Six tips to recruit and retain amazing restaurant staff

Many restaurant owners in the United States are struggling to navigate the nationwide staff shortage that has occurred as a result of the pandemic. According to the National Restaurant Association, the labor crunch is set to continue throughout 20231.

As many as 7 out of 10 restaurant operators state that they do not have enough employees to support customer demand, and around half of food service managers expect recruiting and retaining talent to be their biggest challenge over the course of the year.

With this in mind, we bring restauranteurs six helpful tips to help your establishment stand out to the talent pool – as well as ways to provide a best-in-class experience for both team members and customers alike.

1.      Streamline your recruitment efforts

To help combat the restaurant staff crisis, owners and managers should focus on forming a smart and streamlined recruitment process. Consider carrying out a task analysis before every recruitment drive, and be clear about candidate expectations when publishing your job description. Whether you choose to delegate to a recruitment professional or post your own ads on social media or job boards, take the time to learn best practice for screening, interviewing and selecting candidates to improve your overall hiring process. In terms of practicality, consider hiring restaurant staff that live as local as possible to your eatery, and start recruiting way ahead of seasonal peaks to give yourself an advantage in this tough labor market.

2.      Offer a great onboarding process

An excellent onboarding process and a memorable first day is essential for turning new starters into passionate, first-class restaurant employees. During their induction, you should aim to instill new starters with the values and ethos of your business. You might like to organize a buddy system to help new staff (especially those completely new to the industry) feel supported in the fast-paced restaurant environment. A concise onboarding process should prioritize digitized or printed checklists and training materials, plus a full tour of both the front and back end of the restaurant, including the kitchen and hygiene points.

3.      Foster open communication with employees

While a recruitment drive may seem like the most natural response to an understaffing issue, restaurant managers should remain aware of the long-term solution: retaining current employees. High turnover is relatively normal in the restaurant business compared to other industries, but you can maximize chances of holding onto good staff by making quick implementations. Check in with veteran employees and provide a judgement-free zone to troubleshoot and identify stressors. As well as keeping open lines of communication, consider conducting exit interviews with leavers to get a pulse on key issues. Highlight opportunities for growth and support each individual with their development so they feel like they have a career, not just a job.

4.      Build a strong company culture

Building a company culture in the restaurant business is easier said than done. Long hours, conflicting shifts and a fast-paced environment mean that customers are always the key focus – but restaurant managers should try to cultivate a sense of belonging and fun for staff in order to retain top employees and combat the staffing shortage. Restaurants often require hierarchies, but every person is integral to day-to-day operations and the overall success of the business. Consider creating a social page or digital group for employees to connect, celebrate and reward good work and consider organizing team-building events or social occasions to create a strong and unified team.

5.      Plug the skills gap with training

One often overlooked way to plug the skills gap in your restaurant is by filling any open positions with internal talent rather than choosing to hire externally. For example, if you need a new general manager, you might like to consider upskilling and promoting the waiter or waitress who has already worked for you for a considerable length of time and proven they are ready for career progression. Ask prep cooks, line cooks and short-order cooks to shadow each other so that they have a broad base of skills to make each shift run smoothly and any unexpected absences can be covered. To motivate employees to progress within your restaurant, make training accessible and link learning to business outcomes and career goals.

6.      Celebrate good work and offer incentives

The performance and success of your restaurant is dependent on your staff. Celebrating good work, as well as offering rewards and incentives, are the best ways to maximize the potential of a short workforce. If you own a chain of restaurants, provide shout-outs to branches that have weathered a particularly difficult shift, offer praise to hosts and servers who garner great reviews and tips, and celebrate new chefs who excel during their training period. As well as showing verbal appreciation, consider creating a benefits program, professional development opportunities and transportation stipends to ensure every employee on your roster feels valued. This work has more value than staff retention and recruitment. According to a cross-industry Deloitte whitepaper, 61% of employers report that employee wellbeing program initiatives improve employee engagement and overall productivity2.


1 Business Insider: Restaurants still can’t find enough employees

2 Business Insider: Restaurants still can’t find enough employees