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How Restaurants Can Hire Seasonal Employees to Solidify Their Staff

Grace JidounAuthor

Seasonal workers can be an excellent way to scale operations during the most hectic times of the year so you don’t lose out on profits. They can help save your restaurant time and money by not requiring extensive training. 

It’s no surprise the contingent labor market is huge, numbering 52 million in the U.S. in 2021, according to data from Staffing Industry Analysts, SIA.

In this article, we’ll dig into the best practices of seasonal employment within the restaurant industry. What is the process like of onboarding temporary workers? And how do you find people in the first place? We’ll answer all of these questions and more.

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Seasonal employees can save restaurants during busy seasons

One of the merriest parts of the holiday season is eating out with family and friends. That’s why many restaurants add seasonal employees to their ranks to handle the sudden surge in customers (we’re all familiar with the wild rush leading up to Christmas.)

The same is true for restaurants during in-season travel destinations. Your restaurant might be in a popular ski resort that experiences an avalanche of new customers in the winter. Perhaps your city is known for an annual festival or parade, and for a week or two, your little oyster shack is pumping out twice the po’ boys you’re used to. 

Once the rush is over, restaurants typically don’t need all those workers on the payroll when business goes back to normal.

Though their time with you is fleeting, seasonal employees provide vital coverage for your restaurant and should be welcomed and treated just like your regular workers.

That said, the process of onboarding for seasonal jobs can be easier (and less expensive) than for full-time new employees. 

Seasonal workers can be easier to recruit and don’t require as much training, professional development, or “upskilling.” They also typically don’t receive the same benefits as full-time, salaried workers. 

Working in a restaurant, however, is no piece of cake, especially during the holiday season or other busy seasons. No matter what times of the year you’re hiring for, the advice remains the same: You always want to attract the best talent, even for a short stint. To do this, owners should adopt strategies to celebrate their temporary restaurant employees, pay attention to their needs, and promote a quality work experience.

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Understanding restaurant employee motivations

Temporary employment can be a clever way for people to explore interests in different fields, test out various working environments, fill resume gaps, and make some quick cash. 

According to a recent poll by Toast, people turn to restaurant employment for the simple goal of earning money — more than for career aspirations in the hospitality industry. 

A “restaurant careerist” (18% of restaurant workers) is the type of person you want to get into a management track position. These people are motivated to develop their skills and stay in the restaurant industry long-term.

Most restaurant staff (46%) are “supporting lifestyle” who are working to make money and support their lifestyles. This group is your bread and butter and can be brought into both front-of-house and back-of-house positions.

“Saving for goals” (22%) are working to save money for unrelated goals like college, a new car, or their own apartment. These workers tend to quit more readily once they’ve reached their saving goals, so it’s best to hire them into positions that are quickly replaceable and easy to train.

Then there are the “Supplementary income” (14%) who are mostly interested in working just to stay busy and keep up cash flow for their leisure activities like skiing or surfing. They have lower levels of commitment to the job and are best matched with temp or part-time positions.

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How to hire seasonal employees for work in the restaurant industry

When you’re anticipating a surge in business, it can feel like a race against the clock to get your food and supply orders organized and your staff in place. The best piece of advice when hiring seasonal workers is to start early and onboard quickly. 

Seasonal hiring will likely require a different hiring process and interview process from full-time employees, and the name of the game is speed. There is often fierce competition for seasonal talent, especially during the summer months, and you’ll want to benefit from the first movers' advantage. 

Hiring workers a few weeks before tourist season begins, for instance, will help them find their footing within your restaurant and gain confidence before things get too hectic. The onboarding process will look slightly different, too. You won’t have time or resources for extensive training, so consider supplementing the initial job training with that tried-and-true Cub Scouts practice: “The Buddy System.” Essentially, you match up your seasonal employees with skilled workers so they can learn by doing.

As soon as you know your hiring needs, start the search by casting a wide net. Temporary workers often play the numbers game, blanketing restaurants and shops with applications. If you wait too long, finding someone later in the season may be challenging. 

First and foremost, the job description should be transparent about the timeframe and nature of the position. Be sure to use engaging, lively language — and if you really want to stand out, highlight any perks your restaurant offers to seasonal employees, such as flexible hours. 

