It’s no secret that the COVID-19 pandemic took a heavy toll on small businesses throughout 2020, and restaurants, especially, took a significant hit. Moving through 2021, however, we’ve seen increasing signs of optimism: customer visits to restaurants has increased more than 40% since January, vaccination rates are climbing, and most of the debilitating restrictions have been lifted. 

By all accounts, these signals should indicate that restaurant sales are booming, but instead, they’re being faced with a new set of challenges… and staffing tops that list. According to a survey from the National Restaurant Association, 72% of operators rated recruitment and retention of workforce as their top challenge, up from 8% in January. 

And this isn’t unique to the restaurant industry.

An ADP Survey also identified that finding qualified employees and adjusting to reduced sales totals are the top two challenges small businesses are facing. 

As employers continue to vie for qualified candidates, we’ve collected a list of three crucial strategies that will help improve recruiting efforts for small businesses:

1. Use every channel possible (especially current employees) to get the word out.

The more channels you’re promoting open positions in, the wider reach you’ll have in the candidate pool. This includes channels like signage at your physical store (inside and outside), website, Yelp profile, Google My Business profile, email newsletters, social channels, job boards, and even leveraging your takeout containers, if possible. Getting open roles in front of your customers is a no brainer: they already engage with your brand and like what you have to offer, so it would be easy for them to advocate for you if they know someone who might fit the bill.

And don’t forget to activate your existing workforce. Similar to customers, current employees can be a positive influence in getting new candidates to consider employment opportunities. Start by reviewing open roles with your teams on a weekly basis, but also recognize that they may need an extra push to work their networks.

Setting up an employee referral program has zero upstart cost and can yield fast results. Boost this method by offering a bonus to both the referred employee and the one that recommended them. 

2. Follow up fast. 

With so many open positions available right now, it’s important to have mechanisms in place that allow you to schedule interviews and provide follow up within 24 hours. In addition to emailing qualified candidates to set up interviews, send them a text. Not surprisingly, 90% of people open a text within three minutes, compared with the 20% of people who even open an email. Texts also have a greater response rate: 45% compared to email’s 6%.

If hiring is a top priority and also a top challenge, then it needs to be top of mind every single day. Employers do not have the luxury of waiting 1-2 weeks to respond. If a candidate is actively looking, they will likely be in another position by then. Cutting your response time to 1-2 days and creating an instant feedback loop will help you move forward with top talent.

Here’s an example of a strong response cadence:

  • Day 1: Application received. Text or call the candidate to schedule the interview ASAP. 
  • Day of Interview: Send them a text reminder of your interview time and place. This helps cut down on the number of no-shows.
  • Day 2-3: Hold the interview. It’s important to understand that conducting the interview in person significantly streamlines this process, but if that’s not possible, phone or video chat is a good second option.

This whole process should ideally take less than three days to complete. Again, the quicker you can start the conversation, the quicker you can decide whether or not you want to make them an offer or move on to other candidates.

3. Show them the money. 

As a job seekers market, employers need to pull out all the stops to secure top talent. This may include adjusting the starting wage of open roles, adding sign-on bonuses after being employed for X months, creating a raise/promotion schedule for retention, or even offering additional perks like covering their monthly phone bill up to a specific amount. 

It’s always a good idea to understand what you’re up against, so consider ways you can competitively scope similar positions in the area. How does your employment package measure up? If attracting top talent is your aim, then you will have to find ways to offer a top-notch work environment and compensation. 

It’s also worth mentioning that now is a good time to re-evaluate the wages for all your employees, not just open roles. Bringing in new candidates at a higher rate than your existing employees is likely to result in high turnover and tension in the workplace. Conversely, raising their wages to reward their loyalty may increase their advocacy efforts in finding new talent.

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