The perennial challenge of staffing in the labour-intensive foodservice industry has only been exacerbated by the COVID-19 pandemic. Widespread staffing shortages as restaurants reopen, coupled with serious financial losses due to long periods of closures and restrictions, mean savvy foodservice operators are looking for effective retention and hiring strategies that won’t break the bank.
Objective analysis of a problem’s root causes is the first step to finding solutions. While some reasons for staff shortages are beyond your control, be open to the possibility that your own practices may be a factor. For instance, ongoing government support programs may be one reason foodservice staff aren’t flocking back. But telling staff that their colleagues who haven’t returned would rather collect a benefit cheque than work could backfire: finger pointing may be part of your retention problem.
There are many nuanced reasons that many have chosen to leave the foodservice industry — or perhaps your establishment — including:
Some retention and recruitment strategies come with a price tag. Assess that against the costs of losing valuable employees you’ve already invested in and operating short-staffed. You may find that you can’t afford not to implement some of those strategies.
The cost of turnover can run to several thousands of dollars per departure, based on hiring process and training costs, lost productivity, and other factors. In pandemic times, turnover cost cuts even more sharply. Without enough staff to run your restaurant, tables may sit empty; some restaurateurs have even had to cut back on operating hours or close altogether.
It may seem counterintuitive, but think about retention before hiring strategies. Why? Because the reasons your staff want to stay are also why people want to join your workplace. A poor reputation in the job market due to high turnover has a chilling effect on hiring; being known as a great employer attracts applicants.
The pandemic created a seller’s market in real estate, but when it comes to foodservice jobs, it’s a buyer’s market. Job seekers have their pick and so do your current staff — retention is more important than ever.
In addition to providing competitive starting wages, consider implementing pay ranges with increases at set intervals. On a four-step scale, the starting rate could be followed by three incremental increases every six months to a year to encourage employees to stay.
Is your tipping policy — or lack of one — a source of staff dissatisfaction? You may not be ready to build gratuities into menu costs, but tip sharing could address compensation inequities between front- and back-of-house staff.
Jeff Dover, principal at the foodservice consultancy fsSTRATEGY Inc., says health and/or dental benefits can be cost effective for small operators. “Benefits are important and, given that many restaurants don’t offer them, can make a restaurant an attractive place to work. Help with childcare is very beneficial as well.” Dover says paid sick days are timely given the pandemic. While some employees may treat them as vacation days, there is a pressing need for employees not to come to work sick.
“Referral bonuses are becoming more prevalent,” Dover adds. Not only are they attractive to current staff, but he says they work well too. “New hires are more likely to stay if they know someone, especially if that person has stuck their neck out to recommend them.”
Offer ongoing training and development for staff who’d like to learn new skills, rotate through different jobs, or advance into leadership.
Training isn’t just for new hires. Offer ongoing training and development for staff who’d like to learn new skills, rotate through different jobs, or advance into leadership. Ask what they’d like to learn more about to keep it timely and meet their needs.
Establish Career Paths
Communicate the career paths in your establishment. Dover says, “Teaching people what it takes to get promoted and helping them do so is great for retention.”
Prioritize Staff Health and Safety
Health and safety is top of mind these days. Make it a topic at all staff meetings, reviewing protocols to bolster employees’ confidence that they and their co-workers are doing the right things the right way for safety. Be proactive about discussing mental health, and consult industry and community resources to address any issues.
Is your culture rigid or flexible? Do schedules take staff needs into account? Are minor repairs and interpersonal issues addressed quickly to minimize day-to-day work frustrations? Do you communicate openly with your team? Do staff feel safe bringing forward concerns? Do you offer open recognition but private criticism (constructive, of course)? Never underestimate the retention and hiring power of your staff feeling supported and heard.
Think about recruiting online, offering applicants the choice of submitting traditional or video résumés, and conducting Zoom interviews.
Hiring Strategies that Reflect the Times
Asking applicants to drop off paper résumés can be off-putting for a digital-savvy labour pool. Trendy speed-dating-style hiring fairs are problematic during the pandemic. Think about recruiting online, offering applicants the choice of submitting traditional or video résumés, and conducting Zoom interviews. If you want to meet in person before making the final decision, use those tools to shortlist candidates.
Use Your Website for Hiring
Your website is an important tool in your hiring process. Amina Gilani, co-founder and COO of Sociavore, the independent restaurant website platform and Brand Points PLUS partner, says: “Use the Sociavore job creator tool to create customized job listings and generate mobile-friendly application pages right on your restaurant website. You will receive virus-screened application packages directly in your email — no third-party recruiting website required. Accept and manage application submissions all from one dashboard.”
