How (and Why) to Hire Seasonal Employees for Your Restaurant

By: Jessica Reimer

7 Minute Read

Aug 05, 2019

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We’re in the thick of summer, which means patios are full of hungry sun-seekers and there’s a line a mile long at your neighborhood ice cream shop. 

Now is a great time to ask yourself: how’s your staffing going? Is everything running smoothly, or are your employees feeling the heat (pun intended), clocking overtime, and flirting with burnout? 

Although restaurant employee burnout is a threat all year long, restaurateurs should exercise added caution during peak seasons, when the physical and mental stresses of the job can really take a toll on staff. 

Today we’re talking about a simple and effective solution to this problem: temporary restaurant staffing. This post will cover what it is, how it works, and why it’s a must for your restaurant. 

Everything You Need to Know About Finding, Hiring, Managing, and Retaining Restaurant Staff.

What is seasonal hiring?

Seasonal hiring involves bringing on temporary employees during traffic and sales spikes throughout the year. This isn’t to say your roster of full and part-time staff isn’t capable of managing the masses — they most certainly are — but these spikes (summer and winter holidays, for example) tend to coincide with times when your employees might be looking for days off to head to the beach or to be with friends and family. Seasonal hiring is a great way to keep up the pace with an influx of customers while keeping your employees happy at the same time. 

Your restaurant analytics will paint the clearest picture of when to put your temporary staffing strategy into practice. Point-of-sale systems like Toast allow quick and easy access to restaurant sales and other historical data to support your decision to bring on a few extra helping hands. 

Seasonal hiring has a lesser-known cousin, too: the gig economy. Made popular by companies like Uber and Airbnb, this business model is all about on-demand services. Gig economy workers are neither full or part-time employees; instead, they’re independent contractors who deliver clearly defined services for a designated and often short period of time. 

Now, you may be wondering why anyone would want a work arrangement that isn’t permanent. We know that Millenials and Gen Zers make up the majority of the hospitality workforce, and they typically prefer work arrangements that offer independence and flexibility. Especially in the case of Gen Z, these young workers aren’t always ready to “settle down” into a career. Maybe they’re in money-saving mode before heading off on a leap year holiday, or they’re seeking summer funds to offset university tuition in the fall. Either way, for those in search of short-term work, seasonal staffing can be just the ticket. 

How to hire temporary employees

The restaurant industry has been plagued by a high turnover rate for quite some time, so chances are if you’ve been in this business for a while, you’re well-versed in the highs and woes of restaurant staffing. (For those of you looking for a refresher, though, I recommend checking out our recently published three-part Staffing a Restaurant series. In it, we guide you through hiring front of house (FOH) employees, hiring back of house (BOH) employees, and hiring restaurant managers).

For the most part, hiring a seasonal worker follows the same sequence of events as hiring a full or part-time employee, with a few tweaks along the way. 

Here’s how it works:

Planning

A thorough review of your restaurant analytics will help you pinpoint when you should be ramping up your roster of seasonal staff. This is step one. 

Step two is getting your affairs in order and allowing yourself enough time to hire the right people for the job. Cutting corners at this stage will almost always create chaos. Sure, you might have the right number of staff needed to keep the boat afloat,  but if your seasonal hires lack the proper skills and commitment necessary for success, you’ll be creating more work for yourself in the long run. If you’ve ever heard the “hire slow, fire fast” mantra, you’ll know that hiring “slow” isn’t about drawing the process out over weeks or months — it’s about hiring with intention. 

As a general rule, plan to put a call out for temporary restaurant workers approximately two to three months before your busy season is set to begin — otherwise you'll be inundated with a busy restaurant in addition to the burden of training.

Recruiting

The question then becomes where to find these temporary restaurant employees. Of course, there are the usual suspects (job boards like Monster and Poached Jobs), but here are two more avenues worth exploring:

  • Shoulder tap former staff. If you know a few of your “old faithfuls” are back in town for summer, approach them about picking up a few extra shifts. This one’s a win-win, since they’ll earn extra cash, and you’ll save time on training. 

  • Ask your employees for referrals. Like attracts like, after all. If your roster is full of rockstars, chances are they hang out with other rockstars, too. You might even create a bit of healthy competition by offering incentives for employees who recruit a new hire that sticks around for the full season. 

No matter your approach, you’ll need a job ad. As usual, these ads should provide a clear, comprehensive overview of the job and what, exactly, the incumbent will be responsible for. Don’t forget to show off your restaurant culture, too. Forbes considers a positive company culture “the backbone of a happy workforce” because employees who feel aligned with their workplace tend to be more motivated and produce higher quality work. 

A key difference when it comes to recruiting is being transparent about the length of employment. Say it early, and say it often. If a position is full-time but for the summer only, make sure you say so not just in the body of the ad, but in the title, too. 

It’s also important to share whether or not there is the potential for a contract extension, or the possibility of a full-time position when your busy season comes to an end. Including this may entice prospective applicants who aren’t sure how or whether their employment plans may change. 

Both of these items should be addressed at the interview stage, too. It’s best you set expectations early, so you both know where the other stands. 

Training

Take the time to properly train your seasonal hires on everything from your upsell strategies to your employee scheduling software. Even if these employees aren’t around for a long time, it’s your job to ensure it’s a good time for you, for them, and your customers. 

An important thing to remember: Outside of your loyal regulars, most customers won’t know the difference between a seasonal hire and a year-round full-timer. All that matters to them is good food and great service. Delivering on these demands requires investing time and energy into a proper restaurant employee onboarding

Here are two tips to help you out:

  • Train all at once. Provided you’ve timed your seasonal recruiting properly, you should have a fresh batch of signed contracts and temporary restaurant employees ready to be onboarded at — or around — the same time. If that’s the case, don’t work harder… work smarter! Training your seasonal hires as a group will save time, and has the added benefit of creating a sense of camaraderie, too.  

  • Implement a buddy system. Pair your seasonal hires with a senior staff member for on-the-job training and mentoring. This doesn’t absolve you of training duties, but it definitely helps to lessen the load. 

File these tips away for your next round of seasonal hiring, whether it’s Christmas or next summer, and you’ll be set with a full roster ready to take on the crowds.

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