Restaurant Recruiting Solutions – Creative Tools That Work In Today’s Economy

Your restaurant is likely suffering the post-pandemic blues because of obsolete or overused recruiting tools. Fortunately, regardless of the industry you work in, there is a solution to this once-in-a-lifetime post-pandemic talent shortage. It is partially characterized by the rare combination of high employment and a dramatic shortage of job applicants. So, if you want your business to thrive again, most must immediately shift to more creative recruiting tools designed for this unique economic situation. 

And although my master list includes tools that work in every industry. This article is limited to the specific recruiting tools that are extremely effective in today’s restaurant industry. I know which tools work best in the restaurant industry because, fortunately, over the years, I have advised a wide range of firms, from large restaurant chains like McDonald’s down to the smallest family-owned taqueria – covering every aspect of recruiting. And for this post-pandemic article, I’ve selected the 10 best restaurant recruiting tools that fit this labor marketplace. The selected tools are also practical because each one passed the three-capability test of being intuitive, inexpensive, and easy to implement.

First Understand Why You Are Experiencing A Restaurant Applicant Shortage

It’s best to start solving the restaurant applicant shortage problem by understanding the underlying economics. The first element of the problem is the lack of applicants. Even though the unemployment rate is currently extremely high, restaurants are still receiving few applicants, primarily due to unusually high unemployment checks. Because there is such a small differential between unemployment pay and the pay that someone would receive as a restaurant worker. This differential will continue to keep lower-paid former restaurant workers from returning to work until their higher benefits run out. A second cause is that experienced restaurant workers are not making it their first choice to return to an industry that takes them away from their family because most restaurant jobs make them work many nights and most weekends. A third cause emanates from school closure issues and the related lack of adequate, affordable childcare. Many parents with restaurant experience would be applicants today if pandemic-related school issues weren’t forcing them to stay home and care for their kids. 

Dr. Sullivan’s Top Restaurant Recruiting Tools (Tailored To The Post-Pandemic Environment) 

Below are the top 10 recruiting tools that are especially powerful during our current post-pandemic talent shortage. Most are unique and a little bit bold to counter our industry’s extremely conservative historical approach to recruiting. Which I should note has seldom dared to try anything beyond the use of large job boards, newspaper ads, and the ubiquitous “we are hiring” sign. Although most of the tools on this list have been frequently used in “aggressive recruiting industries” like high-tech. They have barely even been spoken about in the restaurant industry. Additional tools on the list are there because they work especially well in the post-pandemic environment. Many workers are consciously avoiding restaurant opportunities. If you expect to utilize only one or two of the most powerful tools, note that the most effective and the easiest to implement tools are listed first. Each of the tools is completely intuitive and self-explanatory.  I have provided a hyperlink to a more detailed “how-to” article for more details on the tool and its implementation. 

