A Guide to Text Message Recruiting and Hiring for Restaurants

How many times have you looked at your phone in the past hour? Maybe you’re looking at it right now as you read through this article. For the average American, a smartphone is among their most consistent companions. Studies show people check their phone upwards of every 10 minutes. And it makes a phone potentially one of your best recruitment tools on the market.

In today’s environment, operators must move faster than ever before to sign new employees. This has led many to explore using text messaging as part of the hiring process, especially for tapping the next-generation talent pool. (Roughly three quarters of Gen Z and millennials communicate with others more often digitally than in person, according to one study.)

But a texting strategy isn’t necessarily practical for every restaurant and every role. We take a look at how the process works, current technology options on the market, and if this strategy could be right for you.

How text message recruiting and hiring works

Using a personal phone to engage with candidates isn’t a good idea for privacy reasons. Nor is it generally sustainable to actively maintain multiple conversations. Instead, restaurants typically partner with digital hiring platforms in order to leverage texting.

When choosing a partner, you’ll need to determine if you want to take a more hands-on approach or employ a digital hiring platform that handles initial communication and interview scheduling for you. Regardless, texting with candidates typically begins in one of two ways. 

The first is through “text-to-apply” codes that hiring platforms, like Workstream, provide for you to display. This could look something like “text ‘chicken’ to ###-###-#### to apply”, a code you’d post on a storefront window or to a sign outside, acting as a replacement for a traditional job poster. Applicants who text the advertised number are taken to a mobile-friendly career page where they can apply for open positions and opt-in to receive further text-based communication.

Alternatively, applicants can apply through a traditional job board, like Indeed, where they’ll provide a phone number and choose whether or not to opt-in to SMS communication. (Every initial text message a candidate receives typically includes an opt-out option, too.) Your digital hiring platform will collect every application, and allow you to follow up by text with candidates that opt-in to SMS.

Applicants who opt-in to SMS will usually receive an instant text message after applying, thanking them and telling them what’s next. From there, many restaurants work with their hiring platform to set up automatic templates that are triggered based on common questions an applicant might ask or actions an applicant needs to take. You can also manually message applicants. All messages are typically stored with the applicant’s profile for employers to review at any time from their hiring platform.

“Essentially, the entire process can be conducted via text messaging, with the exception of the in-person interview,” says Brittany La, product marketing manager for Workstream. “Interview scheduling can be done via text-messaging [with] a link to self-select a time slot, applicants can sign offer letters, submit W2s and I9s, and even watch training videos on their mobile.”

Some hiring platforms will craft and conduct all messaging for you. Landed, for example, uses a combination of artificial intelligence (AI) and trained recruitment specialists to engage with potential new hires. 

“It’s a lot of time spent vetting candidates, but there’s also a lot of time just answering questions and trying to get candidates scheduled for an interview, and we’re taking care of all that,” says Niles Chang, chief of staff at Landed. “In today’s hiring environment, responding even within a two-hour timeframe isn’t necessarily fast enough, and we’re getting those responses within five to 10 minutes.”

Advantages of text message recruiting

Text messaging allows you to meet potential candidates where they are, and fast.

“Ninety-percent of text messages are read within three minutes [of being sent],” says La. “Applicants are applying to dozens of openings, [and] given the perceived homogeneity of hourly roles, they often accept the first offer they get. So if you’re the first to respond, the odds of landing them increase tremendously.” 

No matter with which hiring platform you partner, initial text-based communication is generally automated, eliminating much of the manual back-and-forth that traditionally costs operators time (i.e., money).

You can trigger automatic answers to common questions, such as those about pay rates and benefits. And you can also program questions to go out to candidates, and automatically vet candidates based on their responses – all of which candidates can provide with a simple text.

With some hiring platforms, you can even conduct the entire application process through texting, versus having a candidate fill out a regular application form.

“A lot of hourly workers prefer text. Jumping onto a computer and formally filling out a whole application turns away a lot of candidates – it’s a barrier to entry,” says Chang. “When you give the opportunity to do that whole process through texting, you’re expanding your market and then also speeding up the process.”

Texting makes it easier to keep candidates accountable, too. Once interviews are scheduled, you can set up automatic reminder texts to help decrease the number of no-shows. 

Where text recruiting works best 

While text messaging has its advantages for all sorts of restaurants, it’s most often used in recruiting for hourly roles that demand a quick turnaround. And generally it makes more sense for larger operations.

Partnering with a hiring platform is an investment. You’ll want to estimate the ROI before diving in.

“The efficacy of text recruiting ultimately depends on the ongoing number of employees a business has to hire, not necessarily the type of business,” says La. “Workstream works best for restaurants who have a consistent hiring need, especially for ones requiring a high volume of manpower.” 

La notes that Workstream’s most successful vertical is quick service restaurants. Prices across hiring platforms vary, and sometimes depend on the size of a restaurant chain. Before reaching out for quotes, start by assessing how many hours your in-house managers are spending on hiring per week. If you’re running multiple locations, where hiring needs are frequent, you may find partnering with a hiring platform actually saves you money in the long run.

General text message recruiting and hiring best practices

In partnering with a hiring platform, you’ll be connected with a team of specialists whose job is to help you through the entire recruiting process. But often there’s restaurant participation, too, especially in crafting the messaging that’s sent out. We asked hiring platforms Workstream and Landed to share their top advice in engaging candidates by text

From Workstream:

  • Identify yourself so applicants don’t think you’re spam.

  • Be prompt, be professional.

  • Consider the time of day when you’re texting applicants.

  • Only ask what is absolutely necessary. No one wants to fill out a giant, scrolling application on their phone. Our platform includes a standard set of eight questions.

From Landed:

  • Make it personal and conversational so the candidate feels like they’re actually talking to someone and feel comfortable continuing the conversation.

  • Respond as soon as possible. Responding the next day is just not fast enough. At Landed, we want to get candidates scheduled for an interview within 24 to 36 hours.

  • Send out interview reminders. A lot of operators have super high no-show rates, so having the text reminders keeps it fresh. 

[Photos courtesy LinkedIn Sales Navigator and Workstream]