It’s that time of year again — when your restaurant has to recruit seasonal employees.
You’ve pored over last year’s reports to answer critical questions: When did you need to order more inventory? When did you have to staff up your back and front-of-house? And where is your contact information for last year’s superstars?
Hiring seasonal workers is of utmost importance to your business.
Until recently, restaurateurs could count on a steady influx of foreign workers wanting to work seasonal jobs. But with the current labor shortage, restaurants and other businesses are scrambling to staff up with seasonal hiring.
The United States’ H-2B guest-worker program—capped annually at 66,000 visas—received good news when the Department of Homeland Security made an additional 35,000 visas available to employers this year. But those numbers pale when you consider all the businesses competing for workers.
As a result, today’s restaurateurs are being more creative with their seasonal hiring process — trying everything from hiring robots to recruiting eighth-graders. However, it’s pretty straightforward to run a seasonal business with a bit of effort.
Let’s start with the basics.
What is seasonal hiring?
Seasonal hiring is temporary employment to fill jobs during the busy season — typically stretching between Memorial Day and Labor Day. Hiring seasonal employees is an important piece of the staffing puzzle for the restaurant and hospitality industry, especially in coastal and resort towns where the population swells dramatically in the summer season.
What are the challenges of hiring seasonal employees?
Due to its temporary nature, seasonal employment is short-lived. Restaurant managers must go to all the same efforts in their seasonal hiring process to bring on new team members – only to see them disappear when the crowds go home at the end of the season.
In addition to its short lifespan, the busy season is just busy. Think long hours, large crowds, and tired employees. A few extra hands will go a long way to helping you get the work done.
Tips for recruiting seasonal employees
Once you’re ready to begin recruiting seasonal employees, here are six strategies to point you in the right direction.
While common wisdom tells restaurant managers to only post positions when they are open, it’s best to begin the process early with seasonal positions. Six to eight weeks should be sufficient for attracting seasonal employees to fill temporary roles — a few weeks to conduct interviews, a few weeks to make final decisions, and a few weeks to train and onboard.
Alice Cherng, who co-founded Dear Bella Creamery, a vegan ice cream shop in Los Angeles, says, “We plan ahead by hiring early before we get into our peak season, and we communicate clearly with our staff about their availability as we approach the off-peak season.”
Cast a wide net
Let the world know that you are hiring seasonal staff. List your available positions on your website; put Help Wanted signs in the window; post openings on job websites; include announcements and links to job postings in customer emails or newsletters.
In addition to large hiring platforms like Indeed or Craigslist, there are sites like Coolworks and SeasonalJobs that specialize in hiring seasonal employees for hospitality positions — as well as on-demand platforms like Qwick.
Communicate your needs clearly
State in the title and description of the job posting that this is a seasonal position. This will eliminate any confusion and ensure that you find the right fit in terms of candidates. If you are open to keeping workers on longer, you can mention that in the description as well.
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 Labor 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 state, 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
Authorization to work in the U.S.
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, be proactive — recruit directly by building a presence at local student events or posting seasonal job openings on local school job boards.
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.
Offer housing or additional incentives
In locations where seasonal housing comes at a premium — like Cape Cod, the Hamptons, or Lake Michigan — restaurateurs often try to lure seasonal employees by offering housing as an added benefit. Typically, students head to these places to secure jobs and housing simultaneously, so if you can bundle the two, you may be more likely to attract seasonal workers.
Tips for retaining your seasonal workforce
Once you’ve found and hired top-notch team members, make sure you have a plan to keep them around. A happy and healthy workforce can save your bacon during the busy season. The last thing you want is for your new crew to walk out and leave you short-staffed.
Set appropriate expectations
One of the best ways to ensure that your seasonal workforce sticks around is to make sure they know what to expect — their tasks and responsibilities, but also your company culture and code of conduct.
Set the tone from your first contact with them, and continue to be direct and informative in your communication. An effective employee handbook can go a long way toward sharing your restaurant’s information in one convenient place.
Especially if you’re hiring entry-level employees, it pays to offer training so seasonal workers can hit the ground running on day one.
All of our employees go through complete training for all tasks before they work a solo shift. We implemented systematic check-ins over the course of their employment to ensure that they have the support they need to perform their jobs and feel fulfilled.
Training components vary, 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 training, some restaurants offer shadowing and mentorship programs in which new employees learn the ropes from the more seasoned staff members.
Hold regular meetings
Just because you’ve trained your seasonal staff once doesn’t mean they’ll always know what to do in any given situation. Host pre-shift meetings regularly to communicate any new or relevant information, address concerns head-on, and celebrate successes. Meetings are an effective way to keep the team in sync.
Many savvy restaurateurs know that one of the best ways to ensure your seasonal workers stay on for the whole season is to offer a bonus after a certain amount of time — say, 90 days or a full season.
The longer they stay on, the closer they’ll get to their bonus, and the less likely they’ll be to vanish. Dear Bella Creamery’s Alice Cherng says, “We offer performance bonuses for all of our employees.”
Just like regular employees, seasonal employees have many commitments and activities in their life aside from work – medical appointments, family events, childcare pickup and dropoff, for example. Staff members always appreciate any flexibility in shift schedules.
Dear Bella Creamery makes an effort to be as flexible as possible to keep its employees happy. “A high-performing employee can have the option to take a leave of absence if they desire and be rehired upon their return,” says Cherng.
Build a welcoming culture
Deloitte’s 2021 Global Human Capital Trends details the rising importance of shared purpose as the foundation for the worker-employer relationship — built around a core set of ideals that are important to both the worker and the employer. The best way to keep seasonal employees around is to create a workplace that is welcoming and enjoyable for them. For inspiration, see 10 Employee Recognition Ideas for Small Businesses.
Keep the door open
At the end of the busy season, if you have a number of seasonal employees that you want to rehire next year, make sure to let them know — and get their contact information so you can get in touch when the time is right. This will save you valuable time sourcing, recruiting, and training candidates.
If you’re ready to expand your reach and tap into some of those eager seasonal customers, get in touch with DoorDash about offering delivery, pickup, and online ordering.