Get A Handle on Hiring Panel for Restaurateurs


Nearly 100 Seattle restaurateurs gathered at ATLAS Workbase for Yelp Seattle and Instawork’s “Get a Handle on Hiring” panel Monday evening on September 25, 2017. The panel addressed the Seattle Area’s staffing crisis which has local businesses struggling to remain open as they fight to find and retain talent.

Instawork, an innovative platform that connects job seekers to restaurant industry positions nearby, collected unique data from analyzing the results of thousands of job listings posted on the website and app.

Yelp’s Seattle Business Outreach team, led by Christy Augsburger, invited the restaurateur community to take an inside look into Instawork’s data and user research in a discussion led by Instawork Co-Founder and CEO Sumir Meghani. Meghani was joined by Miranda Geranios, Regional Restaurant Manager of Nordstrom; Branden Karow, Culinary Director of Ethan Stowell Restaurants; Carissa Linn, Director of HR at Compass Group USA; and Angela Chen, Employer Liaison at FareStart.

As Seattle’s cost of living continues to soar, hospitality workers are forced to relocate to find affordable housing. Minimum wage and hourly workers are becoming increasingly harder to find and retain. The expert panel broke down the data provided by Instawork and discussed best practices and unique ideas for hiring front and back of house employees.

High Turnover

According to Instawork’s data, employee turnover rates are currently 90–120% for back of house staff and 50–80% for front of house.

The Causes: Location, Compensation, and Scheduling

Location is the number one reason for these statistics. Compensation plays a role as businesses try to keep up with their competitors who are offering bonuses, healthcare and other benefits, equity and PTO; which goes beyond what small businesses traditionally offer.

Meghani points out that the industry is now primarily “people who are looking to ‘cook to live’ not ‘live to cook,’” which explains why restaurant workers are routinely quitting their jobs for an extra buck per hour down the street.

Scheduling, the third reason for high turnover rates, heavily affects back of house staff in particular. The average line cook in the Seattle Area works 1.8 jobs. “They’re working A.M. jobs, P.M. jobs and working gigs on their days off,” Meghani explains. Flexible scheduling is crucial for retention, especially in the on-demand economy where people have the freedom to earn an income on their own time.

Keeping up with wage increases

The city of Seattle’s minimum wage bumped up to $15 this year, costing restaurants more than ever. Geranios shares that there’s a “ripple effect of pressure from Downtown Seattle in the Bellevue market” to match these wage increases.

Linn adds, “while we (Eastside) don’t have the minimum wage requirement that Seattle does, we’re still competing for those same individuals. Even though it’s only legally applicable in the city of Seattle, it forces that minimum up for everyone else.”

Commute counts

Due to restaurant workers being pushed further and further away from the city in search of affording housing, average commute time has increased substantially. “We have some of our staff traveling almost 2 hours by bus to make it to work.” says Linn. “When you’re considering that they’re making $15 or $16 per hour and spending 4 hours on their commute, it really wears on them.”

Geranios found that being flexible with shift start times has been a successful way to retain her staff at Nordstroms. Because of Seattle’s not-so-great public transit options, many of her employees are simply unable to make it to a 5:30 am shift. Instead of losing an employee over this, she opts to changing the start time to 6:30 am for those workers.

“People don’t leave jobs, people leave people”

Karow stresses that the key to employee loyalty is finding a strong leader. “We find that the people that stay, like their chef. They feel like their chef is teaching them something, they feel like their chef is fair, and the rest is all secondary.”

The panelist agreed that it all starts at the top. “The bottom line is our leader needs to be the right person to connect with those employees and build those relationships. It didn’t used to be quite so important for a chef to be a people-person, and I think we all know that it is today,” Geranios adds.

At Ethan Stowell Restaurants, the chefs meet with their cooks individually once a week to check in on how they’re doing. “ How’s life? How are you feeling? How do you feel at work? What are the things you want to work on? What can I do better to help you learn? It’s constant communication,” Karow explains.

Employee referrals

Employee referrals programs are another promising solution for higher retention rates and save businesses time and money on the recruiting process. Instead of pressuring employees to refer their network, let the employee know that they’re a valued team member and that they’re trusted to bring on someone who will be asset to the business.

While many businesses believe that employee referrals are their best source for finding new hires, Karow thinks it can only work short-term. “The problem we run into is that the cooks only know so many people, so when you bring in a new cook, all of the sudden you have access to 2 or 3 of their buddies. Once you hire them, you get access to a couple more, but they’re all in the same circle so we can’t expand passed that.”

He goes on to explain, “if we get a resume from out of state, we call that guy right away because he’s always got a buddy that wants to move out here.”

Capture walk-ins

Searching for new staff is just as challenging as retaining staff. Meghani revealed a new tactic aimed to take advantage of foot traffic even when the hiring manager isn’t around. Instawork has replaced the standard “now hiring” sign with a “text to apply poster” in over 200 restaurants. This eliminates hard copy resumes being lost or misplaced, allowing for businesses to efficiently capture every walk-in applicant’s information

Prevent no-shows

Instawork’s community ambassador team contacts every applicant who fails to show up to a scheduled interview to find out why. “One of the top reasons that comes up over and over again is lack of data,” Meghani recalls. Applicants often admit that they would rather spend time commuting to an interview that lists compensation and benefits upfront. According to Instawork’s data, including these details in the job post results in a 50% higher hiring rate.

Ditch the wordy job descriptions

Instawork ran another report that assessed how long applicants spend on each job post. Meghani recommends ditching the lengthy essays and only including critical information. “You may think that you’re weeding out a lot of people,” he explained, but the data shows that job listings perform much better when containing fewer paragraphs and clearly list compensation, benefits, a couple of cultural attributes and the experience required. “Candidates are looking at dozens of job postings, they just need the facts,” says Chen.

Based on feedback from Instawork’s labor pool, Maghani also recommended posting back of house positions in Spanish or at the very least, mentioning that it’s a Spanish friendly kitchen.

Read more job posting tips here.

“Instabook” for speedy hires

The panel and room of restaurateurs all agreed that time is of the essence when bringing in new talent. Instawork launched “Instabook” which allows anyone who applies to the job to be able to schedule an interview immediately. This is an ideal hiring solution for positions that require little to no experience since it eliminates the time spent searching through resumes and going back and forth to secure an interview time.

Email is out

In Seattle, a line cook seeking employment is off the market within approximately 72 hours. There’s no time to waste sending out emails that will most likely go unopened. Text the candidate immediately to lock in an interview, hiring managers have proved this to be the most effective way to reach candidates.

For those who are hesitant about giving out their personal numbers, Instawork’s in-app messaging feature allows businesses to instantly message candidates without having to share any contact information.

Facing the “no-show” culture

The panel addressed the hospitality industry’s “no-show” culture. While it’s more common for applicants to not show up to interviews, businesses are also a culprit; a complaint Instawork hears from applicants everyday. This unprofessional behavior creates a vicious cycle of the interview process not being taken seriously on both ends. In efforts to change these habits, businesses are encouraged to get back to every candidate they interview as a way to demonstrate professional etiquette.

Free job post

Use the code YELPFREE to post your first job listing on Instawork for free. Click here to get started and take advantage of the platform’s unique features.