The holiday season has traditionally been associated with a demand for extra labor within the hospitality industry. Restaurant owners and managers understand how important this time is to achieve year-end profit goals.
Driven by an improving economy and evolving consumer behaviors, restaurants must begin evaluating their staffing needs earlier than ever to meet the extra demand. With the closure of several culinary schools across the country, a vast focus on the “foodie” movement and competition from new restaurants, chefs and managers are struggling to find the right candidates.
Here’s a game plan to prepare adequately for the busy season ahead.
1. Get an early start
To gear up for the holiday rush, start now by constructing a plan and engaging with both past seasonal workers, current full-time employees and your community network. Stay in touch with seasonal workers throughout the year, ensuring they have a positive off-boarding experience and gauging their interest in returning for the following holiday season. Being mindful of requests for flexible schedules during the holidays, when many seasonal employees may be working other jobs, will further increase the likelihood of their loyalty.
Similarly, existing employees are apt to know and recommend people from their own networks who they believe would be a good asset to their workplace. Consider implementing a referral bonus program to help maximize the caliber of your seasonal applicants, as they are more likely to have the appropriate skill set and fit the company culture when they are referred by an existing employee.
Networking within the community is of great importance in the hospitality industry in particular, as many dishwashers and prep cooks may not be using the typical recruitment measures such as Indeed and Career Builder. To target these audiences, consider a post on Craigslist and using grassroots methods, such as posting flyers in public areas such as community centers, coffee shops and grocery stores.
2. Set the bar high
Focus on recruiting talent that will represent your business to your customers in a positive way, since poorly trained seasonal employees can have far-reaching negative consequences. Knowing that the holidays are a stressful time, evaluate candidates during the interview process by asking how they would handle various challenging situations. Candidates who demonstrate reliability and a strong ability to learn, as well as a personality that interacts well with customers and supervisors alike, will undoubtedly make the best employees.
You’ll also want to prepare your permanent staff for the demands of hiring and managing a seasonal workforce ahead of time. Make it clear that they will need to be largely available and that this period can last weeks or months so that the onboarding process does not suffer. Consider partnering with a contingent labor firm to manage the search, hiring and HR needs that accompany seasonal staffing if your internal resources are stretched too thin.
3. Know your audience
Seasonal labor attracts a variety of people for a variety of reasons. For example, you may encounter stay-at-home parents looking for additional income, retirees returning to the workforce, people temporarily out of work, high school and college students, as well as experienced employees willing to work a second or third job during the peak holiday periods. According to Adecco’s The Business of Seasonal Hiring white paper, 76 percent of people take on seasonal jobs for more money, while 11 percent are looking to get their foot in the door with an employer — a strategy that can lead to a full-time employment offer after the holiday season ends.
Attracting this wide array of applicants often means using creative incentives to stand out among competitors. Within the hospitality industry, candidates will consider a few factors before accepting an offer: the pay rate, the pedigree of the restaurant and the perception of the restaurant in the community. Restaurants with strong brand name recognition will be most sought after, and it is crucial that wages are competitive. Other perks, such as free lunch, flexible hours and paid time off, can also help your business win the war for seasonal talent.
The demand for seasonal employees is higher than ever and taking a proactive approach is critical. By understanding your hiring needs and internal capabilities, starting early and preparing for competition, you will be able to successfully navigate the seasonal hiring process.
Megan Schuyler is director of strategic accounts for Adecco Staffing USA.