The service industry is clawing for a comeback, and large chains like Taco Bell and IHOP are rolling out the perks as they scramble to hire

Drive Up Interview Taco Bell
  • Taco Bell, IHOP, and McDonald’s are holding hiring events.
  • The economy is reopening after the coronavirus pandemic and there’s a “restaurant renaissance” brewing.
  • Some workers may still be reluctant to return.
  • See more stories on Insider’s business page.

Restaurant chains are trying to lure back employees as COVID-19 restrictions lift across the US.

As business picks up and more people become vaccinated, some companies are having trouble finding employees and they’re rolling out perks to draw in workers to deal with the job boom.

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IHOP is looking to hire 10,000 employees in the next few months at 1,600 locations across the US, the company announced. “With the country reopening and states lifting mandates, we see a restaurant renaissance on the horizon, and ensuring our restaurants are staffed and equipped is one of our top priorities,” IHOP President Jay Johns said. On May 19, IHOP will host “National Recruiting Day” to fill these rolls.

Taco Bell is taking similar steps, with a goal of hiring 5,000 new employees in one day, the company said. On April 21, the fast food chain will host hiring parties at nearly 2,000 US locations, where parking lots are converted into COVID-friendly job fairs. Some candidates will even get the chance to do “drive-up interviews” from their cars. The chain is also adding new benefits for managers at company-owned stores.

“It’s no secret that the labor market is tight, which is why we are thrilled to host our fourth round of Hiring Parties in partnership with our franchisees,” Taco Bell’s Chief People Officer Kelly McCulloch said.

McDonald’s locations in Texas are looking to hire 25,000 employees over a three-day event in April, Fox44 News reported. Whataburger, which said it wants to hire 50,000 new employees, is also extending perks to existing employees, hosting a free virtual leadership conference on April 21.

US job openings hit 7.4 million in February, the highest level since January 2019, as the economy reopens from the last year. Besides healthcare, food and accommodations logged most of the gains, Insider reported, indicating a coming demand for travel and visiting restaurants. States across the US continue to ease restrictions on indoor dining, and vaccination rates have surpassed 2 million per day.

Still, some workers who were furloughed or laid off early in the pandemic may never return to fast food and customer service work. The US added 280,000 jobs in the leisure and hospitality industry in March, according to data from the Labor Department, but still fell short of meeting hiring needs of restaurants, hotels and fast food chains.

Restaurants and bars remain 1.8 million jobs – or 15% – below pre-pandemic levels, with many establishments saying they are suffering from a dearth of applicants for a number of open positions.

“I don’t think anything like this has ever happened. Everybody in the world is hiring at the same time” chef and owner of two North Carolina restaurants Katie Button told The New York Times. Chef Hugh Acheson said more than 300 long line cook openings posted in February were still open two months later.

Workers and customers still have concerns about the safety of indoor dining, and not everyone is vaccinated. Some studies found fast food and retail workers to be more at risk than others of contracting COVID.

Some localities have also lifted mask mandates, which may be another deterrent. It’s not uncommon for workers to experience harassment and threats from customers, including over mask requirements and other rules implemented by restaurants.

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