


Highlight opportunities for growth

Employees are more likely to want to stay in the restaurant industry for longer if they have a clear idea of the progression path ahead, and how they can get there. 

59% of millennials report that opportunities to learn and progress are extremely important to them when applying for a job and 94% would stay in their current role for longer if they felt that their company was invested in their learning. 

Additionally, up-skilling or re-skilling existing employees is a solution to the skills gap, as employees can develop new skills where the company needs them. It is a much safer bet to invest in developing the culinary skills of a waiter who has worked for a restaurant for 2 years than it is to hire a new chef, as existing employees have already proved their work ethic, understand the company values and are familiar with the restaurant layout and expectations.

However, 40% of frontline employees are trained once a year or less, and 34% millennial frontline employees report a lack of career growth. To motivate employees to want to progress within the company, restaurants need to help employees to make training accessible and link learning to business outcomes and career goals. Give employees opportunities to set goals and then work with them to establish what learning they need to complete to be able to get there. 

Restaurant employees are always rushing around on their feet so don’t have time to sit in a back office completing training courses for hours, particularly now teams are struggling with understaffing. Digital microlearning is a great way to feed learning into their work without being disruptive. 

If a new chef needs to know how to arrange a seasonal special on the plate, a bartender is faced with mixing a new cocktail or a server needs a refresher in how to process Amex payments, they can watch a 2 minute video explaining how to to it on a mobile app and then jump straight back into work.

Related: 3 Ways to Engage Your Restaurant Staff with Five-Star Training

Giving employees the right training tools to progress and linking them to career goals highlights the potential for employees to progress within the company, making them more likely to be retained.

Pro-tip: Restaurants can demonstrate the link between training and career progression by making learning paths which lay out what training needs to be completed to achieve a career goal. This could include a server cross-training to be able to pick up back of house shifts in the kitchen, or a seasoned employee completing a learning path to become a general manager.


Provide incentives and benefits

32% of frontline employees don’t feel recognized for their efforts at work, so recognition needs to be a priority for employers who want to keep employees onboard. 

A social media-style platform to provide shout-outs to stores who have had a particularly busy shift, service staff or chefs who get great reviews and teams who complete extra training is a great way to show them that they are appreciated.

Verbal recognition is great, but some employees may feel like actions speak louder than words, so offering practical benefits to being an employee of your restaurant also demonstrates your appreciation. 

89% of workers at companies that support well-being initiatives are likely to recommend their company as a good place to work and 96% of employees believe showing empathy is an important way to advance employee retention. Ways to show empathy for employees or invest in wellbeing can include things like providing paid time off, free meals on-shift, health insurance, covering childcare costs or reimbursing the cost of employee commutes. 


How other restaurants have done it:

Fast-casual restaurant chain BurgerFi used an all-in-one mobile platform for training and communication to support and retain employees throughout the difficulties of the past year.

They used a playfully branded digital app with a canine mascot, ‘Fido’, to connect their 3,000+ employees and keep them in the loop with COVID-related process updates, limited time offers, and recalls. 

Managers can create short, targeted training courses that slot easily into frontline workers’ flow of work and enable them to access information from a vast knowledge base when and where they need it. These bitesize training courses can be created and pushed out at scale to form personalized learning paths which are linked to career goals. Gamification makes learning fun for employees and an interactive and an interactive newsfeed allows employees to collaborate and connect with each other, so they feel motivated to learn, progress and engage. 

Related: How Gamification of Training Boosts Employee Retention

BurgerFi’s investment in the employee experience has had a measurable payoff, with 100% adoption rate of their corporate-owned and franchised restaurants adopting the platform,

enhanced safety procedures across all locations and 105,000 minutes of training and 47,000 courses completed in just 6 months.

Learn more about how BurgerFi is improving their employee experience with YOOBIC! 

BurgerFi YOOBIC success story

Key takeaways:

To attract and retain employees during the hiring crisis, restaurants need to:

  • Focus on investing in the employees they already have to build the reputation of having a great employee experience.
  • Create a strong onboarding program that immerses new hires in the company culture and equips them with easy access to all tools and knowledge they need to succeed on the job.
  • Use a digital platform styled like social media to connect employees, celebrate successes and amplify employee voices so that they feel valued and heard.
  • Make training easy and accessible with microlearning and ensure incentives for learning are clear by highlighting clear links between training and progression.
  • Demonstrate an organizational investment in employee wellbeing with wellness initiatives or workplace benefits that will make employees’ lives easier.


High-profile brands including BurgerFi, Domino's, Urban Plates and BChef use YOOBIC to improve the employee experience across their restaurant networks. To find out why, schedule a demo today!