How QSR Operators Can Navigate Staffing Challenges in 2022
The OneDataSource Editorial Team
December 16, 2021
Yet, with restrictions lifted and the world opening more each day, there remain persistent labor shortages. It seems that every retail establishment has a “help wanted” or “we are hiring” sign at the door. There have been small gains, but the road to pre-pandemic staffing levels is a long one.
Recruiting and retaining talent has been a persistent issue since the outset of the pandemic. We explore the steps QSR operators can take to help navigate staffing challenges.
Although Bureau of Labor Statistics numbers show solid gains in job growth for the restaurant industry, adding back 1.4 million jobs during the first seven months of 2021, that growth stalled in August and September. As of October 2021, the sector remains nearly 800,000 jobs, or 6.4 percent, below the pre-pandemic peak levels.1
A full 75 percent of quick-service operators in a recent National Restaurant Association survey said they were understaffed. That’s led to a distinct impact on the way operators and businesses run. Nearly 70 percent of restaurants reduced hours of operation over the past three months, and 45 percent said they’ve closed on days they’d typically open. Additionally, 46 percent said they’ve cut back menus to account for understaffing and minimize operational complexity. In fact, at quick-service restaurant chains, the average menu size decreased from 73.5 items in 2019 to 68.9 as of June 2021.2
Speeding up operations means better customer service. By being able to quickly gather data down to the store level, owners, operators, and managers can make better business decisions.
So, what’s going on? And what can QSR operators do about it?
The federal pandemic-related stimulus plan provided help to those Americans struggling during the pandemic, but it also became a flashpoint. With weekly $300 unemployment benefits, some argued it discouraged workers from returning to the labor force. Those benefits ended September 5, 2020, and it’s clear there’s more friction than can be explained by that reason alone. But it does highlight some of the related issues.3
Big companies like Amazon and Target have recently raised their wages to $15 an hour.4 For workers previously in or considering the service industry, that may give them pause as they consider which industry to return to. In response, we’ve seen some quick-service brands make the jump. For example, Chipotle implemented a $15 average minimum wage in 2021, and McDonald’s has committed to an average $15 hourly minimum wage by 2024 in its company-owned restaurants.
Health & Care Concerns
Of course, the quick-service industry is a high-contact environment, from the number of individuals that come through an establishment to handling various payment methods. While QSRs have established new contactless processes and payments, roadblocks remain to get workers back in the door. Fear of contracting the virus and child or elder care issues are two such reasons.
The pandemic has changed the way people think about work and how they live their lives. The federal stimulus may have allowed them to take time with family and reevaluate how they were spending their time altogether. That shift is here to stay but adds pressure and complexity for operators.
But, at the same time, there’s also an opportunity for operators to evolve their labor tactics to land and retain the best talent moving forward.
Meet job candidates where they are.
Most people operate from their phones these days. So, connecting with potential candidates via social media or text messaging is a modern way to engage. It can also help move the recruitment process along quicker.
Offer virtual interviews
With a need to get workers in quickly coupled with wanting to avoid unnecessary face-to-face interactions, virtual interviews are a solid hiring trend for the future. Plus, one study found that virtual interviews decrease overall recruitment time by more than 20 percent.5
Think outside the box.
Traditional hiring tactics won’t cut it for the long term. So instead, forward-thinking quick-service brands are incorporating marketing tactics for recruiting through digital channels.
For example, with digital marketing techniques using keywords and audience attributes, teams can employ targeted recruiting ad campaigns to attract individuals that meet the profile they’re searching for.
Competitive pay is now the baseline.
It’s an employee market. They have options when it comes to where they decide to spend their working hours. With that in mind, employers need to make sure they’re offering competitive pay. On top of that, some operators are considering enhanced bonuses or rewards such as tuition assistance programs, appreciation pay, or other benefits related to childcare or family leave.
Allow for a degree of work schedule flexibility.
The pandemic introduced constraints like limited childcare and eldercare. It also further illuminated people’s desire to have more flexibility in their work and life.
In an industry that requires nights, weekends, and holidays, the future of retaining talent will depend on combating overwork and burnout with more flexibility.
Commit to diversity and inclusiveness.
It’s no secret the foodservice industry is challenged when it comes to a lack of diverse representation, especially in managerial and above positions. So, diversity and inclusiveness are a clear focus for brands that want to retain talent for the future. Some have already taken steps to address this. For example, one of Wendy’s named goals is to “increase the representation of underrepresented populations among Company leadership and management, as well as the diversity of Wendy’s franchisees.”6
In the end, quick-service operators that will win are the ones thinking about these factors and they can support the livelihoods of their employees.
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