Ask HR: How Can Restaurant Owners Attract and Keep Good Workers?

By Johnny C. Taylor, Jr., SHRM-SCP October 15, 2021
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Ask HR: How Can Restaurant Owners Attract and Keep Good Workers?

SHRM President and Chief Executive Officer Johnny C. Taylor, Jr., SHRM-SCP, is answering HR questions as part of a series for USA Today.

Do you have an HR or work-related question you'd like him to answer? Submit it here.

As a restaurant owner, I have struggled to maintain staff since the COVID-19 pandemic hit. In the past, I have tended to hire minimum wage workers. Should I raise wages to keep my best workers? What else can I offer besides cash to attract and keep good workers? —Wendell

Johnny C. Taylor, Jr.: In a "normal" environment, finding and keeping good employees is challenging. Doing so during a pandemic and in a labor-intensive, public-facing industry is an even greater feat. But before raising salaries, take a moment to assess your circumstances from a broader perspective.

A recent survey highlights some of the steps employers are taking to attract and retain workers in today's ultracompetitive talent market:

  • 57 percent are offering referral bonuses.
  • 55 percent are hiring external or temporary workers.
  • 44 percent are upskilling and reskilling staff.
  • 43 percent are boosting pay.

Referral bonuses incentivize your current employees while providing businesses with quality leads to other good workers. Hiring external or temporary workers can be a short-term solution to attract workers not yet ready or available for a long-term commitment.

Since much learning on the job occurs through trial and error, it may be helpful and meaningful for your more-experienced staff to mentor new and less-experienced workers. Having a structured mentorship program can help guide new and less-experienced workers and teach them the ropes of the business, particularly those workers who are looking to progress in a hospitality or culinary career.

Supporting worker training and offering tuition reimbursement could also help with upskilling or reskilling staff. Consider partnering with local culinary institutes and colleges to highlight available training and education. Tuition reimbursement programs often require employees to attain a certain grade and remain with the employer for a specified term after completion of the training or degree.

Enhancing health and safety protocols can help alleviate workers' COVID-19 health concerns. Offering paid sick leave can reduce pressure on workers to earn money when they feel ill. It can also help minimize workplace transmission of viruses. Taking additional steps to supply personal protection equipment helps staff and guests adhere to safety protocols.

You are intimately familiar with how the COVID-19 pandemic has impacted your business. You may be less familiar, however, with how it has complicated workers' lives. For many workers, the upending of schooling, health care and transportation has intensified competing demands on their time and jeopardized their livelihoods. In response, many employees are seeking greater flexibility in their work. In a real sense, employees are your first customers. How you accommodate them translates to the service they provide your guests.

Don't underestimate the impact of workplace culture. Workers tend to thrive in workplace cultures that match their values and personas.

Before you commit to making investments that will impact your bottom line, remember it doesn't cost anything to listen. Be flexible with employees, show empathy, and create an inclusive environment to help employees feel engaged and valued. Hopefully, what you hear from them will help you understand whether wage increases or any combination of the other options mentioned here will help you attract, retain and advance your best employees.

Good luck.


I am looking to transition my career into project management. I have worked with people who held the position, and they've commented that I would be good at it. How should I approach seeking employment in a position that I don't have work experience in? —Mark

Johnny C. Taylor, Jr.: When looking to transition your career into an alternate position, you should look for parallels between your current and desired roles. As you research a new vocation, you may find that skills overlap. Be curious and flexible in your pursuit of your new career direction, and be clear about your "why."

Even if you haven't held the specific role of project manager, jobs often have some type of project management aspect to them. Skills such as coordinating teams, planning, communication, problem-solving and data analysis are transferable to a project manager role.

Start by reviewing different project management positions and related job descriptions to see the types of tasks that are regularly performed and how your experience matches up. You may discover that duties in your current role are congruent to project management responsibilities. Utilize your relevant experience to update your resume and professional social media accounts.

Depending on the industry, the organization's size and the scope of projects featured, job requirements will vary. Develop an in-depth understanding of the field as you prepare to transition. Consider joining a project management professional association.

Reach out to those project managers you know or have previously worked with and pick their brains about their experiences—what they like and don't like. Poll them and get their advice for someone interested in project management.

Speak with your supervisor about your interests. Volunteer to lead projects in your department or help in other areas of your organization. Perhaps even shadow someone in the role. Obtaining certifications such as Certified Associate in Project Management (CAPM) or Project Manager Professional (PMP) will add credibility to your profile and underscore your commitment to the career.

Most importantly, know your core reasons for venturing into the project management field. Be prepared to clearly articulate the alignment between who you are and the fundamentals of the role.

Best of luck on your new career path.

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