Go Social for Recruiting
You work hard to build your social media accounts, so why not harness them for recruitment? Your followers just may want to work for you or refer candidates to you, so let them know you’re hiring and link to your website job listings.
Signing and Retention Bonuses
Signing and retention bonuses can sweeten the deal for potential new hires.
When it comes to hiring and retention, Dover says, “The best thing you can do is make your restaurant a great place to work. […] Treat employees like a valuable commodity (which they are), and do what you can to keep people happy. […] Make your restaurant a place where Gen Z wants to work. They want to work for a company whose values align with theirs, so be environmentally friendly, address social issues, etc. Get the staff involved in implementing programs. If you nail this, you will have a way easier time than other restaurants finding and retaining staff.”
Written by Marlene Cornelis. For more great articles visit chefconnexion.com.
Marketing your restaurant brand successfully, meaning you’re actually experiencing a return on your marketing dollars, can often seem an insurmountable task.
It’s important to keep in mind that some of the most effective restaurant marketing strategies are designed to produce long-term results, as guests need constant visual reminders and communication about your brand to persuade their decision-making.
Instagram and Facebook have made it extremely easy to attract and gain new guests with targeted digital advertising. Set your ad objective to target audiences similar to who follows your social pages, and drive them right to your website for reservation bookings. You can track the results, and not only begin seeing your social community grow, but also your reservation bookings.
Create a seasonally inspired ticketed experience or event that requires guests to secure their spot in advance with a ticket. Not only does this guarantee a full house, but also allows you to manage the profit margin to increase your revenue, while creating a unique experience for guests. Try EventBrite for ease of ticket management.
Promotional marketing has a reputation of hurting the bottom line, but that isn’t always the case if planned strategically. There are many ways to maintain your brand experience and reputation, while offering a nominal perk to encourage guests to dine with you, and spend a little bit more. The objective with promotional incentives should be to increase the average check, by upselling the order on profitable menu items. Themed menu nights, pre-set menus, menu specials, alcohol features, and combos are all forms of promotional restaurant marketing that can increase revenue.
What better way to encourage sales than by giving someone a complimentary experience first! This marketing tactic allows you to communicate one on one the key selling features of the menu item or beverage, while making the guest feel special with a complimentary tasting. Work with your suppliers to create the experience and provide additional support and product, which will also reduce your expenses and increase your profit.
FACT: Customers are 93% more likely to purchase an upgraded bottle of wine ($10 more) when offered a sampling.
Why wait for the guests to come to you, when you can go to them? Pop-up carts, booths, and street activations can be very a cost-effective way of reaching a new audience and marketing your brand experience directly. Be sure to hand out a promotional piece, such as a complimentary appetizer or dessert card, to invite guests to your physical location to dine again!
Consider leveraging your most popular dishes, sauces, or made-in-house products that have the highest profit margin, and packaging them to go for guests to enjoy at home. This out-the-door form of marketing keeps your brand top of mind in guest homes, sparks word-of-mouth advertising, and provides your business with another revenue stream.
Most restaurant point-of-sale systems have built-in rewards programs that track guest’s information and dining history. The systems are extremely sophisticated, and often provide digital marketing opportunities to reward guests based on their dining behaviour and milestones, such as birthdays and anniversaries. Whether it’s a complimentary birthday dessert or points towards achieving a unique experience, be sure to maximize the preexisting marketing tools in your point-of-sale, or reservation booking systems, to encourage repeat business.
You know the saying – “Keep your friends close, and your enemies closer”? This rings true for restaurant competitors too! Over the last few years, as restaurants have struggled with new industry challenges, we’ve witnessed the birth of restaurant and chef collaborations with the objective of bringing unique experiences to guests and driving new business. Consider hiring a well-known chef to design your seasonal menu, or feature some unique menu items designed by another popular restaurant that serves a different type of cuisine, or collaborate on a pop-up to share costs. The ideas are endless, and with the right collaboration the results can be very positive for the bottom line.
When it comes to marketing your restaurant brand, Google Business is a tactic that many restaurant brands have still not tapped into fully. Google Business pages provide a platform where you can showcase images, post daily updates, create digital promotions for guests, link to your website and social platforms, and encourage guests to reward you with 5-star reviews. When a guest Googles your brand, your Google Business page is likely the first thing that pops up, which is why it’s so critical to manage this platform. The best part, all of the digital tools are free.
