5 Expert Tips for Recruiting Restaurant Staff

Recruiting restaurant staff can be costly and time-consuming. Your restaurant may spend a fortune every year placing ads for jobs, screening applicants, conducting background checks, and more. Many restaurants are already facing ongoing staffing shortages and high turnover rates. Under these circumstances, recruitment can be a source of ongoing frustration and financial strain.


This is why many restaurants are taking innovative steps to improve and diversify their approach to recruiting restaurant staff members. Instead of focusing exclusively on traditional methods of recruitment like job-posting boards and online classified ads, many restaurants are supplementing their recruitment strategies by adjusting wage structures, offering more competitive employee perks, and incentivizing current team members to assist in recruiting restaurant staff.


5 Effective (and Affordable) Ways to Recruit Restaurant Staff 

We spoke with a handful of restaurant operators, who offered insightful tips on how to recruit restaurant staff. Our experts touched on a few recurrent themes, particularly the importance of building a positive workplace culture. This theme reappears several times throughout our discussion.

Read on to find out how a positive workplace culture and smart employee incentive programs can improve your approach to recruiting restaurant staff.


1. Empower your team members

Your employees have the potential to be your strongest advocates when it comes to recruiting restaurant staff. Of course, this starts with a happy team. 

“You really have to do the little things right, in terms of treating them really well, paying as well as you can, giving benefits, providing opportunities for advancement, and creating a working environment that’s enjoyable and respects their time," Michael Lennox, CEO and founder of  Electric Hospitality in Atlanta explained. 

Only after you’ve created a truly positive workplace culture can you empower your team members to recruit on your behalf. Lennox has found that “if you do a lot of the little things right to help promote retention, it sets the stage for conversations with staff to say, ‘Hey, we’ve got an opening. If you have any friends or former colleagues that you’d like to work with, we’d love to talk to them.’”

If you do an effective job at keeping team members happy, they can become a powerful channel for amplifying your recruitment messaging. 


2. Create financial incentives for recruitment

Some restaurants even offer their employees financial incentives for help recruiting restaurant staff. Lennox explained that his restaurants award current staff members a $500 referral bonus for any new recruit who stays onboard for at least three months, in addition to a $500 bonus for the new recruit.

If that sounds costly, Lennox pointed out that it’s actually a lot lower than the cost of traditional recruitment.

“If we can have interests aligned with loyal members of the team, who have a vested interest in bringing in great people to work, that $1,000 [bonus cost] could save us $10,000,” said Lennox.

Tina Eskenazi, Team Member Services Manager of  Mission Yogurt, Inc., shared that her company’s Talent Knows Talent program awards team members up to $200 in bonuses for referring new recruits. With the average cost of hiring a new team member for her company at $500, Eskenazi found that Mission Yogurt’s team member bonus program has the effect of cutting recruitment costs by more than half for each new hire. 


3. Adjust your wage model

One of the best ways to attract topflight talent to your restaurant is to offer a steady salary. A growing number of restaurants are turning toward this “professional wage model” in order to appeal to a wider spectrum of prospective hires. This is proving an efficient strategy for recruiting restaurant staff.

“A more professional wage model…has really changed the game for hiring, recruiting, and retaining staff," said Kelly Phillips, founder of  Destination Unknown Restaurants in Washington D.C. 

Phillips explained that moving to a wage model with full-time salaries and bonuses gives staff a greater sense of job security and growth potential. Additionally, connecting the employee bonus structure to review scores on Google and Yelp has truly incentivized Phillips' staff to perform to the best of their abilities. This, in turn, has contributed to higher review ratings, which consequently leads to increased business. As Phillips sees it, this positive cycle is evidence that performance bonuses are paying for themselves. 


4. Offer competitive employee perks

A solid employee perks package can help your restaurant attract top talent. Like a professional wage structure or a generous bonus program, meaningful perks allow your staff to feel valued. These perks demonstrate that you are willing to invest in your team members, which promotes a sense of job security. 

It also signals the opportunity to grow and advance from within.


“We offer a generous meal discount program – 50% across the board at any of our locations," said Carla Changwailing, director of operations for  101 Hospitality in Washington D.C. "With our growth over the last year, we’ve also emphasized collaborative education where we're all learning from each other, but also through reimbursement for training.” 

These perks reflect well on the job quality and company culture that you are presenting to prospective hires. This positive first impression can help maximize the return on your recruitment efforts.


5. Promote success stories

Show prospective hires that your restaurant values, recognizes, and rewards excellence. One way to do this is to demonstrate the excellence of your current employees. 

“One of the best ways we recruit is through promoting our own success stories" explained Changwailing. "These are people who started as line cooks and are now chefs de cuisine, people who started as captains and are now managers for other locations within the company.”

Provide real-world evidence to prospective new recruits that your restaurant offers opportunities for stability and professional advancement. Use your website, social media accounts, and digital marketing channels to spotlight this evidence. Show prospective team members that your organization offers meaningful growth potential. 


Finding an Ideal Strategy For Recruiting Your Restaurant Staff


The best mix of recruitment strategies for your restaurant will depend on your business model, your restaurant’s needs, and your financial flexibility. For instance, many restaurateurs may not have the resources to pay full-time salaries or offer 50% food discounts. 

If you’re not sure how to recruit restaurant staff based on your current business model and needs, you may be able to benefit from the support of a third-party staffing provider. The top HR and Staffing vendors will offer advanced tools, data driven strategies, and automated campaigns to help maximize on your recruitment efforts while minimizing your costs.


Additional reporting by Grace Dickinson.