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Serving Up the Finest: Top Strategies for Recruiting Restaurant Employees


estaurant operators are America’s employment heroes- you deliver dining experiences, at a great value, coupled with exemplary service- all while employing almost 10% of all workers in America! According to the National Restaurant Association…

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§         The restaurant industry employs an estimated 12.5 million people, making it the nation’s largest employer outside of government.

§         Eating-and-drinking places are extremely labor intensive—sales per full-time-equivalent employee were $58,796 in 2004 and notably lower than other industries.


§         The replica Franck Muller restaurant industry provides work for more than 9% of those employed in the United States.


§         The restaurant industry is expected to add 1.9 million jobs by 2016, for total employment of 14.4 million.


Yet, turnover continues to be your greatest concern. You are not alone. Retailers, healthcare providers, and manufacturing companies are all seeking entry level employees similar to those typically hired by the restaurant industry. The competition and the labor market continue to get tighter. The U. S. Bureau of Labor Statistics projections report that by 2010 we will have a labor shortage of 10,033,000 workers!

Let's face it, the best people don't just walk up and ask you for a job. Seeking quality employees, many of whom are already working elsewhere, is the most important facet in ensuring your unit has continued success. You have to be proactive and assertive to recruit effectively.  


In essence, take a marketing approach to recruiting. Recruiting should be an ongoing process. Recruit new employees the same way you market to attract new customers—proactively, consistently while whetting their appetites (pun intended) for a great job. Anticipating staffing needs is similar to ordering product for your operation. You wouldn’t wait until you were completely out of a menu item, like chicken, before anticipating need and ordering ahead of time. Your recruiting strategy should be the same.




So what happens when you have no proactive strategic recruiting plan in place and you suddenly find you have an emergent and immediate need for staff? You are forced to just react. Maybe even panic… and the feeling of being pressured to hire someone may cause you to be less selective. This reactivity to hiring often results in a bad hiring decision. And a bad hire can have a wide reaching negative ripple effect across your entire organization.



So, first step- get a plan! A recruiting plan. Review staffing needs over the past 2-3 years. Develop action plans to implement and measure the effectiveness of your chosen recruiting strategies. Get your employees involved. Hold contests and make it exciting for them to help you find great talent- just like them! Celebrate the successes and reward longevity and performance. Here is the Top 10 Techniques to Recruit Restaurant Workers


Top 10 Strategies for Recruiting Hospitality and Restaurant Workers:

  1. Employee Referral Plans: Pay every employee to be a recruiter. Your current employees are the richest source of referrals for new hires. They understand the business, the culture, and the demands. When talking about their job with friends and family, they tend to be very honest about the good, the bad, and the horrific of working for you! So if they bring you a friend, good chance there is not much “recruiting or selling” of the position to be done! Additionally, most people tend to have friends and family members with a similar set of values. So if your employee is solid- good chance so are their referrals.


  1. The One Company Job Fair. Why share? In lieu of attending a large jobfair event with many other employers vying for the same applicants, contact local schools. Ask if you could just set up a booth in the student center or cafeteria. Want hordes of folks to come over to your table? Bring free food (in exchange for their resume and permission to add them to your database of people receiving your email job listings).


  1. Digital Email Newsletter and Open Position Listings. Only 23% of all American households receive a Sunday newspaper. 58% of all American households have access to the internet in their homes. Create a great newsletter that includes insights into your restaurant, recipes, and coupons and of course, job listings! Offer to pay a referral award (food gift certificates) to anyone that sends in your next star employee.


  1. Former Employees. Are they ambassadors or outcasts? Keep in touch and reward their referrals.


5.       Loyal Customers.These people are already fans of your product and service! Ask them if they personally know of someone who would enjoy being an integral part of delivering the product they so obviously enjoy. Reward their referrals with gift certificates to the restaurant.


  1. Go to the Source: Build mutually beneficial relationships with all culinary, foodservice and food handling schools in your area. Offer to serve as an advisor to the faculty. Offer to employee interns. Give tours to business students. You will then find that the top students are coming to you for work.  


  1. Table Top Specials: Have all your marketing and sales tools do double duty- One side of the table tent encourages customers to order your absolutely awesome apple pie and the other encourages them to apply for an absolutely awesome career opportunity.  


  1. Marquee Signs: Have your marquee say, ‘Always interviewing folks with a smokin’ good attitude!’ (a good one for BBQ restaurants!). Use verbiage that matches your brand.


  1. Vendors. The foodservice distributors that market and deliver to your restaurant see many other restaurants all over your town! Ensure they are aware of your openings and the advantage s your employees enjoy working for you and your restaurant. Ask if they know of any restaurant “superstars” who may be interested in working for you. Pay them a referral bonus (of some form).


  1. Keep the Ones You Already Have! Employee retention and customer retention are forever intertwined. Employee turnover burns your bottom line.  When employee retention is high, your need to engage in reactive recruiting is low because top talent will indeed, walk right in your doors seeking an opportunity to work with you! 


Kristine Sexter, President of WorkWise Productions is an award-winning consultant, professional speaker, and author. She works with companies of all sizes from start-ups to Fortune 500, as well as trade & professional associations across the country to develop highly effective strategic employee recruiting and retention plans. To bring Ms. Sexter to your company or conference, visit or call toll free 1-866-5-Sexter.



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