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How Restaurant Student Workers Can Help Cover Busy Season Needs

Grace JidounAuthor

Teen workers have long been a boon to small businesses, filling important seasonal roles with a hard-working and professional attitude during peak times.

Though there is quite a bit of overlap when it comes to recruitment, incentives, and management, hiring teen workers has its nuances. It’s important that owners, operators, and managers adjust restaurant hiring practices for student workers. 

In this article, you’ll learn how student workers can be a brilliant way to maintain adequate staffing levels, especially during busy seasons. And we’ll share tips and tricks on managing this dynamic demographic.

Why are student workers important?

What makes a good student worker?

Student workers can make great seasonal employees

The food service industry has long turned to high school and college students to supplement their permanent staff during holidays and the summer months, especially in university towns or near campuses. 

Now, with one of the tightest labor markets in decades, demand for labor may be outstripping supply — causing the restaurant industry to perhaps lean more than ever on young seasonal employees during their busiest times.

Some managers might be concerned that young workers don’t have the proper skills and training to navigate a demanding food service job during the busy season. The truth is many young workers try just as hard or harder than full-time restaurant employees to make a good impression and are typically quick learners (they’re in school, after all). 

While student workers may be inexperienced, they have plenty of potential and enthusiasm, a desire to make money, and a willingness to learn.

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Understanding restaurant employee personas to better engage and motivate student workers

To understand what inspires student workers, we first must get into their minds. 

Toast recently surveyed current restaurant employees.

When asked what “best represents your goal of working in the food service industry?” 18% were motivated by developing skills and sustaining a long-term career in the restaurant industry. 

The most common motivator was making money to support a lifestyle (46% - “Working Wendy”), followed by saving enough money to achieve a future goal unrelated to the restaurant industry (22% - Server Sally), such as paying for school or buying a car. 

It might seem obvious that money is a big motivator for both full-time and part-time staff members, but too often, young workers are approached with low-paid or unpaid internships. In this tight labor market, that just won’t cut the mustard. Whether it’s the busy season or not, always paying fair wages is essential.

The Toast data sheds light on other motivations for restaurant employees to take a job — helping bring them in and make them feel like part of the family.

A whopping 56% of restaurant workers said they took their current job because of the flexible schedule. Among the top ten reasons cited were convenient commute (42%), good co-workers (37%), and free meals (26%). 

When keeping your student workers happy, you’ve may immediately satisfy their needs by hitting these markers.

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

Where do you find student workers? The easy answer is on campuses. Most universities have extensive job boards and some high schools vet summer opportunities for their students, but there’s no denying social media plays a huge role.

The generation who grew up in the digital era will likely avoid typical job postings, preferring social media and personal referrals instead. 

According to Toast’s survey, the majority of workers at both fast-casual and full-service restaurants find jobs from friend referrals (55%) and social media posts (50%). 

Consider spotlighting employees on your social profiles (with their permission, of course) so followers can check out your restaurant's exciting, cool culture. You never know; someone who sees the post may keep you in mind for next year.

Considerations for hiring seasonal restaurant student workers

The hiring process for teen workers is different than for adults. It depends on the state you’re living in, but sometimes high school students may be required to complete a form their school provides detailing the nature of the work, and both your restaurant and the teen’s parents must sign off on it. 

Additionally, hiring and onboarding for seasonal work differs from hiring for a full-time position. 

First, it may be faster, as young job seekers will likely bypass the lengthy paperwork and background checks that adult full-time employees typically undergo. Onboarding might involve a few hours of training and activating “The Buddy System,” where you assign a veteran employee to show your teen worker the ropes.

College students often play the numbers game, blanketing restaurants and shops with applications. It’s important to act quickly, as finding someone later in the season may be challenging if you wait too long. 

First and foremost, the job description should be transparent about the timeframe and nature of the position. Consider using engaging, lively language — and if you really want to stand out, you may want to highlight any perks your restaurant offers, such as flexible schedules or free meals.

Remember, it’s not all about hitting profitability benchmarks and selling a hundred cheeseburgers each night (though more power to you). It’s ensuring all your student employees feel valued and allowing them to learn new skills for the future.

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Streamlining restaurant operations by supplementing labor needs with student employees —and an easy-to-use POS system

It’s not just that they organize food supplies, work the hostess stand, and bus tables. Student workers can be essential to smooth restaurant operations during peak season — especially in college towns or nearby large high schools.

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 anyone to easily pick it up and start making sales.

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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.