Where Have All The Applicants Gone?

Human Resources, Workforce Development,

Where Have All the Applicants Gone?

It’s hard to find quality employees that show up to work and want to stay with the company, but many restaurants are rising to the challenge.

By Daniel McCoy

If you’ve tried to hire anyone for your restaurant over the past few years, you’ve no doubt asked yourself, “Where have all the applicants gone?”

You’re not going crazy – there really are less people applying to work at restaurants, but there’s no single defining reason why this is happening. Turns out, it’s a mix of shifting cultural norms, a strong economy with a low unemployment rate and tighter immigration policies.

A generation or so ago, typically families were mom, dad and 3.5 to 5.5 kids. Parents married in their early 20s and begin a family soon thereafter.

In the 1980s and ’90s, a shift began to occur, with children staying in the nest longer to attend school or save on expenses. Marriage and having children were no longer a priority. If these young adults did marry, it was much later in their 20s or even 30s, and the family size would be parents plus one or two kids. The family unit downsized.

In fact, according to the U.S. Census Bureau, the population of seniors, 65 or older, will surpass the number of those 18 or younger in 2030. There are now more people 80 years and older, than there are 2 years and under.  So, in truth, it’s not that those applicants age 18 to 24 have decided to go work somewhere else, it’s that they were never born, and it is not going to get better soon.  

The shrinking birth rate and tighter immigration policies have greatly reduced the available workforce, especially those who seek up lower skilled or unskilled positions.

There has been a focus on higher education. After years of emphasis on acquiring a four-year college degree, industries that don’t necessarily require higher education to enter the workforce and make a good living are struggling to find good employees.

It’s often harder to fill blue-collar positions than those requiring a college degree. The hardest hit industries are restaurant workers, home healthcare aides and hotel staff.

The situation isn’t going to drastically change anytime soon, so restaurants are having to get creative when it comes to hiring quality employees.

What are some fast-food companies doing? McDonalds has decided to automate more of their tasks. For the past three years, it’s incorporated automated ordering kiosks inside the restaurants in most of its locations. This summer, the company announced the acquisition of a voice-based tech company, Apprente, with plans to automate the drive-thru experience. The fast-food chain is testing out robotics in the kitchen to boost production, with robotic deep-fryers that can cook chicken, fish and fries.

Recognizing the population is aging and many people over the age of 65 still want or need to work, the company has started posting all their positions on an AARP website, hoping to encourage people 55 year and older to rejoin the workforce. Another fast-food company is offering recruiting parties, where it invites potential employees to come join staff and managers for food, soft drinks and fun. Interviews and job offer are made on the spot.

What about casual or full-service restaurants? Employee Referrals are a great source of clients, and often employers pay bonuses if the referral is hired or stays a certain length of time.   

Many have had success with the traditional method of a sign in the window or door. Recently, when Don Hammond sought to hire the crew for his new restaurant in Atlanta, Public House 28, he choose the sign method to attract locals that passed by his restaurant on a frequent basis. He also listed the positions on the company's website and Facebook page.

There are other tools available to assist in finding people with today's tight labor pool. Social media postings on Facebook, Instagram and LinkedIn will garner attention. But probably the best sources of candidates and referrals are from customers of the restaurant. There is a familiarity with the management and team, and the customers know a little about what the position would entail.

The job boards continue to be a strong source for applicants. One of the newest boards is restaurant and farm focused, https://www.goodfoodjobs.com . The site offers the opportunity for posting and job seekers to connect via region or city searches, as well as by job title. The site Indeed.com is an often-used site, however the owner has a lot of competition for applicants.

 ZipRecruiter.com is another popular job site that uses technology to alert job posters and applicants of new listings and actions on postings. Snagajob.com is designed for the applicant looking for the low-skill positions and quick hire. Other new apps providing on-demand labor, like Pared.com and Instawork.com  are helping restaurants fill in the gaps when there’s a no-show or they need extra staff asap on the floor or in the kitchen. An interesting fact is that blue collar workers use mobile devices to seek for positions much more than white collar workers. Often, blue collar workers use their phones as a computer.

The Georgia Department of Labor also offers job postings, and it is promoted heavily for those who have recently been displaced from their positions. Many counties also offer job listings, such as Cobb Works in Cobb County. Local colleges and universities have placement offices to assist students in finding work, both temporarily and permanently upon graduation.

It is important to always be recruiting, even when fully staffed, because you might not be tomorrow.



Daniel McCoy has been a business consultant with the UGA - Small Business Development Center at Kennesaw State University since 2017. In his role with the SBDC, he has been a key player in more than 45 new businesses going from idea to sales, including restaurants, franchises and food trucks, and has assisted in more than $10 million in capital infusion. He has more than 20 years experience in the banking industry and 14 years in the retail world, and is a Certified Professional for the Society for Human Resource Management (SHRM). For more on how the UGA Small Business Development Center can help your concept, go to georgiasbdc.org.