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Recruiting and Retaining Top Talent (Part 2)

Welcome to the second half of our series on employee recruitment and retention! The work has just begun once you’ve fine-tuned your branding and hired the right people. Let’s dig in to more ways to findand keep—star employees on your crew.

Missed Part One?

Foster career development

Hiring managers internally is a common and effective practice among QSRs because it’s cost-effective and brings a sense of embedded loyalty not just to the hire, but to the crew they’re managing.
You want managers who can think beyond one daypart or one task. They can help mentor entry-level employees by demonstrating how their work contributes to wider restaurant objectives. Providing learning opportunities is a keystone of retention, and it can be low-cost and on a large scale.

While any employee would have a general understanding that food waste or slow service is not good to the bottom line, they would never appreciate the nuances of inventory management until they had to keep track of their own balance sheets down to the ounce.

The best way to prime an employee for their next position is to give them a flavor of it. For example, if you’re part of a trial market testing an LTO, rather than just give employees a new product build, help them understand why the testing process is important and how the various stages of testing integrate with larger company goals of menu optimization.

This phased approach acclimates the employee to all parts of the restaurant, absorbing new responsibilities into their workflow until it feels natural. Just as skill mastery happens through stages of growth, creating a tiered approach to responsibility, even if management isn’t the end goal, also keeps employees engaged by always giving them a goal to work toward.

You can also align professional development initiatives with seniority to instill that employees need to put in the work to earn additional training and learning. This could mean training staff on more advanced recipes as their tenure continues, or offering management training courses for employees who have reached performance goals and demonstrate interest.

Invest in culture

Some brands instill their values by having employees watch a set of videos detailing the company’s

history before transitioning them to on-the-job training.

While knowing the origins of an institution brings some clarity to operations and your menu structure, loyalty truly comes from embedding the employee in the culture that your marketing collateral has supported in and out of the store.

A positive company culture traces back to millennial (and Gen Z) passion points, but this recruitment strategy works across demographics. For a monthly investment of a few hundred dollars or less, you can maintain a crew incentive program that will build camaraderie between crew members and healthy competition between stores to drive incremental sales.

Especially since quick-serve workers put their health on the line to serve people during the pandemic, the QSR industry faced another wave of scrutiny over employee treatment. Just as workplace safety and cleanliness have become differentiators on the consumer side, prospective employees will take note of your company’s safety measures, as well.

Folded into that, creating a culture where employees can be transparent about sickness and take time off accordingly pays its own dividends. Some of those benefits include not having to reschedule employees who fail temperature checks, on-the spot cleaning to disinfect areas the employee came into contact with, avoided consumer sickness or sanitation complaints, and lower turnover rates.

While friendly competition between store units and markets is an effective tactic for engagement, we recommend adjusting not only measured goals but also messaging regarding performance during periods of economic downturn.

If your business has weathered difficult periods through staff reductions, you can instill morale by thanking employees for their commitment whether their unit has flourished or suffered in sales. You could also acknowledge the additional responsibilities that some employees have taken on as part of a leaner crew, which can be as challenging as ramping up merchandising tactics.

As for the “winning” crew as it were, you could offer a simple monetary reward like a gift card or some time off for the team that drives the most sales of a product, or the stores that receive the most positive reviews from customers.

To apply this individually, you can also provide monthly “Employee of the Month” incentives with a gift card and plaque. A point award system is also a cost-effective tactic with high engagement. You can apply points toward cash bonuses, days off, vacation time—whatever works for your business.

Competitions and individual accomplishments are also prime times to leverage social media efforts. These interactions entice future applicants by showing them that your restaurant is a fun place to work, and by tracking your audience’s reception you have reams of data in which to refine your recruitment strategy.

We would recommend extending this strategy to the philanthropic realm, as well. The increased interaction between quick service and healthcare workers during COVID-19 ushered in more responsibility for businesses to commit themselves to individuals and communities.

For example, demonstrating volunteerism at your local food bank or donating food to a nearby hospital will go further with a prospective employee than local sponsorships that entail little to no involvement.

Lastly, since the best gifts in life are free, you can always pay your diligent employees a world-class compliment for their hard work. A member who feels appreciated won’t trade a marginal raise for a worse work environment that views them like a number.

The desire for acknowledgement is human nature. With the term “essential worker” embedded into our lexicon, brands have leveraged the “Thank Our Heroes” message to spotlight employees as part of an engagement strategy, but the efficacy of that messaging varies widely from workplace to workplace. In short, however you plan to demonstrate gratitude for your employees, it must be genuine.

Wrapping Up

While the best culture and benefits package in the industry might not always be enough to keep high performers from going after other opportunities, these initiatives will certainly make them pause. It’s never been ideal to put employee satisfaction on the backburner, but a quality workforce is non-negotiable amidst fluctuating traffic, tightened operations, and whittled down profit margins.

The recruitment process is a long-term strategy, much like adding a new product to your core menu – you must nurture every stage until it becomes a staple of your brand. Operational challenges ebb and flow with economic conditions, but people never forget how you treat them. Your internal investments will pay for themselves in a healthy talent pipeline, a motivated team, and customers who appreciate a friendly crew that gets their order right.

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