Across Canadian restaurants, labour shortage is a startling reality. Why does this matter? Well, persistent labour shortages put a damper on investment and expansion, for one. Even existing businesses are at risk if they can’t properly attract and retain talent.
According to a recent survey from homegrown restaurant-software startup and Restaurants Canada partner, TouchBistro, a staggering 100 per cent of those polled claimed they’ve struggled to staff their restaurant in the past year. Shortfalls span available general manager and supervisor posts, to openings for chefs, servers, cooks and dishwashers, all the way to hosting and bartending gigs.
Make no mistake, it’s cause for concern. The restaurant trade is one of Canada’s largest employers — the biggest source of first-time jobs for youth — and an important segment of every urban and rural community across the country.
With help from TouchBistro, and industry experts from some of Canada’s hottest establishments and businesses, we identified six ways you can attract and retain talent, during what TouchBistro deems the greatest labour shortage we’ve ever seen.
Here are six ways restaurants can attract and retain talent:
1. Attention and consistency when recruiting
Don’t let incoming applications pile up or allow your system to get bottlenecked. Elisabeth Bottomley is the marketing and recruitment manager for Distillery Restaurants Corporation (Distillery Restaurants Corp counts hotspots like Archeo, Cluny Bistro, El Catrin, Madrina Bar y Tapas and Pure Spirits Oyster House & Grill amongst its burgeoning mini-empire). The ability to attract and retain talent is critical to the Distillery Restaurants Corp.’s viability. Bottomley noted that the Distillery Restaurants Corp. is hiring all the time. They review résumés as they’re received and begin the onboarding process immediately when a candidate cuts the mustard.
2. Implement a purposeful social media strategy
For the Distillery Restaurants Corp., promoting a social presence, documenting ideal customers, identifying key success metrics and curating engaging content affords the chance to have its workforce take pride in what’s being accomplished on the whole. Social media can be used as a branding tool for recruitment. It allows you showcase a fun environment, attracting new talent. It also demonstrates your establishment’s values and mission upfront — showing potential employers what you stand for.
3. Encourage employee growth
The TouchBistro survey signalled that only 10.9 per cent of employees remain at their current workplace from six months to a year — with just 9.8 per cent from three to five years. With stats like this, it made sense to Kim Montgomery-Rawlings that investing in employees was key to retaining talent.
Kim Montgomery-Rawlings is the co-owner of Montgomery’s — a Canadian restaurant on Toronto’s eclectic Queen Street West. Her establishment welcomes plenty of cooks who actually want to acquire a knowledge of FOH jobs. “We accept it and help them,” she adds.
“A big part of our hiring is training,” says Montgomery-Rawlings. “We have a lot of people coming to work for us to learn how to open a restaurant.”
To that end, Montgomery-Rawlings says that her management team constantly asks prospective employees what their short-term, medium and long-term goals are, so that Montgomery’s can first understand what’s important to them, then identify the best available role.
“We will take the time to give you the opportunity to do what you are curious about, or what you want to gain experience in.” The desired outcome? Prospective employees who become inspired to commit to Montgomery’s at the very same level. “We take the time to allow people to shine by themselves.”
Executive Chef of Momofuku’s Kōjin outpost, Paula Navarrete echos Montgomery’s thoughts. She implores owners and operators to mentor their employees. “Hire good people and find a spot for them,” she declares. “Take care of them. Coach them. Don’t hold anything back. Put yourself in your staff’s shoes and find out why they would want to stay there themselves.”
4. Reward employees
Why do your employees leave? This is the question that Daniel McKormick, the co-founder of Pluggd, thinks needs to be answered. Pluggd is an app that connects employers with staff, matching labour supply and demand — as well as facilitating secure and guaranteed payment — all within the platform.
As far as he’s concerned, stemming the rising tide of labour shortages in Toronto and across Canada boils down to identifying why people are leaving so routinely and what they want to do in their life, then allowing them to do exactly that.“Help them achieve it, whatever that is,” he advises. For example, if your server is an actress, grant them flexible hours.
McKormick advocates for owners and operators to reward the people who stay longer, whether that means offering benefits after a year or family benefits after three years. Several of those polled in the TouchBistro survey claimed not being overworked and getting benefits would improve matters.
Typically, when a restaurant places a job opening on Craigslist or Indeed, they will get flooded by untold applicants with little practical knowledge and, more often than not, questionable enthusiasm — assuming they even turn up for their interview.
In fact, the TouchBistro survey indicates 89 per cent of owners polled experience these very no-shows, while 77.8 per cent found too many inexperienced people are applying and another 77.8 per cent that staff have poor attitudes.
Pluggd thinks about rewarding their potential employee pool at this level as well. It’s constructed with a Tinder-like approach, meaning mutual preference is necessary. This is crucial because it allows prospective employees to exhibit interest in an establishment before that establishment gets notified of their curiosity and decides to look into it. Moreover, by factoring in a rating system, Pluggd puts trust front and centre, since employees can rate their employers. Conversely, these employees will be more likely to take heightened pride in their job, seeing as employers can rate their employees, too. Which means any worker failing to bring an enthusiastic approach promises to leave behind a negative trace.
5. Ensure gender equality in your business
“Why aren’t there more women in the kitchen,” Sam Medeiros once asked a former boss. The response fired back at her? “Because you would be talking all the time!”
Tired of suffering from sexism in the kitchen, Medeiros shared with us how she began to feel like she had no future in the industry. So the female cook began looking for restaurants where other women were enlisted on the line, wondering if there was indeed a place for her.
And today, as a valued member of staff at Toronto’s vibrant and aggressively seasonal La Palma, Medeiros appreciates where she ended up because, as long as she’s running the pass here, nobody cares about her gender or looks. No matter if you’re male or female at La Palma, she insists everyone shares the very same opportunities.
Her keynote? That restaurateurs already possess the ability to reduce their employees leaving for the same job elsewhere. They simply must take responsibility. Ensuring gender equality is key to attract and retain talent!
6. Manage expectations
As the Executive Chef of Momofuku’s Kōjin outpost, Paula Navarrete knows a thing about how to attract and retain talent. Heck, she’s been with the uber-popular culinary brand — established by David Chang in 2004 — since Momofuku first opened its doors in Toronto more than five years ago.
Navarrete sites the closure of Momofuku’s Daishō and Shōtō locations earlier this year, as an example of when managing expectations was key to retaining talent.
After the closure, all staff (with the exception of two employees) returned. And why did they return? Because Momofuku managed their expectations from the outset. They made sure new employees knew what they were coming into.
“They are making an investment as much as we are, so let’s make sure we are working in the same direction,” Navarrete recounts.
As labour shortage continues to be a growing issue for businesses in Canada, retaining good talent is more important than ever. Not only is keeping good employees on your staff imperative, but so is attracting the right employees. Getting insight into how to attract and retain talent from industry experts can be a game changer for your establishment. Learn successful tips and tricks from those leading the way and understand how you can overcome the challenges of today’s foodservice industry.