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Recruiting and Retaining Top Talent (Part 1)

Recruitment and retention issues are about as old as the restaurant itself. When unemployment is low the labor pool contracts, but during an economic downturn it’s still challenging to keep an engaged team operating your restaurant. Since the COVID-19 pandemic forced QSRs to undergo drastic operational changes, recruitment and retention strategies have had to follow suit.

You need sharp, dedicated minds who can adhere to strict sanitation protocols, navigate customer service in the absence of human contact, and multi-task as part of a lean crew. Since high-profile QSR brands have elevated their employee benefits’ packages through voluntary and government-mandated measures, you need a competitive edge to keep talent in the pipeline and in your restaurant.

Here are some recruitment and retention strategies we recommend from years of experience helping QSR decision-makers, from franchisees to the C-suite, find the best in the business.

Conduct a brand audit

Before you throw money or time into any initiative, take inventory of your brand and get clarity of what your current and prospective employees truly desire.

Here are some questions to consider:

  • What is your mission statement (i.e. what is your purpose)?
  • How would you define your company culture?
  • How does the general public perceive your brand?
  • How does your target audience describe your brand?
  • What does your target audience define as your brand differentiators?
  • What employee incentives do you offer that competitors don’t?
  • What factors do current employees describe as most important to them?
  • How do current employees and customers rate your sanitation practices?
  • How well have employees responded to stricter safety protocols?
  • Have you had cases of employees coming to work sick because they did not feel like they could take the day off (perhaps from lack of paid leave benefits or a perception that it was frowned upon), and if so, how often?

We recommend using electronic surveys for employees to maximize anonymity and ask the difficult questions. If most of your employees just applied to your location because they needed a temporary position, then it’s best to hear it from the source, albeit an unidentified one.

You can also ask your employees some of the aforementioned questions, as well as job satisfaction and what parts of the job they find most difficult.

One way to incentivize participation is by emphasizing how employee feedback will be used to improve the restaurant’s operations, and in turn make their work more streamlined, and hopefully, more enjoyable. Employees of all seniority levels will be much more likely to respond if they know management directly reads their thoughts rather than feeling like their feedback will be stored away on a server.

While employee surveys are a strong starting point to diagnosing internal problems, if possible, we recommend going deeper with commissioned research and focus groups. While such in-depth analysis is often used to gain insights for consumer behaviors and menu innovation, this method is just as useful for recruitment.

It provides an opportunity to screen individuals who see their barriers to applying, and then cross-compare responses about why employees chose you over competitors, among other attributes. We have helped clients take this knowledge and then apply it to their applicant pipeline, such as addressing poor brand perception or low brand awareness.

This is also prime time to evaluate how effective your benefits package is. You’re likely managing a multi-generational workforce, which means you must segment your selling points accordingly. Such is why QSRs put tuition reimbursement programs in place because of the demographic of people they were attracting.

While years of experience might have your older employees prioritizing retirement and health insurance, don’t opt for guesswork when you can gain a crystal-clear understanding of all of your employees’ values. You can weave relevant questions into your surveys or have a research firm include those questions.

Refine the interview process

Many managers and executives have started off as associates, so it best serves you to select applicants that at least show potential in the industry. Since it’s more cost-efficient to keep the folks you have, just including a few more questions into the interview process provides a higher-definition view about where a potential hire could grow.

Further interview analysis at the entry or associate level also provides market research about the applicant pool regarding their habits and media environments.

While we’re not advocating for putting a first-time job applicant in the hot seat, it’s much easier to develop skills than a person. While you certainly want applicants to fulfill basic competencies, you’re saving yourself time in hiring and training by selecting people who can think critically and possess the versatility to work seamlessly between FOH and BOH operations.

The results from your brand audit can feed into your questions, as well.

Make the onboarding process smooth

Initial training varies between a couple of days and a couple of weeks in QSRs, and it’s one of the most important time periods. While a direct supervisor should be present the first time an employee engages in their role, they should especially be present when a new hire is building out the core products.

If you’re investing heavily in new systems, which is probable since the QSR sector has become so heavily automated, you don’t want to skimp on time training on managing kiosks or point-of-sale systems. Otherwise you’ll be paying for it in food wastage once you see a string of receipts with incorrect orders.

Seamless onboarding will also curtail mistakes, and therein expenses, from operating equipment and food preparation. This is important to note considering how FOH employees have come under increased scrutiny in the world of curbside pickup and touchless interaction.

While lack of training can manifest in poor customer etiquette (which proliferates online reviews and prevents some patrons from ever entering the premise), disgruntled workers will post about their feelings of neglect on job sites and repel future applicants.

In contrast, an employee who knows your processes and mission statement will be more empowered and capable in their role. Those types of employees are also the best equipped to upsell and cross-sell items. Disengaged employees either will not attempt to complement an order, or won’t carry the friendly, inviting tone that makes a hungry patron start to think they might want to add fries or a drink after all.

The leaders you put in place set the tone for your new hires’ experience. A crew member with a supervisor who helps them set professional goals and provides them constructive feedback is much more likely to feel invested in the organization than one without guidance. This practice is especially useful for retaining younger employees who might still be deciding on a career path.

While in-store managers are in the best position to discern talent early, they also need to be given the time and resources to manage promising hourly workers while taking care of daily duties.

Set the stage for a long tenure and use employee feedback to refine your prospect-facing materials and other engagement efforts to keep the churn rate low. Listen for patterns. If several employees seem to struggle with how to operate certain kinds of equipment, then you have a known and solvable issue.

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