How Should Restaurant Digital Transformation Transform Hiring?

Considering the tight labor market and rapid transformations in guest engagement and service models, is it time that brands consider workers with a different skills mix and evaluate hiring practices? Restaurant consultants weigh in.

Over the last decade, we’ve seen major shifts in how restaurants engage with and serve guests. How and when guests engage with brands, and how they order and access their food, are a far cry from the days of ordering at the counter, drive-thru, or table-side. Many of these changes have been driven by digital transformation. From kiosks, to in-app ordering, to delivery, to loyalty and rewards, digital has introduced more competitive variables; changed how brands reach and market to customers; and broadened the way restaurants serve guests.

Of course, this trickles down to teams and individual employees. Introducing just a second drive-thru lane or adding delivery affects workflows and tasks, service and team dynamics, and ultimately can influence the quality of service brands can deliver.

Transformation is Disruptive

Transformation at McDonalds went through a rough patch when this iconic brand launched its Experience of the Future. Employees felt overwhelmed by the changes. And they left. It may have been a case of too much, too fast. Or it might indicate more: namely, that the vast changes in service implemented widely in restaurants over the last decade or so require a different kind of worker.

Here's how Digital Transformation and Data Led to a 20% Jump in Sales

Digital transformation means restaurants simply have more data. In some cases, the flood of data from multiple sources can be overwhelming. It takes some work to find meaningful relationships and insights in the numbers. There is a ‘story’ that data can tell, but you have to find it. And digging into data can yield big results, as was the case for McDonalds.

They took a fresh look at data they had on hand, and what they discovered made a significant impact in hiring practices,  team dynamics, and potential sales.

A recent LinkedIn article quotes McDonalds Executive Vice President and Chief People Officer David Fairhurst:

“When we employ two or more people over the age of 60 in the ‘front of house,’ and not as managers, then the sales are 20 percent higher than other stores.”

Who wouldn’t like to see their store sales jump 20 percent?

Have you looked at the data available to you?

Recruitment and Labor Challenges - and Emerging Practices - in Today’s Reality

Clearly, high employment, a strong economy, and rising minimum wage have combined to create a trifecta of challenges for restaurants across the US and elsewhere. We talked with some restaurant consultants, looking to uncover:

  • What kinds of people do well in this new restaurant world?

  • What traits can a hiring manager look for?

  • What practical steps can a hiring manager take to ensure they are recruiting and hiring a good fit for the new restaurant reality?

What Should Managers Avoid?

With employees scarce, restaurant managers may feel desperate when it comes to hiring. “Restaurant managers need to take their time when hiring employees as opposed to being in panic mode,” says Bruce Reinstein, a partner at Kinetic12, a management consulting firm for the food industry.

When hiring in panic mode, Reinstein notes:

  • People just become numbers

  • Employees are not necessarily engaged in the business or advocates of the brand

What are Some Emerging Best Practices?

We covered some of this in a recent post. In addition:

Consider demographics. The U.S. Bureau of Labor Statistics noted the “55-plus population is the fastest growing segment of the workforce.” The fact that McDonald’s is turning to AARP to help grow the number of older workers in its restaurants to meet labor needs, according to QSR Magazine, seems like a wise move.

Turn to tech. Many QSR and fast casual restaurants are investing in technology to help reduce labor headcount.

Yet an infusion of technology comes with its own challenges. Older customers and employees alike can have a harder time adjusting to technology in restaurants since this is not how they would necessarily want to be served according to Daniel Boutarel, Managing Associate at The New England Consulting Group, a marketing management consulting firm that focuses on the restaurant space.

Boutarel says, “Older employees may not understand the technology and will have trouble crossing the chasm.”

Difficulties with technology, however, are not limited to seniors. In a recent L.A. Times article, a McDonald’s employee said, “They added a lot of complicated things [Experience of the Future]. It makes it harder for the workers.” The employee ultimately left the job. His age: 23.

So, What type of Employee Does the New Restaurant Reality Call For?

It’s no longer enough to hire someone who can show hospitality to others; in the new reality, employees are tasked with more varied responsibilities - and rapidly shifting priorities. And this fact may point to a need to hire people with different skills and aptitudes than in the past.

Reinstein points to versatility and engagement as key traits in restaurant employees. “Particularly since staffing may be an issue, employees need to be versatile and not be locked into one position.” Employees who are engaged in the business and appreciate the brand are loyal.

Communication skills have always been essential for those who work in the front of the store. Now, excellent communication is essential across the board. This goes hand-in-hand with the need to be flexible, ever-increasing responsibilities, and shifting priorities. Today’s restaurant reality requires all-around good communicators, everywhere. “People serve as restaurant ambassadors,” for example, “and they have to be willing to educate and teach customers how to use the kiosks and other tech available,” says Reinstein.

How Can you Find These Great People?

Managers need to reconsider the recruitment and hiring process to find such employees. In an earlier post, we covered things like hiring parties, social media recruitment, and incentives. In addition, managers could consider:

  • Involving employees in the interview process, perhaps in a less formal setting. This is helpful to get a sense for communication skills and whether a recruit is a good “fit” for your brand’s culture and your location’s team dynamics. A less formal meeting among peers enables all parties to be more forthright. “Bringing your key employees into the process has the added benefit of making them feel valued,” says Reinstein.

  • Bringing the potential employee on for a one-day paid trial. “The contingency option enables both sides to evaluate if it’s a good match,” Reinstein adds.

As restaurants continue to undergo great changes, they will need employees who are able to handle these changes and still provide the service and skills customers demand. Survival may very well depend on restaurants' willingness to realign hiring processes and employee skills mix with the new restaurant reality.