Keeping Up with the Holiday Hiring Rush

by Ashik Ahmed, 4 minutes read
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The holiday rush is here, and as the world goes from pandemic to endemic, customers are dining out more. However, the harsh reality is that the current labour shortage is making it a challenge for many restaurants globally to handle the workload. 

A recent survey by the National Restaurant Association found that 65 percent of operators in the US do not have enough employees to support customer demand.

In November a group of hospitality organisations in the UK wrote to the Secretary of State for Work and Pensions calling for “urgent intervention” in what was becoming a “perfect storm” that would force businesses to close.

In the joint letter to Mel Stride MP, UKHospitality, the British Beer and Pub Association (BBPA), British Institute of Innkeeping (BII), the Institute of Hospitality and charity Springboard, wrote that the recruitment crisis was causing “an existential threat to our industry”.

Emma McClarkin, chief executive of the BBPA, said the vacancy rate in the hospitality sector stands at 11%, compared with the UK average of 4%, and this is costing the industry £22bn a year.

“This is not a problem facing just one type of venue or hospitality business, it is a universal issue, and it is critical because brilliant, passionate people are the lifeblood of hospitality,” the letter said.

 As the hospitality industry gears up for the influx of holiday diners, making the right hires becomes especially crucial in maintaining a high quality of service. That being said, the hardest part of filling an open position isn’t drafting the job description or soliciting applicants – it’s ensuring that the interview process is thoughtful, fair, and ultimately a success. Too often, interviewers make snap judgments about candidates early on. The way I see it, there’s an art to interviewing hourly workers. To master the process, consider these tips to recruit and retain long-term employees.

  • One House, Different Skills: Shift work is a team sport, and it goes without saying that the front of house and back of house are symbiotic. In the same way that the duties of a server differ from that of a cook, so should the criteria that the interviewer looks for in respective candidates. When it comes to customer-facing roles, restaurant owners should identify candidates they’d feel comfortable with representing the establishment to guests. Having worked a serving shift, I know firsthand that interpersonal skills are non-negotiable in carrying out good customer service, just as being scrappy is key to succeeding in the kitchen. Ask specific, situational questions to gauge how well various candidates demonstrate their strengths. Just because someone’s experience looks good on paper doesn’t mean it is. 

  • Hunger Triumphs Experience: In my opinion, there are certain things that job candidates should not be criticized too harshly for – having “enough” industry experience is one of them. Folks with relevant experience can sometimes bring negative aspects of the industry with them, so a clean slate can be a blessing if the candidate is open to (and wants to) learn tricks of the trade. I believe humility and courage go a long way in determining if someone has what it takes to succeed in any role. A telltale sign that a candidate is coachable is if they have a high degree of listening and ask tactful questions in an interview. If they meet this mark, it’s worth giving them a chance.

  • Urgency Is Not Emergency: As with most things in life, don’t rush into something without giving it full thought. Never hire someone in the name of urgency. Speaking from experience, all the hiring mistakes I’ve ever made were because I rushed to fill the role, only for things to not work out long-term. If something feels off during the interview, listen to that feeling. Most folks get interview jitters, but there are some elements – such as those relating to one’s character – that can’t be overlooked. It’s better to get it right than quickly. On this note, do not reject someone because of their work-life conflicts; the right scheduling solution can alleviate these problems. 

At the end of the interview process, reference calls are absolutely critical in confirming or eliminating any doubts you may have. In fact, 87 percent of employers do reference checks as part of the hiring process, according to the Society for Human Resource Management. Even one phone call to a past employer, teacher, or even a mentor will be helpful – any level of feedback is valuable. 

As I’ve said in the past, some employers think of jobs as filling “headcount,” but for the people who get the jobs, it’s often their hope, their dream, their purpose. Keep this in mind and remember to always adhere to your region’s local labor laws no matter how chaotic the holiday season gets. 

Editor's Note: A version of this article first appeared in Modern Restaurant Management.