Let your website be the front door to your restaurant where diners can learn about you before they make a reservation. Your online strategy isn’t complete without one and sites such as the all-in-one platform Sociavore was developed for independent restaurant operators like you to be in full control of your brand, content, online ordering and reservation booking system. Your website attracts visitors and drives sales, so take control of your online presence. Book a Sociavore demo here.
Take your marketing efforts to a more profitable level by implementing one or more of these creative strategies for your restaurant brand.
Written by Kate Engineer, originally posted on chefconnexion.com.
You don’t need a fine art degree to execute beautifully presented plates. Somewhere between Chicago restaurant Alinea’s Da Vinci-esque attention to detail and a cafeteria scoop and slap, there is a style of food plating that represents your very own establishment. Plating, like art, is personal and should tell the story of your menu.
Menus changed dramatically in the last year to cover losses from restrictions and shutdowns. Entire menus were downsized, menus became hyper-focused and the individual menu items remaining were squeezed to maximize profits. Has your plating adjusted accordingly?
With a splash of art, a touch of math, and a dollop of common sense, you will be on your way to palatable plating. Follow these handy tips:
Elevating your food with thoughtful plating gives a memorable first impression before your customers even take a bite. If they grab their cameras before their forks? Your food plating is a masterpiece.
Written by Cheri Thompson, originally posted on chefconnexion.com
Keeping your guests informed and up to date about what to expect when dining at your establishment has never been so critical to the success of your foodservice operation. The restaurant industry remains in a state of constant change, and to maximize the allowable dining capacities, you need to up your communications game.
Start off by keeping these key questions top of mind for a more tactical approach to your communications:
First and foremost, a transparent and authentic approach is critical in achieving effective communications that will leave your restaurant guests feeling comfortable, safe and informed about the NEW dining experience at your establishment. Be first to share your health and safety procedures, operational changes such as seating and team updates, and menu modifications, so guests know upfront what to expect without having to ask. This tactic will help to demonstrate that your team takes the changing circumstances seriously, you’re informed, and you want to provide the best guest experience.
In a recent poll, 59% of respondents shared that they use Google to find out information about a restaurant, while 41% use Instagram.
Reservation booking platforms, search engine listings, your website, social media, and review websites all share pertinent information about your restaurant that informs guests decision-making. The information listed on these digital touch points must to be current and consistent for maximum awareness. There is nothing more frustrating for a guest than showing up to find a closed restaurant, when online it says it’s open.
Here is the key information guests are looking when they search; be sure to keep it updated:
TIP: Help reduce email inquiries, direct messages, and phone inquiries by providing a few frequently asked guest questions and up-to-date team responses on your website, Facebook, and Google Business page!
It’s easy these days to overuse the pandemic in our communication, however when the time is right, focus on the new and exciting things happening at your restaurant to entice guests back in to dine and continue to take out. New menu items, improved service, seasonal drinks, revamped décor and design, weekend events, and special occasion celebrations are all things to communicate that will remind guests of why they should choose to dine with you versus a competitor. Promote what you’re best known for, and feature it on all of your communications platforms!
Social media is your simplest and quickest way to share what’s happening at your establishment with guests, and to spark two-way communication. Up your posting to daily, and share the unique brand experiences that will excite guests the most. With health and safety top of mind for diners, ensure your photography and video content showcase your team following the proper procedures, in order to resolve any guest concerns; transparency is absolutely the best policy. When boosting your social media presence be prepared for increased guest inquiries through direct messages and comments, and have a plan in place to respond within less than 24 hours. The FAQs and responses are also a useful tool when responding on social media.
Whether you send monthly emails or have never sent email communication from your brand, now is the time to get in the inbox. You’ll be fighting for space, however email communication is a great tactic to provide more detailed information for guests to help keep them informed of your weekly or monthly happenings. E-newsletters should be short and sweet, with a catchy subject line, and include hyperlinks either back to your website or a direct email for more information. Utilize email communication to feature operational and safety news, menu features, and special events.
TIP: Can’t afford a graphic designer? Try Canva at no charge for a well-designed branded e-newsletter you can create in no time.
Guests are eager and excited to get back to in-dining, and the most effective approach to filling your seats is to communicate timely and accurate information that sets a clear guest expectation. Your brand can’t over-communicate right now; it’s time to get loud!
Written by Kate Engineer and shared with permission from chefconnexion.com
Our love affair with the scent and flavour of smoke is primal, evoking memories from deep within us. Canadian diners continue to be enchanted with all things smoke.
