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Game-Changing Recruitment Techniques for Caterers

Mega events spur new ways of finding and retaining great teams

After several dismal years due to COVID, the hospitality industry is booming with mega events again. Events such as the Super Bowl, The Waste Management Open and the US Open Golf Championship catering require hospitality professionals to feed up to 200,000 people over the course of several days. 

The reality is it takes an army to feed an army. And while the business is back, the labor market is not. Event firms are scrambling to fill 300 to 500 jobs within weeks for these big national events.  

How to attract and retain hundreds of quality workers has become the hot topic for the nation’s multi-million-dollar hospitality industry, not just for this year, but for years to come to create a sustainable and strong industry. Here are some of the ways catering companies are recruiting in 2023.

Same mega event, different cities

By June of this year, Ridgewells Catering out of the Bethesda/Washington DC area (one the country’s largest privately held catering companies) will have hired roughly 500 to 700 people to work at the United States Golf Association’s (USGA) US Open in Los Angeles. 

By June of this year, Ridgewells Catering will have hired roughly 500 to 700 people to work at the United States Golf Association’s (USGA) US Open in Los Angeles.  Photo courtesy Ridgewells Catering

The event travels each year to a new location. Recruiting for it (a long-standing Ridgewells client) is ongoing. For instance, last year while it was in Boston, the HR team was already recruiting for Los Angeles. “If someone excels in a city, we ask them if they want to travel with us,” explains Susan Lacz, Principal and CEO of Ridgewells. “We also have over 100 skilled people as our leads who take vacations from their regular jobs to travel with us to this event.  We also will provide housing for those that travel. We anticipate traveling more staff to LA because it’s such a hard job market.”

Outside the box: using media outreach

How do you attract hundreds of workers when the Super Bowl and WM Phoenix Open (with 700,000 guests) come to town in the same month? This was the question Michael Stavros and Brian Flora (both with M Culinary Concepts) asked their PR agency at the beginning of 2023. 

The James Agency answered by approaching media outlets with the story that M Culinary was going to hire hundreds of people within weeks for these two exciting events.

“In our media outreach we wanted to convey that this was a great opportunity for people to get into the culinary world or who might be looking for something beyond restaurant and bars,” says Christina Caldwell, PR Account Supervisor at The James Agency.

The articles that appeared, and all the TV spots garnered significant ROI. “It’s not often that we see the connection between efforts and outcome,” Caldwell says.

Part of the reason was that M Culinary also shared the following message through text and email: “No experience is required. If you’d like to schedule an interview, text REBEL to 89743 for a 15-minute interview.”

“Using texts is a great way to get more applications, Caldwell explains. “The fewer barriers you can put up the better.” Additionally, that form of communication works well with the age group that the company is targeting.

Establishing outposts in every city

In Atlanta, Adam Noyes, President of Proof of the Pudding, needs to hire 300 to 500 employees 20 separate times throughout the year; and not just in one state, but 16. 

“Before COVID” he explains, “we didn’t even have a formal staffing team. We had two people who did staffing. Now we have six, five of whom travel to those 15 states. Two are based in Charlotte, North Carolina, one in Wisconsin, and one in Austin just to staff the PGA and Formula One, and two in-house here.”

With the company’s national reach, it’s leaned heavily into staffing because each market is so different. With all the work that goes into getting great people, Proof of the Pudding ensures that they are happy once on board. “We’ve begun to compensate more than before with health care, car payments, cell phones, and travel. We start vacation time within the first year, not after it.” All these benefits add up and the proof of the pudding, so to speak, is in a high retention rate.”

Upping the game on all levels

In St. Louis, Missouri, Butler’s Pantry has been proactive about hiring and retention by hiring an experienced recruiter to focus solely on bringing staff on board. 

According to Jordan Chitwood, CFO, the company has upped its game at job fairs by including collateral that presents a more professional image, offering referral bonuses, and increasing their presence in online recruiting pages. 

“All in all,” Chitwood says, “we got pretty creative with regards to our event staff, and it paid off. We are going to do more in 2023, but also focus on our approach to staffing while ensuring that we are engaging our entire group of seasonal employees.”

Having parties to staff parties

In Seattle, DSquared Hospitality–which feeds almost 2,500 daily for T Mobile and staffs six venues locally–needs to bring in 250 people each time it holds a recruiting event which is four times a year. “And in May, we make a big push,” says Matt Haggerty, HR/Staffing, “with recruiting events and ask employees to bring people. The events could be anything from one of our chefs doing a pizza-making demonstration to scavenger hunts.” 

Pictured is a chef during one of DSquared Hospiallity's recruitment parties. Photo courtesy DSquared Hospitality

The events are very successful, Haggerty says, and he and his team are available with sign-up paperwork at the ready. 

“We’ll sit with them for 15 minutes if it’s a service position. But often, when it’s a referral from one of our core team members, we usually hire them. 99% of the time it’s a perfect fit.”

The company has also found great success in partnering with Newport High School, which has a culinary program. They work to create a learning experience and capture students who need to fill the program’s requirement for external hours. “We call it the D2 University,” Haggerty says.

He is partially joking about the university, but when it comes to attracting and retaining top people today, education goes both ways. Small businesses are learning to get creative while a youthful labor force is learning that they can build a sustainable career in the culinary world. It’s a win-win in the battle of recruitment.   


Liese Gardner

Owner, Liese Gardner Communications, Los Angeles, CA

Liese Gardner is a marketing expert working with top brands and individuals in the special events industry since 1984.