Food Staffing Industry Expert Breaks Down Recruiting Restaurant Workers—Common Mistakes, Trends, and Solutions

Tammy Allen, Director | Marketing & Programs, The NIIC

One of the biggest challenges restaurants face as they re-open is how to find—and keep—the right people. That topic is near and dear to Thor Wood, Founder and CEO, SnapShyft, a food service staffing technology startup headquartered in Indianapolis, Ind.

Thor has over 20 years of experience in the hospitality industry, including everything from operations and finance to accounting and human resources. He knows and understands how to implement best practices for food industry staffing. “We are in dire straits as an industry when it comes to staffing,” he said.

The perception is that the problem is pandemic-specific. Yet, it stems from limitations in how companies compete for and recruit these workers. “The battle to attract workers to open jobs is driven by a drastically smaller labor pool,” he said. “You’re competing not just with each other but with warehouse jobs, food manufacturing, even retail, where the starting wage is up to $25/hour.”

Complicating matters is an industry-wide issue with worker retention and turnover.


Mistake #1: Relying on Job Boards. Job boards aren’t effective for many reasons. First, the best candidates are not looking for a job. But many restaurant and foodservice managers turn to job boards, believing they will be flooded with qualified candidates. “Contrary to the value propositions that these platforms share,” said Thor, “finding that perfect worker hassle-free is lip service. Your recruitment strategy never starts with the job post. You know it’s good to have the posting so you can reference it for applicants, but don’t rely on that to create your funnel.”

Mistake #2: Posting on social media. “Most people are not social media aficionados,” said Thor, “so unless you understand how to manipulate media marketing and how to target the specific audience, I recommend not relying solely on social media.” For example, if you have 1,000 followers, your post will be seen by about 5.5 % of that audience, so 55 people. And that doesn’t include the degradation period in social media. “If you don’t get up to 30 interactions within the first hour,” said Thor, “Facebook says your post is dead content. You can keep posting and keep posting, but it will still not reach your entire audience.”

Mistake #3: Forgetting to thank applicants. “A slow or non-existent acknowledgment is a huge turnoff,” said Thor. “If you’re fortunate enough to get someone’s attention, thank them.” Ghosting or not responding will impact future interactions with your company, not just from that person but from their friends, peers, and family. “They’re going to talk negatively about you simply because you didn’t acknowledge that they applied for your shift or a dish job or a bartender or host position or whatever it may be,” said Thor.

Mistake #4: Making your expectations sound like a diatribe. “This is a mistake that we see more and more because frustration is through the roof,” said Thor. That’s why Thor cautions employers to watch how much they communicate about their job requirements and expectations in job posts. “Potential applicants are seeing this huge list of requirements and saying it’s too intense.” While it’s fine to be clear and transparent about pay, listing all the expectations upfront comes across as potentially making candidates feel guilty. “They might have childcare issues or school issues,” said Thor, “something that’s going to pull them out of the process. They might be the greatest candidate that you could have long-term, so avoid the diatribe.”

Mistake #5: Ignoring reviews. “Take a moment to examine what people are saying on reviews,” said Thor. “If the reviews say that service stinks or that the manager is ambivalent, that’s going to communicate a negative message to applicants, who might think they are walking into a bad situation.” Instead, acknowledge shortcomings and head off negative comments. Candidates are looking for managers and owners who admit to bad experiences and state how they’ve addressed the problem.

Mistake #6: Relying on a Help Wanted sign. “It’s nice to hang a sign on your window,” said Thor, “but most people who are frequenting your establishment are not your potential hires.” While they have nephews and nieces or grandchildren or sons and daughters who might be looking for a job, Thor cautions managers to remember that the younger generation is not jumping into the hospitality industry as they once did. So, relying on a sign in your establishment likely won’t yield the expected results.

Mistake #7: Doing what you’ve always done. Thor acknowledges that it’s human nature to hope for the best and believe things will work out. “In 2021,” said Thor, “few candidates actually show up to scheduled job interviews. Unfortunately, the number of candidates who receive an offer and show up for work is also slim. For those who do show up, few make it past week one.” Addressing these issues calls for a whole new approach to hiring and retaining employees.


Understanding current market trends is necessary for hiring success.

Trend #1: Teens are not joining the food industry the way they once did. According to Thor, in 2008, 1.7 million teens were working in foodservice. In pre-pandemic 2020, that number was 1.6 million youth. “Growth has been flat for over a decade,” said Thor. “Nothing’s going to change that.” Thor points to the number of opportunities available. “Take a 19-year-old who avoids the industry because she can make money on Patreon. She sells artwork and makes more for her time doing what she loves than she would working in retail or a foodservice job.”

Trend #2: People 55 and older are retiring at a record pace. “Most of that movement is driven by real estate,” said Thor. “They have these windfalls of money coupled with any benefits they may have received last year, so they’re cashing out.”

Trend #3: Competition for labor is high. “Over three million people have left the industry,” said Thor, “and they’re not coming back anytime in the next 12 months. You still have a million businesses competing for talent. Even though 120,000 businesses closed last year, record numbers opened up in the third quarter of 2020. That trend has continued through the first, second and third quarter of this year. So, competition has jumped through the roof, while the number of actual people that you can actually hire has plummeted.”

Trend #4: Burnout is a vicious cycle. “You go short staffed, and the employees working the shift will pick up the slack. Those employees working the shift become fatigued. Now you’re starting to build resentment, and it’s a direct resentment at the management. They’re going to blame you for not being able to hire. That’s when burnout strikes. Any little issue and they’re walking out the door, and so you see this cycle repeat.”


  1. Actively support your team. Be flexible, especially if somebody has issues with childcare or a sick family member.
  2. Protect your team. Stand up for your employees. Dealing with toxic customers goes a long way toward building a sense of loyalty with your team.
  3. Consider increasing your base pay. Would you rather have 10 people who make minimum wage or five people you’re paying double? A higher wage not only attracts a higher quality candidate but also increases loyalty.
  4. Think creatively. For example, consider removing the discounted meal for employees and make it free. Feed them on the job and even consider offering them a family meal once a week so they can feed their kids.
  5. Offer a transportation stipend. The majority in this industry are taking Lyfts and Ubers to work, or they’re on the bus or rail line. Make it easy for them to come work for you. The more you think outside the box, the more you’ll stand out when you’re advertising your jobs.
  6. Take advantage of current technology. Consider SnapShyft, which delivers the immediacy and consistency of Lyft or Uber into the hospitality world.

Attracting and retaining talent in the restaurant industry has always been challenging and is especially difficult in our COVID recovering economy. Success requires understanding current market trends and adapting traditional hiring practices to current realities. Innovative management thinking is the first step toward success.

About Thor Wood, SnapShyft

Wood is the Founder and CEO of SnapShyft, a Staffing-as-a-Service technology startup headquartered in Indianapolis, IN, U.S.A. The #1 most reliable staffing solution in the market, SnapShyft was founded by a leadership team with over two decades in foodservice & hospitality, 14 years in executive recruiting & staffing, and over 20 years in operations, finance, accounting, and HR. The SnapShyft platform has been featured in Business Insider, Modern Restaurant Management, TechCrunch, Success Magazine, Xconomy, Yahoo! News, Buzzfeed, Bar & Restaurant, Hospitality Tech Magazine.

This blog is based on The NIIC Restaurant Revitalization Speaker Series, focused on five key areas: Mayhem, Miracles, Marketing, Menu, and Management. This blog focuses on Mayhem. Click here for a replay of the event.


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