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Barista working at a coffee shop using restaurant management software

5 Ways to Compete for Talent in the Gig Economy

As workers flock to join the gig economy and the hospitality industry continues to face staffing shortages, restaurants need to find ways to compete for talent. According to Upwork, the gig economy is expanding three times faster than the total U.S. workforce and more than 50% of U.S. workers are likely to participate in the gig economy by 2027. In addition, 53% of the freelancer population in the U.S. is made up of Gen Z or those aged 18 to 22 years old – a prime target for restaurant jobs.

Employees are drawn to gig work because they enjoy the flexibility of choosing when to work and which jobs to take. They can select the type of work they want to do and switch back and forth between multiple different types of gigs. For example, third-party delivery and ride-share drivers can choose whether to take a particular order or trip. And if it’s a slow day, they can decide to stop working and do something else at will.

However, there are also several disadvantages to gig work, including a lack of benefits, having to search for gigs, and little or no social interaction. The opportunity for restaurants, then, is to find ways to mimic the advantages of gig work while also highlighting their own advantages over the gig economy.

Here are five key ideas restaurants can implement to compete for talent in the gig economy.

1. Show them Purpose

Gen Z workers are known to appreciate companies that contribute to a higher purpose. Companies that focus on social issues, sustainability, or charitable work are held in higher regard. They like to stand for something and want to make sure their work has meaning. This is not typically prevalent in the gig economy, so if your company’s culture is about working for the greater good, take advantage of that when recruiting.

2. Highlight Your Tech Investments

Gig workers say that they like that gig work often requires the use of technology to find their next gig. Gen Z workers, who have never known life without technology, use apps to accomplish many of life’s tasks, and they fully expect technology to play a role in their work life as well. Luckily, restaurants adopted new technology at a lightning pace during the pandemic in order to adapt to fast-changing market conditions. From recruiting to training to scheduling, nearly every aspect of a team member’s workday is now managed with technology.

If you have not jumped on the technology bandwagon yet, now may be the time. According to Clint Lautenschleger, Senior Vice President of Human Resources for Restaurant Growth Services, the use of technology during the recruiting process makes an important first impression. “It’s a leading indicator as to what the rest of the experience is going to look like,” says Lautenschleger. “If it’s a miserable, manual experience at the beginning, it’s not going to get better later on. It’s like the first date, nothing is going to be better than the first date so that’s how we’re thinking about it.”

3. Make Culture and Teamwork a Priority

Social interaction is another advantage you can leverage. Human beings are social animals, but gig work sometimes offers little opportunity for socialization. By highlighting the social aspects of your organization, you may be able to attract gig workers who are feeling a bit lonely.

Teamwork is a critically important aspect of restaurant success, and it can provide a strong sense of belonging to people who are feeling isolated. By training your team members to help each other out and collaborate with others on their shift, you can reinforce a culture of teamwork that can be very attractive and engaging to gig workers. Online courses on teamwork are readily available for restaurant staff and can provide a quick way to create a culture of teamwork in your organization.

4. Offer More Scheduling Flexibility

As noted before, the ability to work as much or as little as workers want is a key advantage of the gig economy. But do not despair, there are ways to mimic this flexibility if you’re willing to get a little creative.

The use of a scheduling app to manage shifts is a great way to inject some flexibility into your restaurant. By allowing employees to request time off, swap shifts, or pick up open shifts when they need a little extra cash, you can mirror one of the key benefits of gig work.

Even better, with a labor management tool that allows an employee to work in multiple locations, you can provide even more opportunity to pick up shifts and provide employees with more power over their own schedules.

According to Donna Herbel, Vice President of Learning & Development for Ascent Hospitality Management, the shared schedule function in their labor management tool has been really helpful in competing in the gig economy. It ensures employees are scheduled in their primary location but provides the ability to pick up shifts at two or three other locations in the area.

“If it’s Thursday night and you want to make some quick cash, you can look around and see who’s looking for help and pick up shifts in different places,” says Herbel. “Anything we can do to help our employees be aware of opportunities and control their own schedule and income is a win.”

5. Consider Cross-Training for More Opportunity

Cross-training provides another opportunity for gig-like flexibility. A team member who has been trained as a host, server, busser, and bartender has far more opportunities to swap or pick up open shifts than one who has only been trained in one skill position. Using a learning management system, you can set up skill position learning programs to provide an easy way for workers to learn new positions and broaden their opportunities in your organization.

In addition, you can also help your employees manage the complex matrix of their certifications – a benefit they would never get via gig work. By investing in talent development, you not only make your company more attractive to gig workers, but you also create promotion opportunities for high-potential employees.

Above All Else, Good Tech is the Key

You may have noticed a common thread across these ideas for how to successfully compete for talent in the gig economy. These recommendations only work if you have the right technology to support new approaches to address this burgeoning market. With a dedicated restaurant-focused technology partner like CrunchTime to help you build your labor management and talent development tool sets, you can tap into the gig economy and retain top talent. But don’t wait another day to get started – the future is now, and their next gig awaits.


This blog was originally published on CHART: An Association of Hospitality Trainers.