Tara Lindstrom is VP of Marketing and Human Resources for her family-owned franchise group which operates Carl's Jr., Jamba Juice, and Pieology restaurants in Northern California and Utah, and is also President of Inco, Inc. which owns Inklings Coffee and Tea in Pleasanton, CA.. In her free time……(oh wait, when you own restaurants there is no free time.) But she does like to cook, travel, and hang out with her husband, 2 kids, and pug, Monty.
I often find myself telling people that I want to place a sign in our restaurants that says, "I didn't raise them, I just hired them." I am met with a chuckle, and a curious smile. Until I explain, No, it's really THAT bad. Our managers are not only having to teach new employees how to make food, prep items or put away orders, but they are having to do an unprecedented amount of training for basic life skills. Most of the people we hire have never mopped a floor, cooked a meal, done dishes or (gasp!) cleaned a toilet. More than one employee has walked out on their first day and peeled away in their dad's Mercedes with the comment of "I don't clean bathrooms---I have a maid for that."
On top of that, those that do make it past the first day have little interpersonal skills, having grown up behind a screen and not having to deal with people face-to-face like you do with a boss, co-workers, or customers. The first sign of "trauma" (which could be a customer simply returning an item made wrong) and they melt and burn like a marshmallow on a stick over a campfire. Inside they are soft and scared and want to slink out the back door, but outside they act angry and rude, bubbling over to the naive customer who thought the employee truly cared about their job. The next day they quit because "They felt uncomfortable/scared/people are mean/they got in a car accident/their parents told them they could not work anymore/they just cannot handle the stress along with school."
Historically low unemployment, along with the advent of work-when-you-want-get-paid-instantly companies such as Doordash, Uber, Lyft and Instacart has left a gaping hole in the number of applicants at restaurants and retail, and a drastic shift mentally in the hourly workforce. Unfortunately, most traditional brick and mortar concepts are not able to deal with the new and increased expectations of an on demand workforce, and serve customers well.
Don't get me wrong—we have some GREAT employees. But they are few and far between, and are getting fewer and further between. What this means for operators is a constant revolving door of recruiting and hiring. Unfortunately in the current model, this burden falls mostly on management. Managers who are now having to cover more shifts than ever from employees calling out or no-showing. It's so bad that a whole new term---ghosting---- was invented, and I am certain it started in the food industry because we have been dealing with it for years.
While we cannot re-raise our employees or instill loyalty or a work ethic in them, or compete with other companies' flexibility or wages, what we CAN do is try to help our managers have an edge on hiring the best possible people. Finding and keeping those raised with grit and gumption is priceless. Here are four tips for hiring in light of today's workforce and competitive pressures:
Respond Quickly. Text, don't email.
A friend of mine had texted me that his son was applying for one of our restaurants. Before I could tell the manager the next day, my friend let me know his son was hired. Great, I thought, our manager was responsive. Nope—but someone else was. He applied at a nearby establishment which texted him back within 2 hours, interviewed him the next day, and hired him on the spot. If it takes longer than it takes a friend to text you back, it's too long. Also, if you think anyone under the age of 25 checks email multiple times a day, they don't. Texting is by far the fastest and most direct communication with our younger candidates.
Collect Tips and Add them to your advertised recruiting wage.
Tipping used to be frowned upon in the QSR/Fast Casual world. Not anymore. Our establishments that don't offer credit card tips (due to POS restrictions) often have customers upset they cannot leave a tip for what they consider a lower paid worker. When I added tips to a coffee shop POS, the employees immediately made $3-$4 more an hour AND got amazingly friendlier as well. The small increase in payroll tax cost to the business pales in comparison to the positive effects of tips. Let's face it, most food establishments can't compete with the wages of In-n-Out or Chick-fil-a, but with tips our customers help bring us closer to that level. When recruiting, use the average wage WITH tips. Just make sure it's substantiated by current employee take home pay within a broad time range and clearly advertised as such.
Always be Interviewing. Always be Hiring.
We like to tell our managers, you are always one person away from being short and two people away from a crisis, so interview every single week and hire at least 2 more people than you think you need. It will help keep your current employees on their toes as they wonder why you are interviewing when they are not even getting all the hours they want. You then simply explain that people's plans are always changing and you don't want to leave the store short-handed when someone quits. (Oh, and by the way dear employee, if you did not ask for every other weekend and 3 nights a week off, you might get more hours too.)
Have a robust referral program.
A good old fashioned referral program still works. Because, let's face it, everyone wants to work with their friends. What easier way for your employees to make money than referring their friends. Make sure you have clear posters, constant communication about it, and an easy way to track and pay the referral bonuses. Celebrate it on your internal communications to remind other employees how easy it is.
One of the changes we recently made to our hiring systems was to add Workstream into the mix.
Workstream is a text-to-apply fully automated recruiting tool which allows our managers to schedule interviews and make potential applicants think someone is responding immediately, even when they are busy helping customers.
We had looked into a number of text-to-apply programs and many were either too tedious or too costly to consider for our robust and large franchise group. Workstream seemed like the right fit and their team has been nimble, working alongside our recruiting team to help make sure its platform is optimized for our needs.
We completed a rollout to 27 locations a few weeks ago, and today I got a message from one of our managers. It was a photo of someone on the beach with their feet up, relaxing in the sun.
The caption read, "Me, in my office, because Hiring now organizes itself. "Another manager commented back "Workstream is a dream." I can think something is great all I want, but the operators drive decisions in the restaurant industry.
I was pleased to see our team embracing this new technology and finding it helpful. While we know the hiring and recruiting pressures are not going away anytime soon, anything that gives our managers a few extra minutes in their day or gets more applicants to show up for interviews, is worth its weight in gold.
Tara is the Vice President of Marketing & Human Resources at Integrity Management Services, and also one of Workstream's first few clients.