Alice Cheng is the Founder & CEO of Culinary Agents, the professional networking and job marketing website designed for the hospitality industry.
Having spent 13 years working at IBM helping companies apply technology to solve business problems, Alice brings her experience into the hospitality industry to solve inefficiencies and gaps around talent sourcing and career development.
Passionate about helping people build careers, Alice Cheng takes leadership roles in mentoring across all industries with a focus on helping talent succeed in their careers. She currently serves as an advisor for Food X, an accelerator program for food-related tech startups, is a member of the Society of Fellows for the Culinary Institute of America (CIA) and a Strategic Advisor for Hot Bread Kitchen’s Kitchen Cabinet. Culinary Agents is a website and app to find jobs and career-related information about the hospitality industry. The platform empowers aspiring and existing talent to easily discover and apply to the best jobs.
Culinary Agents also provides job marketing, recruiting and employer branding solutions to help businesses hire the best talent. Culinary Agents is committed to a hospitality-driven approach, thoughtful innovation, building meaningful relationships and maintaining integrity. Its growing community of over 1.1 million users and over 35,000 businesses span the U.S., including all levels of talent as well as restaurants, hotels, resorts, catering, foodservice, schools and organizations of all sizes.
Why did you create Culinary Agents?
I worked in food service for years before joining IBM and loved it. As the hospitality industry and profession evolved and the rise of consumer interest in cooking and dining experiences skyrocketed, I found my former peers still looking to unprofessional tools to seek employment and career opportunities. After years of witnessing wildly talented, hard working, caring and ambitious people sift through Craigslist at 3 a.m. post shift to find their next job (or a better one), I felt compelled to create an effective tool to connect talent and businesses in the hospitality industry. Once the wheels were in motion, it became clear that the challenges and lack of tools were also present amongst business owners and hiring managers. My team and I have dedicated the past 10 years to building our website and app to support both talent and businesses in the hospitality industry. Our approach is simple: design and build from the perspective of users in the hospitality industry while incorporating best practices and experiences from other industries.
From shutdowns to record-hitting hiring demands, COVID-19 has taken the hospitality industry on a wild ride. How has Culinary Agents evolved to support this community?
The last couple years have challenged the entire hospitality industry, present company included. When the industry was shut down in many parts of the country, we focused on providing resources and tools to help talent navigate these unchartered waters while still being able to discover job opportunities and feel empowered about their careers. For example, our virtual mentorship library offers inspiration. It showcases the unique career paths 350+ leaders as well as their advice and lessons learned from their own experiences. In addition to supporting the industry’s talent, our team has also been working tirelessly to enhance the features, functions and options on our site for businesses, ensuring they have the tools needed to rebuild and grow.
What are the biggest hiring challenges for the hospitality industry when it comes to hiring today?
Today’s market is highly competitive when it comes to attracting and retaining the best talent. Recruiting the right candidates at the volume and pace needed to keep up with recovery and growth demands brought on by the pandemic is proving to be extremely challenging.
Finding candidates with the ethos and skill level that align with employer expectations can be difficult. Also, meeting the evolved expectations and requirements that job seekers have is challenging for employers.
On the flip side, for job seekers, sifting through job ads that offer high level information or no information can be frustrating and time consuming. Companies who are being transparent from the start tend to have more success attracting talent efficiently and effectively.
Compensation is important, but it’s not the only driving factor when it comes to job seekers applying and ultimately accepting a position. What else can restaurants offer to attract talent?
Raising pay is not enough because worker priorities and expectations have shifted and expanded. Similar to other industries, in addition to increased pay, workers are looking for total compensation, including health benefits, perks, work/life balance, growth opportunities, etc. To remain competitive, businesses are reevaluating their overall employer brand and highlighting what sets them apart from other workplaces to attract and retain top talent.
What are the most successful recruiting tools in restaurants’ arsenals
Successful recruiting tools for restaurants fall into two buckets Technology and Employer Branding.
Technology which allows businesses to broadly promote their opportunities to a targeted audience and intelligent systems that match qualified candidates to jobs are efficient ways to source talent. Also, integrating job marketing and recruiting tools into HR workflows to streamline talent sourcing and recruiting efforts save restaurants time and money. In short, selecting the right combination of tools to support your talent sourcing needs can save your business time and money.
Employer Branding allows businesses to showcase and promote all aspects of their brand, culture and beliefs. Sharing your employer value proposition broadly and across all channels (paid and free) may directly and indirectly attract job seekers. Having a strong culture with happy employees often encourages word of mouth and curiosity, which are beneficial in building a strong candidate pool.
How does hiring differ today than it did two years ago?
Hiring and talent sourcing have always been a challenge for the hospitality industry. The major changes today are the increased use of technology for job marketing and recruiting along with heightened competition for top talent — not just amongst the hospitality industry, but also in adjacent and other industries.
Due to recovery and growth efforts on the heels of the pandemic, businesses are looking to fill multiple positions simultaneously and at a higher volume and pace. Historically, turnover and seasonality created a somewhat predictable hiring cadence which businesses anticipated and prepared for.
Because of the extended road to recovery, some hospitality workers have either temporarily or permanently left the industry to leverage their skills elsewhere. This is further exacerbating the supply shortage at a time of high demand. For those who have stayed, shifting priorities and evolving needs have made talent more selective about which jobs to accept and which employers to work with.
What are common mistakes restaurants are making when it comes to hiring?
Some of the biggest mistakes when it comes to hiring include:
- Underestimating recruiting efforts and budget – Hiring is an ongoing effort that requires dedicated time and budget (small or moderate).
- Responsiveness – There are countless opportunities for talent to consider right now, hiring businesses should be prompt with replies and thorough with their follow up.
- Lack of transparency – Many roles now combine responsibilities, it is important for the business to share these nuances in their job descriptions as well as in the interview process to attract the right candidates and potentially reduce turnover.
- Inconsistency – It is important to ensure your internal team is on the same page about what your hiring goals are, what you value when it comes to your team culture and how you want your employer brand to be represented to candidates and the public at large.
What are you seeing from restaurant employers in general in 2022 regarding recruitment?
In general, while hiring has always been a focus area for businesses, these days we’re seeing more employers revisiting their overall approach to their culture and team. Investing in resources and their teams to focus on hiring the right individuals and retaining them. Some businesses are focused on shorter term solutions to jumpstart in addition to longer term operational and structural changes. Some workers have reprioritized and found employment elsewhere. Some workers are taking time evaluating the best employer that will fit their needs.
Businesses will need to prioritize recruiting and talent sourcing as an ongoing practice to stay top of mind and promote what they have to offer. Also, more businesses are providing cross-training for their teams which has proved to be mutually beneficial for the employer and employee. Those that are creatively providing ways to support a healthy work-life balance for their teams are standing out from competitors (e.g., flexible schedules, health insurance, wellness packages, etc.).
With so many job opportunities available now, what tips can you share with job seekers to help narrow their search to find employers that will be a good fit?
Before diving into the sea of job openings, spend some time asking yourself a few questions to narrow down what you’re looking for (e.g., What are you non-negotiables? What’s most important to you?). Make a list prioritizing your needs and wants in life and from your job. Then research employers who seem to have the reputation that offer the type of environment which aligns with your priority list. Also, conduct your job search using tools designed to help you connect with employers, while keeping your search efficient and effective. When possible, try to experience the business, whether it’s going there for a meal, observing the kitchen (if visible and without intruding) or chatting with a worker (e.g., cooks, bartenders, servers, etc.) to get a feel for the overall vibe and to help you see if you can imagine yourself working there.
To learn more about Alice Cheng and Culinary Agents, visit their website