Recruiting seasonal employees is always hard, regardless of when in the season you start the process. This year, it has been even more challenging.
The unemployment rate in Canada fell to a new record low of 4.9%, as fewer people searched for work. Even with more people searching for and filling summer and seasonal positions, the national job vacancy rate for the accommodation and food service industry was holding steady at 11.9% in May - the highest of all areas of employment.
Hiring seasonal workers is essential for the restaurant industry, especially in high traffic tourist areas and beach-side vacation destinations.
In this hot job market, it’s becoming increasingly difficult to find and retain employees. Whereas in past years where restaurants would be flooded with resumes, restaurant operators have had to pivot and put in a little more effort to attract staff.
This has made restaurateurs become more creative with their overall and seasonal hiring processes — trying everything from buying robots to work as servers to hiring kids as young as 11 years old. With some additional effort, it can become easier to run a seasonal business.
Let’s start with some essentials.
What is seasonal hiring?
Seasonal hiring is temporary employment to fill jobs during the busy season — typically stretching between Victoria Day and Labour Day in Canada during the summer, then mid-November to early April for winter or ski-based businesses. Hiring seasonal employees is an important piece of the staffing puzzle for the restaurant and hospitality industry, especially in beach and resort towns where the population swells dramatically in the summer season and larger urban areas like Toronto and Montreal that attract millions of tourists each summer.
What are the challenges of hiring seasonal employees?
Due to its temporary nature, seasonal employment is short-lived. Restaurant managers have to go through the tough seasonal hiring process to bring on new team members – only to see them disappear when the crowds have gone home at the end of the season.
While the summer season is short, it is often just as busy, if not busier, than the rest of the year. With the long hours, large crowds, increased venue space from patios, employees tired from the heat, and workers taking days off for their own short vacations, a few extra hands will go a long way to helping your restaurant excel.
Tips for recruiting seasonal employees
Once you’re ready to begin recruiting seasonal employees, here are eight strategies to point you in the right direction.
It’s best to start planning and advertising seasonal positions as early as possible. In normal years, six to eight weeks would be sufficient for attracting seasonal employees to fill temporary roles — a process including conducting interviews, making final hiring decisions, and training and onboarding. While it takes 43 days on average to complete the hiring process, that timeline seems sloth-like in a candidate-friendly hiring market.
A study from Robert Half showed that 62% of candidates lose interest in a job if they don’t hear back from the employer within two weeks — or 10 business days — after the initial interview. Employers should be prepared to make hiring decisions quickly and intuitively so they don’t lose out on top candidates.
Cast a wide net
Let the world know that you are hiring seasonal staff. List your available positions on your website; put up Help Wanted signs in the window; post openings on job websites; include announcements and links to job postings in any customer emails or newsletters.
In addition to large hiring platforms like Indeed, Kijiji, or LinkedIn, there are sites like EightSix Network that focus on food service industry jobs.
Communicate your needs clearly
Clearly communicate in the title and description of the job posting whether this is a seasonal or permanent position. This will eliminate any confusion and ensure that you find the right fit for both you and the candidates. If you are open to keeping workers employed after the end of your season, you should also mention that in the job description, as that might influence potential candidates - like students - who want to work into the fall.
Title: Bartender (Seasonal)
We’re looking for an experienced bartender with a desire to help others by providing exceptional customer service to our guests. Employee housing available for staff who commit to staying on through Labour Day.
Tasks & Responsibilities:
Prepare and mix beverages for guests in a friendly and timely manner according to standards
Anticipate guests' needs, respond promptly, and acknowledge all guests
Set up the bar according to standards, practice prudent portion controls, keep sufficient inventories, and follow proper closing procedures
Adhere to all provincial, federal, and corporate liquor regulations related to the serving of alcoholic beverages to minors and intoxicated guests, ensuring full compliance
2+ years bartending experience
Professional demeanor with strong verbal communication skills
High energy level, exceptional customer service, and ability to work as a team
Commitment to work a flexible schedule of 40 hours per week (some mornings, some late nights, weekends, and holidays)
Ability to continuously stand and walk for 4-5 hours at a time and lift over 50 pounds
Alcohol serving certification
Authorization to work in Canada
Go after your target market
Seasonal work is ideal for certain segments of the population: high school and college students, for example. Rather than wait for them to discover your available positions, take charge and go to them directly. Contact the career services office at your local universities, colleges, and high schools to alert them of your job vacancies. See if you can have a booth at their career fairs, have physical posters placed on their job boards, or if they have an online forum for summer and seasonal job opportunities.
Go after your social media following
If you have spent the time and energy to carefully craft and curate your social media presence, you know the impact of the community you’ve built. Your social media audience is typically composed of fans and loyal customers who live in your community. By sharing the seasonal work opportunities with your followers, you could generate candidates through word of mouth or attract some of your own customers to become team members. Many restaurants are using popular social media platforms, like TikTok, to advertise their available job opportunities and specifically targeting Gen-Z and Millennials. Through these videos, restaurants are able to showcase their company cultures, benefits, and learning and career opportunities.
