Restaurant marketers have long had a rather unique goal: to increase sales, traffic, and brand awareness for their respective chains.
Now, with historically tight working conditions following the pandemic, restaurant CMOs and their departments are being forced to target a whole new audience: potential employees.
“It’s an internal marketing message and an external marketing message for talent,” said Kristel Whitty-Ersan, vice president of marketing for Happy Joe’s Pizza & Ice Cream 45-piece pizza chain. “In our business, it’s a message to some parents too. “Hey, it’s a great first job. It’s really flexible to come home from college in between. You can count on a job every summer. ‘”
Whitty-Ersan’s father was Lawrence “Happy Joe” Whitty, who founded the chain and died in 2019. She grew up in restaurants. She has worked in marketing for the Bettendorf chain, based in Iowa, since college.
She said that Happy Joe’s had “stepped up” in the past few months when it came to marketing to prospective employees.
“Many stores are fortunate to have relationships with the college kids who are coming back, but we’ll feel the heat again in the fall if things don’t dress,” she said.
The pandemic resulted in a massive shift in restaurant settings. Many full-service restaurants had to close their doors to prevent the spread of COVID, laying off hundreds of workers. Other restaurants reduced their workforce to save costs during an uncertain time.
When cities and states reopened, many restaurants were left without adequate staffing. In the months since then, the industry has slowly recovered.
Restaurants created 194,300 jobs in June, according to the latest statistics from the U.S. Department of Labor. But the industry remains nearly 1.3 million workers below February 2020 – just before the pandemic hit the US
At the start of the pandemic, restaurants took almost half of their workforce on leave or laid off. That plunged the industry to only 6.3 million total employees – the smallest pool in more than 30 years.
Currently, around 10% of restaurant jobs are vacant, according to the government.
Joe Albano, Senior Manager of Field Recruiting for Chipotle Mexican Grill, was working at the fast-casual burrito chain in 2015 when they hosted a national career day. At that time, the recruiting was carried out exclusively by the hiring team and brought in several thousand new workers.
However, in January Chipotle hosted its first coast-to-coast careers event, a cross-functional partnership between recruiting, marketing, public relations and the operations team.
“We hired 13,000 people in one day,” said Albano. “It just shows the power of a great relationship between talent acquisition and marketing and PR.”
Chipotle has disclosed its hiring mission.
In May, the Newport Beach, California-based chain announced that it would need to hire 20,000 new employees this year to meet its growth goals. The brand announced that it would increase its average hourly wage from $ 2 to $ 15 per hour and offer an employee referral bonus of $ 200 for hourly workers and a referral bonus of $ 750 for trainees and directors.
Since then, Chipotle has marketed a number of different innovative hiring events. The chain partnered with communications platform Discord in May to host a virtual job fair and increase their typical number of applications by 77% over a week. This month Chipotle announced that potential employees will post video-based applications through the new TikTok Resumes platform.
“We really only reach potential candidates where they are already,” said Albano. “It’s a fantastic opportunity to bring the Chipotle name to life.”
More than just the hourly wage
When showcasing their brands to potential employees, marketers say they are spending more than just wages. There are many other factors to consider.
At Blaze Pizza, for example, franchisees are instructed to tell potential hires that they can be their authentic selves, CEO Mandy Shaw said Restaurant operation in May. These additional perks include a casual dress code, acceptance of tattoos and piercings, and the prospect of increasing hourly wages with tips, Shaw said.
For Whitty-Ersan, much of her recruitment work is focused on grassroots efforts.
“We like to use our existing team members as marketing ambassadors,” she said. “Who better to tell you that this is a great place to work than someone who works here.”
An internal marketing spurt is encouraging store-level employees to recruit their contacts for potential Happy Joe jobs, she said. Hiring incentives vary from business to business, she said. For example, a soccer team employee could be encouraged to recruit their teammates to fill the chain’s vacancies, she said.
“I can spend a lot of money on advertising, but when the community talks about me it goes a lot further than a pretty ad in a publication,” said Whitty-Ersan.
It’s okay to involve store-level employees in company-wide initiatives like hiring, she added.
“Slow down and think about the talents we have in our buildings, get to know them better, get to know their connections,” she said. “Then they feel good and empowered that they showed up and did more than just work one shift.”
In addition to her other basic tactics, Whitty-Ersan also likes to hand out Happy Joe’s business cards when she has received particularly good service in other restaurants or retail stores. The card recognizes the outstanding service and invites the recipient to a free small Happy Joe’s Pizza – and to a possible conversation.
“You’re trying to be as great as you can,” she said. “Nobody wants their employees to be poached … It’s more about always looking for talent, always for talent that could fit into your organization.”