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Restaurants are facing a staffing shortage. These apps are trying to help

Pedestrians walked past a "Help Wanted" sign posted at restaurant looking for line cooks and servers. As cities reopen, some restaurants are turning to on-demand staffing apps to fill positions.
Pedestrians walked past a "Help Wanted" sign posted at restaurant looking for line cooks and servers. As cities reopen, some restaurants are turning to on-demand staffing apps to fill positions.FREDERIC J. BROWN/AFP via Getty Images

If a line cook or dishwasher calls in sick, David Lanci turns to an app called Snapchef.

“It saves us money because I don’t have to have a float team,” said Lanci, chief executiveand co-founder of NexDine, a Massachusetts-based dining service used by schools, hospitals, and senior living facilities. “I can just pick up the phone, deal with the app, and my people get qualified candidates.”

Lanci and other restaurant and food service industry managers are turning to on-demand staffing apps like Snapchef — a Boston-based company that connects restaurants and hiring managers with temporary workers — to fill a mounting labor shortage as businesses reopen to full capacity.

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A combination of factors has led to the shortage, said Steve Clark, vice president of government affairs at the Massachusetts Restaurant Association. About 80 percent of industry respondents to a 2019 survey from payroll service Paychex reported feeling burned out, even pre-pandemic. The $300 unemployment supplement slated to run into September is encouraging some to hold out. Baby boomers, once the largest generation in the workforce, are retiring, while some parents are reluctant to return to work until school restarts fully in person. And the sheer pace of restaffing –– thousands of restaurants hiring anywhere from 30 to 60 employees at the same time –– is heightening competition, he said.

Paying people bonuses to come back can help in the short term but could increase costs for customers in the long run, said Muzzo Uysal, a department chair and professor of hospitality and tourism management at University of Massachusetts Amherst’s Isenberg School of Management. A long-term solution is building employee loyalty through free meal tickets or adjusting the minimum wage at the state, federal, and employer level, he added.

Staffing apps can match candidates to roles through software and virtual training. Fliptable, which is based in Vermont and launched last month, uses artificial intelligence to connect managers with workers through a profile and Tinder-like swipe interface.

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Snapchef recently launched a training program with an online culinary school called Rouxbe geared toward workers entering the industry. The program covers food safety, knife skills, and basic ingredient identification to offer new workers a leg up in the job process. There are plans to add two additional training programs, said Scott Samuel, vice president of culinary at Rouxbe.

Gigpro, a staffing app started in South Carolina, currently works with about 6,000 people and 300 businesses. It fills about 300 gigs a week and is free to use, though there’s a fee after each gig is completed, said CEO and founder Ben Ellsworth. He plans to expand north within the next year.

In the restaurant industry, leaving a position for 25 cents more an hour or a closer commute isn’t uncommon. To succeed, restaurateurs should meet their staff where they search for jobs, said Dylan Gully, a partner at Rethink Restaurants, a local consultancy. That could mean staffing apps or job board sites like Indeed, Craigslist, or Facebook, though Lanci from NexDine said these platforms often leave managers a stack of 60 resumes to sift through.

Kickstarting the use of any app also has its struggles.

“The app is only as good as the people that they have,” said Clark. “An operator can say, ‘Yes I love the platform, I love the interface,’ but it actually wasn’t pulling people through the door.”

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No-shows for jobs are also a part of the business, said Snapchef CEO Todd Snopkowski. He offers sign-on bonuses and incentives — like $100 for referring friends and family — to curb that on his platform.

At Gigpro, workers are rated after each gig, which can help restaurants track their performance and reliability, said Ellsworth. The company isn’t “a magic pill,” but after one no-show, a worker is suspended for two weeks; a second offense and they are off the app for a calendar year, he said.

Snapchef makes money by billing clients based on how many hours an employee works. For Lanci, the cost to find workers is worth it.

“The convenience of having the ability to call someone on demand is worth the additional cost,” he said. “Anybody who tells you differently is lying.”



Samantha Subin can be reached at samantha.subin@globe.com.