  1. Ask every employee to become your talent scout (collaborative hiring using the employee referral tool). Referrals are consistently the #1 source for candidate volume and quality. Take advantage of this powerful tool by ensuring that each employee fully understands how your restaurant’s lack of talent reduces your volume of customers and causing each employee to be overworked and overstressed. Next, let each employee know how they can be the most effective recruiting source if they agree to become a 24/7 talent scout. As part of your referral initiative, ask each employee to personally scour their network, address/phone book for their friends in our industry. Also, ask your top employees who already participate in restaurant forums or chat rooms to openly share their knowledge and enthusiasm instead of job-related items (specifically, tell them not to seek referrals actively and not highlight your open jobs on these Internet sites). Offering a free meal to the successful referring employee and/or the new hire can be an effective way of encouraging more referrals. Also, realize that the best referrals come from top-performing employees. So, prioritize them and personally ask them for their help in obtaining referrals. More details on all aspects of “collaborative hiring” can be found here.
  2. Hire them both (buddy hiring tool).  This two at once approach has been used by McDonald’s. It’s effective simply because most of us have at least one close colleague, relative, or friend that “we’ve always wanted to work with.” Under this approach, you recruit them together for two different jobs. And then, if both are acceptable to hire, you offer to hire both your target candidate and their close colleague or friend as a package. If you let them work on the same shift, they can even commute together. More buddy hiring information can be found here.
  3. Revisit previous high-quality candidates that were not hired (silver medalist re-recruiting tool). Realize that when most hiring searches end, research will reveal that at least one top candidate was somehow missed (wasn’t hired). Start your re-recruiting effort by identifying and then reaching out to each of the top candidates that were “missed” because they voluntarily dropped out of your hiring process. Or those that didn’t get hired but were, unfortunately, a finalist in a slate where a super candidate ended up getting the job. Also, identify and try to re-recruit the candidates offered the job, but for some reason, turned it down. In addition, identify the “almost qualified” candidates that didn’t quite meet the qualifications at the time. Because now, after another year of experience, these silver medalists may be fully qualified. Learn more about hiring these “candidates that came close” here.
  4. Ask past employees if they would like to come home (boomerang rehiring tool). Ask desirable former employees and retirees that left before the pandemic (with no negative issues) if they would now consider returning. Don’t be surprised if a few of them jump at this opportunity to return. Recruiting them will likely also be easier because they already know the restaurant and they trust you. If they were previously top performers, go to the next step and work with them to resolve any minor resistance issues. Use this hyperlink to find out more about how to land boomerang rehires
  5. Ask the top references you have used for other great names (reference referral tool). The reference givers that accurately described one of your effective new hires can likely be counted on for some additional names. Start by identifying last year’s most accurate reference givers in a targeted job family. First, call them and thank them for giving such an accurate reference. Next, ask them for their help in answering this question “Who else do you know that is equally as good as the person that we hired?” Also, consider actively recruiting the reference givers themselves because they may qualify for a “one level up” position. More details on using job references for recruiting can be found in this article.
  6. Same-day hiring is essential in today’s competitive job market (same-day hiring tool).  In this highly competitive job market, fast decision-making is critical. As a result, it’s a major mistake to let a single top candidate leave your restaurant without getting at least a tentative “yes” from them. This means that hiring managers must learn to make assessments quickly (especially when the candidate is a referral or customer) and make at least a tentative offer to a top candidate immediately after only one interview. Detailed same-day hiring information can be found here.
  7. Ask your new hires to refer names during their onboarding process (onboarding referral tool).  Make it a standard practice to ask all top new hires during their onboarding process, “Who else is really good at their last restaurant?” Next, ask the new hire to help you recruit any of the individuals that they have named. More details about the onboarding referral tool can be found here
  8. Select a hiring team to become experts in recruiting (hiring team tool).  They are probably not formally trained in it, and many restaurant managers simply aren’t good at recruiting. So, when recruiting is difficult, it makes sense to require that a hiring team (that excels at recruiting) handles all of the most important recruiting. This recruiting team will do a lot of hiring. Because of that high volume of experience, they will quickly develop a great deal of hiring expertise and skill. With this added experience, they will naturally hire better than a single manager that may only hire once or twice a year. Team members should only include those that have proven that they have had success in recruiting in at least one of these three areas. Either they are familiar with modern recruiting tools or clearly understand the current job market, or have proven their ability to convince skeptical candidates. Also, provide team members with recruiter training and direct feedback on the team’s recruiting successes and failures. Finally, reward each individual handily when the team succeeds. Find details covering the use of a hiring team here.
  9. Recruit your customers because they already know and like you (recruit your customer’s too).  Some of the best potential recruits may visit your restaurant as often as once a week as a customer. Managers should realize that a restaurant’s best customers make great recruits because they already know and like your restaurant and products. And they are unlikely to have any commute issues that would make them less likely to accept an offer. Start by letting everyone know that you successfully hire customers by putting a sign in your restaurant that reads, “If you like dining here, maybe someday you’d like to join our cohesive family.” Or ask your employees to wear a “Ask me about what it’s like to work here” button or T-shirt to encourage more customer inquiries. Information on how to improve these “we are hiring signs” can be found here. And finally, realize that you will have to respond quickly when a customer expresses an interest in working at your restaurant. Often that requires offering an immediate one-time interview. That, when appropriate, can produce an instant or at least tentative offer. Use this link to get additional information on how to hire your customers.
  10. Directly poach talent from other restaurants (poaching tool).  This last but certainly not least effective tool is known as direct raiding or poaching. It is ranked lower in this list solely because most restaurant managers don’t have the courage to use it. However, that may change when each manager realizes that overcoming this current talent shortage may be the #1 most critical factor in your restaurant’s survival. The first step in poaching is to identify all restaurant chains struggling or have a surplus of high-quality talent. Next, directly encourage your employees that know people working there to approach them. And then expect your employee to ask each targeted individual if they would consider moving on to a better opportunity (at your restaurant). Consider poaching at every restaurant chain that most consider being “one or two levels below your restaurant chain.” Because these chains are your “farm teams,” they are restaurants where most of their employees would consider moving on to your restaurant “to be a significant career step up.” In my experience, the best food-related chains to target include Starbucks, Chipotle, McDonald’s, Wegmans, and In-N-Out Burger. Either way, quickly discount any concern that you might have about poaching ethics. Because you and every other restaurant in the region are already actively poaching away a more valuable commodity every day, their customers. Without any mention of ethics. Get more information on retail poaching here.

Your Final Step Is To Make Your Job Offers Extremely Compelling

Because almost every good applicant today will have multiple job choices. You must learn that after you have successfully attracted an applicant. You won’t add any value to the restaurant until you also significantly improve your selling and your offer processes. Here are nine actions that can increase your ability to sell even the most difficult candidates.

