Big US chains are offering perks to lure back service workers

Mediocre managers can have a lasting impact on their team’s performance.
Mediocre managers can have a lasting impact on their team’s performance.
Image: Reuters/Chris Wattie
We may earn a commission from links on this page.

The US gained 266,000 jobs in March, far fewer than million new jobs forecasters expected. The reasons for the employee shortage range from childcare responsibilities to health concerns to generous unemployment insurance benefits keeping workers at home.

Now, big chains, in food and services, are increasingly offering incentives from signing bonuses to free appetizers to lure them back. At the same time, big corporations like Amazon and Costco have raised pay to at least $15 an hour, making it harder for other employers to compete with them.

The Jobs Opening and Labor Turnover survey from the US Bureau of Labor Statistics reported a record-high 8.1 million job openings in March, with the largest increases in accommodation and food services, state and government education, as well as arts, entertainment, and recreation.

“Oftentimes, when we hear these anecdotes, it’s difficult to tell how widespread they are or how real they are,” says Daniel Zhao, an economist at Glassdoor. “The fact that companies are putting money where their mouth is is an indicator that this is a real phenomenon.”

Using cash incentives to get workers back into their jobs may become the policy of the US government. US senator Ben Sasse, a Nebraska Republican, is planning to introduce legislation to convert pandemic unemployment benefits into a two-month signing bonus for those who get a job, an attempt to encourage workers back to work.

While some employers are raising wages, many are offering one-time bonuses, a signal that businesses—which are balancing pent-up demand with a shortage of workers—perceive the employee shortage as a temporary problem that’s not likely to persist in the longterm.


The fast-food chain said it will increase wages to $15 an hour by the end of June, as it looks to hire 20,000 workers in the US. The company has also introduced employee referral bonuses of $200 for crew members and $750 for apprentices or general managers. Chipotle says it will launch a virtual career fair on Discord, a popular messaging app, an effort to reach a younger audience.

In an interview with CNBC, Chipotle CEO Brian Niccol said the current labor market is among the most challenging he’s seen in his career.


The fast-food chain announced this week that it plans to raise average hourly wages for more than 36,500 employees. Entry-level workers will earn between $11 to $17 an hour, and shift managers will make between $15 to $20 an hour, depending on location.

The company said it expects average hourly wages to reach $15 an hour by 2024.

Taco Bell

As it looks to hire 5,000 workers, the fast-food chain says it is giving general managers up to 12 weeks of paid leave, reported Restaurant Business Online.


The convenience store chain is looking to grow its physical footprint by 61 new stores in 2021. Wawa says it wants to hire 5,000 new associates during the next three months, and is providing signing bonuses up to $800.


Jobs postings on Marriott’s website show one-time signing bonuses, including positions for housekeeping that pay $15.50 an hour with a $400 signing bonus. A room inspector can earn $17 an hour with a $500 bonus.


This week, Applebee’s announced it aims to hire 10,000 workers at its restaurants nationwide for positions ranging from host, server, bartender, cook, “all with the potential for career development and advancement.” Every candidate 18 years or older who gets an interview will also get a voucher for a free appetizer.