Hiring & Retaining Food Business Staff: 5 Strategies to Implement

Use these hiring and retention strategies to help your food business face the current staff shortage challenges.
February 8, 2022

Ongoing public health restrictions to help curb the spread of COVID-19 have highlighted and exacerbated the staffing challenges in the food service industry. According to Statistics Canada, kitchen helpers, food counter attendants and similar roles have had the second largest increase in job vacancies of any occupation over the past two years. And a recent labour force survey reports that employment in the accommodation and food services industry remained at 16.9 percent below pre-COVID levels, with small employment growth in the industry since September.

In addition to staff shortage challenges, the hiring process takes valuable time and resources out of other business operations. Training a new employee can be costly if that person chooses to leave after only a short period of time — not to mention the toll it takes on team morale and the quality of food and service.

With these staffing challenges, it’s crucial that food businesses have strategic plans in place for hiring and retaining team members. While many hiring factors are dependent on the changing public health measures and policies, there are still some strategies that businesses can put in place now to help in their staff search.

Here are our top 5 tips for hiring and retaining food business staff.

1. Search for candidates in the right places

It can be time-consuming to go over candidate applications, so you want to make sure you’re investing your time searching in the right places. These resources can help you find quality leads in your staff search:

  • Word of mouth: The restaurant and hospitality industry is very well connected, so one of the best resources you can use is your own staff! Ask for recommendations or referrals, and your staff could even provide you with valuable insights on potential candidates.
  • Culinary schools: You already know that these students are interested in pursuing a job in the industry, and students will be looking for valuable experience in the field.
  • Restaurant-specific job posting sites: Narrow the playing field by searching for candidates at industry-specific job posting sites instead of a general job board that attracts people that may not necessarily be looking for a job in the hospitality field.

2. Find the right fit

Staff shortage challenges may tempt you to quickly hire the first few candidates you encounter. Keep in mind, though, that hiring and training staff only for them to leave after a short period of time is ultimately detrimental to your business — so during the hiring process, take the time to ensure they’re a good fit.

Start off by writing a comprehensive job description so that potential hires know what their job will entail. During the interview process, be transparent about the needs of the business and the current food service landscape to manage expectations.

With a position that requires good teamwork and, for some roles, the ability to interact with customers, it’s also integral that you know how well a potential employee can work with others. You might want to conduct a trial run with your top candidates for the role by either asking them to cook something or participating in service. This way you can put their skills to the test while also observing how they interact with the rest of the team.

3. Create a robust training program

As a food business owner or manager, it’s your responsibility to make sure staff have the tools they need to do their job effectively. A comprehensive onboarding plan will help new employees get started off on the right foot, while refresher training for existing staff can help reinforce best practices.

Ensure that you have an Employee Handbook that staff can refer to for the:

  • business mission statement: describe your business goals, core beliefs and the services you aim to provide.
  • organizational structure: outline the different roles and responsibilities within your business so that employees understand their individual responsibilities and know who to go to for help.
  • operational procedures: explain the different tasks to be completed and the proper procedures for each. This could include your health and safety guidelines, cleaning and sanitizing procedures, processing payment instructions, checking inventory procedures and more. It’s also helpful to have real-life scenarios to illustrate how these procedures should be put into practice!
  • employee code of conduct: detail how you expect staff to conduct themselves at work.

In Canada, Food Handlers are required to be properly trained in food safety, and certain provinces and territories have even made it a legal requirement for them to have their Food Handler Certification.

For your business’s certification needs, the Canadian Institute of Food Safety’s (CIFS) nationally recognized Food Handler Certification Course will help your staff develop a strong foundation in food safety skills.

4. Build a positive workplace culture

It’s no surprise that people want to work at a place where they feel valued and heard. That’s why it’s so important to work on fostering a good workplace culture where employees at all levels feel comfortable voicing their ideas or concerns.

Recognize team members for a job well done and make it a priority to sit down with your team to get their feedback about the business — what they enjoy about working there and any areas for improvement. Once you have that feedback, take the steps to ensure any concerns are addressed and implement initiatives that encourage team building!

5. Encourage career development

Do you have a job opening for a more senior role? This could be a great opportunity for existing staff to grow their skills within the business! Promoting staff means you’ll fill a role with someone who already knows how the business works and shows your team that you care about their career development.

This may require more training for eligible candidates, so it’s also a great opportunity for them to up-skill before starting a new role with new responsibilities.

When looking to hire new staff, take the time to find candidates that are a good fit for your business, create a comprehensive training program for both new team members and seasoned professionals, and continue to build a positive workplace culture that recognizes and values staff at all levels of the business. Staff shortages and turnover have been a difficult challenge for the food service industry — use these tips to help alleviate some of the burden in hiring and retaining valuable team members!