Resources Attract Hire Launch

How​ ​Top​ ​Austin​ ​Restaurants​ ​Attract​ ​and​ ​Retain​ ​Talent

Austin is home to an impressive restaurant scene and a number of fast-growing chains, including Torchy’s Tacos, Hopdoddy, and Alamo Drafthouse. Despite hundreds of people moving here each week, Austin has maintained an incredibly low unemployment rate – creating significant recruiting challenges for restaurants in our hometown.

Recruiting is only half the battle. These restaurants also have to retain these employees – a mounting challenge with all of the career opportunities in Austin including those with high-tech companies.

Last week I attended a panel discussion co-hosted by Toast and HotSchedules that included leaders from some of the top restaurant groups in Austin. The topic: “Your Restaurant’s Bread & Butter: Austin’s Industry Experts Talk Team, Retention, Culture & Happiness.”  The discussions between successful Austin restaurant operators left attendees with some insightful perspectives for success in this industry that I wanted to share with you.

The Panelists:

Connect Them with the ‘Big Why’

To no surprise, recruiting talent was immediately addressed. Harlan Scott reminded us that it is not uncommon for Austin restaurants to have to close sections during busy times due to being understaffed. There is simply a shortage of people to hire. Scott said that it’s not all about the money for many of these candidates. Restaurants now have to create something meaningful and draw in people who can connect with the job they are doing day in and day out. It’s a challenge, he said, to keep employees connected to the founder’s mission as the business grows. I can relate to this as the founder of CareerPlug. It was easy keeping everyone aligned and connected to our mission when we all worked in one room. Now that we have grown, we really have to work at it every day.

Gini Quiroz from K&N Management explained that today’s hires need to understand the “Big Why” behind your organization. It’s no longer just about compensation and a benefits package. People want to know what kind of impact you are having locally and globally, and they want to be able to get behind it. Top employers recognize that candidates are also interviewing them, and both sides should be actively looking to find the right culture fit. The more information that you can provide about your culture during the application and hiring process, the more likely you will be to attract and hire the right people.

Back to the Basics

Contigo’s Director of Operations, Andy Erdmann, gave a great reminder of a very simple concept: remembering basic values, such as being kind to others and running an ethical organization, can make a marked difference in hiring & retaining staff. With the right people, your company values can go a long way. Jason James from Odd Duck stressed that if you truly work hard to create a home for your team members, they will stay longer and be happier.

Finding ways to offer more flexibility to your workforce can be a gamechanger in a candidate market that is placing a growing value on flexibility when securing employment. One restaurant group experimented with moving their back of the house team members to four-day work weeks (from five) to create more flexibility.

Gratitude and recognition are key to retention. Small acts like providing praise in the moment or finding ways to do special things for key employees are often undervalued by upper management. Think about the impact of surprising an overworked GM and her spouse by paying for their dinner at a nice restaurant after hearing that they were headed there to celebrate a special occasion (as one restaurant group did). That thoughtfulness and a couple hundred dollars may have earned them a lifelong key employee.

Jason James of Odd Duck highlighted humility as an important quality to create a healthy work environment from the top down, explaining that managers/owners can “humble [themselves] to serve the staff so that our staff will do the same to serve [the] guests.”  He has also found value in finding ways to actively bring employees together outside the work building. Applying retention efforts, both big and small, can be an invaluable (and personally rewarding) way to cultivate longevity and happiness in your team.  

Invest in Referral and Industry Relationships

Referrals may be more valuable than you think. K&N offers a $500 bonus for new hires referred by an employee, knowing that person has a higher likelihood for retention than someone who did not come by referral. Many companies may look at that cost and think that there’s no way that they could afford it. But they are not factoring in all the costs of higher turnover – and the potential savings of lowering it. K&N did the math. They figured out that a referral hire is worth at least $500 vs a non-referred hire when you factor in the likely turnover rates of each group.

There are multiple ways to attract restaurant industry professionals. Small perks such as industry discounts can be surprisingly noteworthy. Not only do they help retain current employees, but they also attract other Austin service industry people into your restaurant.

Onboarding – Quality and Quantity Matters

Onboarding was heavily discussed, with every panelist agreeing on the growing need for operators to invest more time onboarding and training new team members. As a restaurant group grows, the founders become less involved in the day to day. It is critical for employees to be connected to the company’s history, goals and values so they can live them. Brandon Hunt from Via 313 sells authentic Detroit-style pizza. Multiple times each day, customers ask which neighborhood in Detroit Brandon and his brother came from. Via 313’s brand is all about authenticity, and Brandon stressed the need for his team to be able to tell the story on behalf of him and his brother. Hunt believes that his managers are key to keeping this information alive and flowing throughout their restaurants.

David Cantu, founder of HotSchedules, offered research from TD2NK to show that there is a 10-point difference in turnover between restaurants who onboard for more than 4 hours vs those who onboard for fewer than 4 hours. K&N Management onboards their employees for a full 8 hour day. With this investment and commitment to quality, it’s no surprise that they are only the second restaurant company ever to win the Malcolm Baldridge award (along with Pal’s Quickservice). Gini actually cited a quote from Zig Ziglar: “The only thing worse than training your employees and losing them, is not training and keeping them.”

The panelists also discussed the importance of moving away from a paper-based onboarding process in favor of a web-based, paperless one. Harlan Scott, who consults for the restaurant/hospitality industry, said that every company should stop using manila folders and paper for onboarding – even if you only have 10 employees.  

Grow to Retain

The panelists also recognized the importance of ongoing growth beyond onboarding. Teaching people and helping them develop/hone their craft will dramatically increase your likelihood of retaining them. David Cantu, founder of HotSchedules, related how he experienced this in his earlier days as a restaurant manager at PF Chang’s. Since family-style Chinese food was a new experience for most people, they relied heavily on educating their staff so that they could pass this knowledge on to guests. When people stop growing, it’s easy for them to become disengaged. This can quickly transform a healthy work culture into a toxic one.

Closing Thoughts

  All the panelists agreed – Recruiting and Retention are hard. The first step is to commit to improving your strategy and process.

  To find the best strategy and processes for recruiting and retaining your team, you need to be willing to fail by trying new things. You won’t achieve exceptional results by sticking to the status quo. (Andy Erdmann)

  Now is the time to start thinking big. Many restaurants stay small is because they believe they are too small to invest in HR and other business systems. When a business takes the time to do this, they work on the business, which puts them on the path to grow. (Harlan Scott)

  For further reading, attendees were left with some great recommendations:  Setting the Table by Danny Meyer and Peak by Chip Conley.

I really enjoyed this event. The panel was inspirational, and there was a good energy amongst the local restaurant leaders who attended. 

Share this content

Recent Posts

  • The Hiring Expert’s Guide to Recruiting Insurance Agents
  • Webinar: Why Interview Ghosting is So Common and How to Prevent It
  • Fitness Industry Hiring: How to Recruit Personal Trainers