Tap your internal network
Don’t forget to consult with your most valuable source of referrals: your own workforce. If you already have an employee referral program in place, your workers are incentivized to refer people that they know and trust — maybe a relative or friend home from college or visiting for the season. With research indicating that each employee referral saves an average of $7,500, there’s no reason to wait. Studies have also shown that companies who use employee referral programs have an average retention rate of 46%, compared to the 33% retention rate of organizations that rely entirely on career sites — saving the company significant time and money long-term while increasing morale.
Offer housing or additional incentives
In areas where seasonal housing comes at a premium and is often hard to find — like Banff, Whistler, and Muskoka — businesses often try to entice seasonal employees by offering employee accommodations as an added benefit. Restaurateurs can help attract students and young adults who want to spend their summers visiting some of Canada’s most beautiful locales or winters skiing while earning an income and gaining work experience as seasonal workers in the food service industry.
Tips for retaining your seasonal workforce
After you’ve taken the time training and mentoring exceptional employees, you’ll want to create an action plan to retain them. Having a happy and enthusiastic team helps a restaurant thrive and is essential for creating an appealing environment for diners. A full roster of staff is critical for maintaining smooth operations, maximizing profits, and limiting stress for other team members.
Set appropriate expectations
One of the best ways to help maintain your seasonal workforce is to have set expectations for your team, including their tasks, responsibilities, company culture, and code of conduct.
Set this message at every point of contact, including even before employees are hired - through job postings, the hiring and interview processes, training, team and one-on-one meetings, and during regular work activities. Avoid areas of confusion while uplifting and engaging your employees through informative and direct communications. Creating and sharing an effective employee handbook can be a good reference guide for your team and further reiterate your expectations.
Being thrust into a hectic restaurant environment can be stressful, even for seasoned veterans of the food service industry. That stress becomes even more intense for entry-level employees with little-to-no experience. One of the best ways to support and empower all seasonal workers is to provide training.
Areas of training may vary by position and restaurant, but may include:
Food safety guidelines
Uniform and wardrobe requirements
Server and/or beverage training
Preparation policies and operations
Etiquette and code of conduct
As a part of the training process, some restaurants require shadowing of senior or more experienced staff, or mentorship programs in which employees can gain advanced skills and insights to advance in the restaurant industry.
Hold regular meetings
Hosting regular meetings with your staff is essential for supporting team morale and smooth business operations. By holding routine pre-shift meetings, team members are able to communicate new or relevant information, directly address concerns, and celebrate individual and team victories. Meetings can also be a place to refresh staff on issues covered in their seasonal staff training or provide brief educational moments based on recent scenarios or concerns.
One of the best ways to encourage seasonal workers to remain with the company for the whole season and reward employees for strong work ethics is to offer a bonus after a certain amount of time — say, 90 days or a full season. Team members are less likely to leave mid-season if they’re financially incentivized to stay and feel rewarded for their hard work.
Unlike other industries, it’s virtually impossible for restaurant staff to work remotely - so having some flexibility in terms of scheduling or time off can help attract and retain seasonal employees. Just like year-round staff, seasonal employees have many commitments and activities in their life outside of work – medical appointments, family events, childcare pickup and dropoff, for example. Any flexibility in shift schedules is always appreciated by staff members. Allowing time off well in advance — whether a day, or longer absences for high performing staff — can help employees stay refreshed and energized upon their return.
Build a welcoming culture
Arguably the best way to retain seasonal employees is to create a welcoming and enjoyable environment. A report by McKinsey and Company indicated that employees are often more interested in being part of a community of reliable and supportive people than financial compensation. Employees are more likely to buy into company cultures that are embedded through traditions and norms that are set in place from the beginning - rather than instituted halfway through employment. Instituting company policies and activities to build and support workplace morale from the get-go can be well worthwhile.
Keep the door open
If you know before entering seasonal hiring activities that you may want or need to extend seasonal employees after the season ends or make the employment recurring year after year, let the candidates know as soon as possible. If you can identify exceptional seasonal employees at the end of the busy season that you want to rehire next year, make them aware and get their contact information so you can get in touch when the time is right. This will save you valuable time recruiting, hiring, and training candidates.
Consider hiring foreign workers
One way that restaurant operators can help alleviate the pressures of staffing shortages and finding seasonal employees within their local markets is by seeking out international team members.
The Government of Canada recently changed regulations pertaining to the Temporary Foreign Worker Program to help alleviate labour shortages, with changes coming into place on April 30, 2022. This includes changes specific to hospitality and food service industries, including a change that allows employers to hire up to 30% of their workforce through the TFW Program for low-wage positions for one year and the end of the current policy that automatically refuses Labour Market Impact Assessments applications for low-wage occupations in regions with an unemployment rate of 6% or higher.
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