Gone are the days where customers only want smoky flavours associated with BBQ. Smoke continues to waft across menus. Although proteins (both animal and plant-based) continue to dominate the smoky spotlight, this delectable flavour profile now permeates salads, desserts and even drinks.
Go all in with in-house smoking or utilize the flavour packed offerings from Canadian suppliers who know their smoke. Fan those delicious smoky flames and ignite your menu.
Smoking and smoke flavours have been around for millennia, but restaurant customers still can’t get enough as smoke continues to waft through menus across the country.
Technomic’s foodservice industry intelligence platform tracks flavours and preparations on menus. And they see smoke!
Among the foodservice establishments Technomic tracks, 45% of operators have menu items featuring smoke flavour or smoke preparation methods. And depending on the segments, the rate is even higher. Food Trucks – 75%, Upscale CDR – 68%, Fine Dining – 66%.
It all makes sense when you consider that poutine appetizers, specialty burgers, sushi and even breakfast platters boasting this flavour profile continue to show growth. When you look at meal parts, desserts that feature smoke are showing an astonishing 33% growth.
Yes, smoke for dessert. And well beyond s’mores, banana boats and mountain pies. How about Smoky Banana Bourbon Bites, Apple Pie with Smoked Cheddar Crust or Smoky Spiced Chocolate Cake?
Hanging out at the cottage, delighting in bonfires and watching grandpa at the BBQ are fond memories evoked by the smell and taste of smoke for Victoria Horton, sales and quality assurance for Horton Spice Mills.
“People love smoky flavours because of the memories. It reminds us of summertime, nice weather and social gatherings.” And who isn’t craving that right now? “The scent gives us a moment to reminisce, but the flavour is delicious and keeps us coming back for more,” she adds.
“Operators should add smoky flavours for the experience,” Horton suggests. “And for the nostalgia.”
“Smoking meats and other ingredients takes time. It’s a low and slow process,” she reminds us. “If operators want to achieve dishes with smoky flavours without all the work and time needed, spices and seasonings can do the trick. Add them before, add them after, or both, to whatever you are cooking.”
Horton Spice Mills has a few items that can bring smoke to a dish without all the time and effort. How about a Smoky Salted Caramel Pear Tart using their smoked salt. Or a quick Portobello Mushroom Paprikash with smoked paprika.
“Our chipotle seasoning adds a hint of smoke and we have created a Smoked Montreal Steak Spice,” says Horton.
“Smoky flavours offer a sensory experience like no other,” says Steve Hutchinson, VP of marketing for foodservice for Parmalat/Lactalis.
“It’s a flavour adventure not easily replicated with in-home dining and can therefore make dining out an incredible experience. Operators who can create these unique smoky flavour experiences and link it to their signature dishes can keep customers coming back.”
Cheese and cheddar are top ingredients paired with smoke. Lactalis takes it a step further with Balderson’s Double Smoked Cheddar. Using it on the menu can impart intense wood smoke flavour, and the fact it pairs well with dark and amber beers, ales and lagers is a bonus.
Kick it up a notch higher and pair smoky appetizers with smoke-infused cocktails. A Manhattan, Bloody Mary or Martini will take centre stage when you add smoky elements – infused spirits, smoked ice cubes, smoking the glass or adding a smoked garnish.
“Differentiation and craveability are key to gaining new customers,” says Unilever Corporate Chef Kyla Tuori, who has been working with operators to help their businesses excel for the past 14 years.
“The flavours we associate with “smokiness” add complexity to so many recipes, craveable enough that they are now being incorporated into vegetables dishes,” she says.
“Smokiness in your dishes allows for simple, yet impactful, enhancements for a variety of cuisines. Adding smoke flavour, or the process of smoking can be introduced as a subtle background note or leading flavour.”
Not all operators have access to smoking equipment or the inclination to add another process to their busy kitchens. But there’s always another way.
Says Chef Kyla, “Unilever created the Knorr Intense Flavours Deep Smoke. This concentrated liquid seasoning allows you to easily add the rich smoky taste.”
She also reminds us that yes, smoky is amazing but adding other flavours can further enhance your dishes. Knorr Citrus Fresh Flavour is a great example of a complement to smoky dishes but can also be used multiple places on your menu.
Where there’s smoke, there’s fire. Grab your ingredients, add the fuel of your imagination and creativity, stay true to your brand and add some major heat to your menu.
Written by Cherie Thompson and shared with permission from Chef Connexion. For more great articles and recipes visist chefconnexion.com.