A whopping 56% of restaurant workers said they took their current job because of the flexible schedule, according to a recent survey by Toast. Among the top reasons cited were convenient commute (42%), good hourly pay (42%), and free meals (26%).

You’ve already won half the battle if your restaurant offers these incentives. But there’s another surprising way to attract seasonal workers. 

While it may be difficult, offering direct deposit to seasonal employees will give you a competitive edge. Toast data shows that the vast majority (64%) of restaurant workers prefer to be paid through direct deposit — only 8% like to be paid by check. 

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Where to find part-time and full-time employees for seasonal work

This might seem like a no-brainer, but it’s worth saying: focus on recruiting people who want a seasonal or summer job. 

Historically, that demographic is high school students ages 14 to 18, according to the U.S. Census Bureau, though the numbers have fallen in recent years due to school demands and competition from other groups such as retirees and college students. An increasing percentage of seasonal workers are adults who prefer independent work and flexible schedules.

When it comes to job postings, the number one takeaway from Toast’s data is social media. 

The upshot is to always broadcast seasonal vacancies on your social media accounts and to your existing employees to leverage possible referrals. 

Consider spotlighting seasonal employees on your Instagram or Facebook accounts (with their permission) so your followers can see what cool opportunities you offer. You never know; someone who sees the post may keep you in mind for next year.

Job boards still play an important role in the restaurant realm, coming in a close third in the Toast data. You can post on a mega-board like Indeed.com or check out job boards that target seasonal job seekers like Poached, CoolWorks, or SnagAJob.

Managing seasonal staff new hires with existing full-time team members

 It’s essential for restaurant owners to set a baseline level of respect for seasonal staff — and all employees — no matter their place in the organizational hierarchy. 

Something as simple as properly introducing your new hires to your full-time staff members can have a big impact on retention. Creating opportunities for socializing and team building with permanent employees can also generate a vibe of inclusivity.

The onboarding process is an excellent time for restaurant managers to set the tone for a short-term employee’s stay. Simply sitting down with your new team member to discuss career trajectory and interests can inspire a genuine connection, even if there’s a solid end date in sight. 

Discussing one or two development opportunities (perhaps input on a new dish) can make seasonal workers feel valued for their contributions. The same perks that motivate your year-round permanent staff also yield results for short-term staff.

Seasonal restaurant workers are no longer an afterthought or invisible among full-time staff. Restaurants now routinely reach into contingent worker pools to capitalize on the most profitable times of the year. This important role deserves respect and consideration, from the first interview all the way to the end of the busy season.

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Streamlining restaurant operations during peak season with an efficient combination of full-time and seasonal employment — and an easy-to-use POS system

Restaurant owners may stand to gain tons of profits by staffing up and optimizing their operations during busy seasons.

It’s not just that they organize food supplies and work the hostess stand. Seasonal contract workers are essential to smooth restaurant operations. 

Without student employees, many restaurants may have a more difficult time staying fully staffed and maximizing their sales potential.

In addition to their student workers, restaurant business owners may consider whether they have the right POS technology to help capitalize on the sales from a fully staffed front of house. 

Operators may need more intuitive and easy-to-use technology. Toast POS system is built for restaurants, for their busy season, and for all their staff to easily pick it up and start working.


This information is provided for general informational purposes only. Toast does not warrant the completeness of any information, text, graphics, links, or other items contained within this content.  Toast does not guarantee you will achieve any specific results if you follow any advice herein. It may be advisable for you to consult with a professional such as a lawyer, accountant, or business advisor for advice specific to your situation.

Methodology

Toast conducted a blind online survey of 1,011 U.S. restaurant employees not operating at a manager or owner level ages 18 and older between February 27 - March 19, 2023. Respondents were not made aware that Toast was fielding the study. Using a standard margin of error calculation, at a confidence interval of 95%, the margin of error on average is +/- 3%.

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DISCLAIMER: This information is provided for general informational purposes only, and publication does not constitute an endorsement. Toast does not warrant the accuracy or completeness of any information, text, graphics, links, or other items contained within this content. Toast does not guarantee you will achieve any specific results if you follow any advice herein. It may be advisable for you to consult with a professional such as a lawyer, accountant, or business advisor for advice specific to your situation.