  • Improve the power of your sales pitches by including factors that make your restaurant “stand out” – it’s essential that you give your recruits information that differentiates your restaurant from others that are hiring. Show that your restaurant “stands out” by revealing awards that you have won or by highlighting each of your award-winning staff. Also highlight things in your sales pitch that you were first at, or that show exceptional environmental practices. And finally, highlight your exceptionally high food and service ratings on rating services like Zagat or Yelp. Your measure of success should be to provide candidates with several standout factors (within this job opportunity) that they will want to tell their friends about. So that after their friends hear about the best among these “standout features.” They literally respond with a WOW.
  • Increase the proportion of interview time that is spent on selling – remember that as the supply of talent shrinks. The “candidate assessment element” of the hiring process becomes less important. And the “candidate selling element” increases proportionately in importance. And because top candidates have so many choices, it’s important that you begin spending at least half of your interview time selling and building trust with your top candidates.
  • Offer more credible selling arguments by adding a peer interview – I have found that the #1 best way to successfully convince “hard to sell top candidates” for hourly jobs is by using peer interviews. Because peer interviews only involve a candidate’s likely future coworkers. This type of interview makes candidates feel like they’re getting the straight scoop with candor. And they’re easier to convince because they’ve gotten “the straight scoop” directly from those that work around the open job every day. More information on peer interviews can be found here
  • Consider a call from the owner – very few things will have a higher impact on selling an “in-demand candidate” than having the owner or head chef call or meet with them directly. And then to hear them explain how specifically the candidate will fit into the restaurant’s future. Click here for more information on CEO recruiting calls.
  • Consider adding personalization to your offer. Personalization in the actual offer frequently excites candidates. So, if you’re really bold and you have a top candidate. Why not offer something exciting like this. “After a few months, to name a menu item after them.” Or consider offering them a one-day-a-week job rotation in order to facilitate their growth.

And finally, offer tips that can overcome restaurant worker’s three most common resistance factors as the pandemic winds down.

  • Your offer must resolve today’s unemployment pay differential issue. The #1 biggest issue preventing the rehiring former restaurant workers is the pay difference that must be overcome. In many cases today, just to get their attention, the offered starting pay will have to be significantly higher than the money that they currently receive from unemployment benefits. If you can’t directly offer more pay, consider adding a sign-on bonus. Or promise them enough overtime hours so that they can still earn their desired income level. 
  • Your offer will also need to address the work/life balance issue – the second most common complaint from experienced workers that are reluctant to return is a lack of work/life balance. Start by asking each candidate first for their preference in work/life balance options, so that they can spend more time with their family. Start by offering a guaranteed fixed schedule that is determined well in advance. For top candidates consider offering a permanent commitment to no night or weekend work. Or at least offer one month each quarter where they get some nights and weekends off. 
  • Your offer may have to include several childcare options – because the third underlying resistance issue is potential applicants having to stay home with their kids because of school closures. You should begin by at least providing up-to-date information covering local childcare options that are also available during off-hours. Next consider offering top candidates flexibility in their work schedules, so that you can accommodate their changing childcare needs. An alternative family-friendly option to consider is asking your employees to form an informal babysitting cooperative. And then to get your employees to build their child-caring capability by encouraging all employees (whether they are parents are not) to occasionally contribute child sitting hours when they are not on the job. 

Tips Covering The Recruiting Actions That Must Come To An End

In addition to adding new recruiting tools that are especially effective as the pandemic winds down. It’s also essential for hiring managers to simultaneously stop using many of the traditional recruiting approaches. This often means placing a low priority on newspaper ads, job fairs, and large job boards. Next, most hiring managers will need to lose any appearance of arrogance or any time that they reveal in front of a candidate “that they think that the applicant is lucky to even get this job opportunity.” And finally, have the hiring team help to design a white glove hiring process that maximizes and then measures the candidate experience.

Final Thoughts

Once your managers realize that almost every restaurant and restaurant chain are now struggling to attract enough applicants. Because the recruiting tools that we all use are either completely outdated, overused or they are so dull that they can’t attract during this shortage of restaurant talent. Instead, what we need to do is to borrow “new to us recruiting tools” and selling approaches from other industries that have been proven with data to work especially well in our current environment. As a result, I hope you find that the provided list of my unique recruiting tools to be viable additions to your recruiting toolkit. And that you find the courage to implement at least a few of them.

Author’s Note 

  • This article was designed to make you rethink an important area of recruiting. And if it succeeded, please help others by proactively sharing it widely among your team and network.
  • Next, please subscribe to Dr. Sullivan’s weekly Aggressive Recruiting Newsletter @
  • Also, join the many thousands that have connected with Dr. Sullivan on LinkedIn. And after following or connecting, you can leave comments and/or read others covering this article on his LinkedIn profile page.
  • And when time permits, review his 1,300 other talent articles and books @

About Dr John Sullivan

Dr John Sullivan is an internationally known HR thought-leader from the Silicon Valley who specializes in providing bold and high business impact; strategic Talent Management solutions to large corporations.

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