The COVID19 pandemic made business owners across the globe realize the importance of investing in the physical and mental well-being of their staff. While corporates adopted the work-from-home culture, restaurants had to opt for the delivery-only model to survive the crisis. In 2020 alone, more than 110k restaurants went out of business.

Since the restaurant industry was more affected than any other industry, there was no other option but to let go of staff in order to cut costs. Nearly 5.9 million people in the restaurant industry lost their jobs within six weeks at the start of the pandemic. 

But now that vaccinations are easily available and restrictions on restaurants have been relaxed, restaurant owners have started the rehiring. You’d expect restaurants to flourish in this phase, but that’s not the case. Customers are back to dining at restaurants and hanging out at bars, but there are no restaurant workers in sight.

As opposed to the pre-pandemic era, restaurateurs today are experiencing major restaurant staffing shortages. And without good staff, it’s very challenging to offer customers a good restaurant dining experience. So what exactly is the reason for this restaurant worker shortage?

restaurant staffing shortage

In this blog, we will explore the following aspects in detail:

  • Reasons for restaurant staff shortage
  • How does this situation impact restaurants
  • How to overcome this situation
  • Creative ways to deal with the staff shortage

To begin with, let’s look at the core problem at hand.

Why people are avoiding working in restaurants

Even before the pandemic, one of the major issues in the restaurant industry was high attrition due to low wages. There is no structured appraisal or promotion policy in most restaurants. So restaurant staff keep hopping from one job to another because they are always looking for a better-paying job. Moreover, the lack of health benefits just worsens their overall work situation.

In the lockdown enforced by the pandemic, restaurant employees realized how undervalued they were in their jobs. They do not want to return to the same working conditions. Rajesh, a restaurant BOH staff with more than 5 years of experience shares, “After being temporarily laid off during the very first lockdown, I received no news from my boss. The least I expected was to be clearly told whether or not they will be hiring us back”

With this uncertainty looming over their head, restaurant workers felt lost and started looking for a work culture where the management will at least communicate clearly with staff. Apart from the workplace culture, abuse by customers makes the whole working experience emotionally unhealthy for them. If they’re underpaid and treated badly, why would they even want to return to the same job?

On days when restaurants are packed to their full capacity, restaurant staff have to work for stressful long hours. There is very little scope of catching a break in between. With restaurants expecting them to multitask without increasing their pay, staff members feel exploited. Add to that the constant fear of contracting the novel Coronavirus, and you have a solid reason for them not wanting to come back.  

According to a 2021 Joblist report, 38% of former hospitality workers report that they are not even considering a position in the restaurant industry anymore. Over 50% of former hospitality workers who are looking for other work say that no pay increase or incentive would make them return to their old restaurant, bar, or hotel job.

restaurant staffing shortage

The thing is, the pandemic just highlighted the underlying problems that were forever present in the restaurant industry. With staff members getting more time in their hands during the lockdown, they have gotten a chance to rethink their highly demanding work situation. Many have migrated to other less stressful jobs in a completely different industry. 

This has intensified the already high restaurant staff turnover rates

How will staff shortage affect your restaurant:

Now the tables have turned, restaurant owners need to lure staff with higher packages, perks, and benefits. Earlier, the lack of growth opportunities made staff miserable and compelled them to keep switching jobs. This means restaurants cannot avoid giving a pay raise to their staff now if they want to retain them. 

Especially when we see the Back of House positions, finding good staff is a challenge because of the shortage of talented chefs and cooks. This directly affects the customer experience because if the chef and BOH are not good, the food served will not be at par with the customer’s expectations. Serving high-quality food is paramount if you want customers to keep coming back. 

restaurant staffing shortage

Staffing shortage for restaurants can mean they will have to compromise on the quality of service. With restaurants operating with fewer staff members, it may lead to longer waiting times for everything from a table to a cheque. It will also take longer than usual to prepare and serve them food leading to a poor table turnover rate. 

This heavily impacts sales and reduces a restaurant’s already razor-thin profit margins. The overall functioning of the restaurant slows down. This further increases the existing staff’s responsibilities as they have to fulfill multiple roles. Since this again makes their work stressful, they are bound to go looking for a better job. 

How to deal with restaurant staff shortage

The restaurant industry is known for its unprecedented nature of work with no job security for the restaurant workers. Now that workers have come to realize this and decided they want to be paid higher, it means restaurants will have to take big steps in the favor of the workers. Ultimately, the long-standing reputation of low payments and erratic work schedules will have to be changed. 

Here are some ways to deal with this shortage and overcome the hurdles:

Reconsider the staff salary structure

The most obvious thing in this situation is to give your staff a raise. Money is a powerful motivation. At this point where staff resignations are at an all-time high, offer your high-potential staff a steady salary. Fast food giant McDonald’s overcame the labor crunch by raising hourly wages. “We’re getting close to full staffing levels“, said McDonald’s CEO Chris Kempczinski

restaurant staffing shortage

It’s not easy finding good restaurant staff, and it sure isn’t easy retaining them. So when you have people with good performance records, retain them by offering them a raise. When it comes to hiring new people, refine your hiring process and bring onboard only those staff members that will add value to the establishment. This way you won’t be paying high salaries to just about anybody. 

Offer additional benefits

Do your restaurant benefits actually benefit your staff? Or are they just for the namesake? Closely study the work benefits your restaurant offers because they play a big role in attracting workers as well as in retaining them. Offer flexible schedules, paid leaves, financial assistance in case of COVID19 infection, etc.  

Innovate perks and benefits to offer your existing as well as new employees. American fast casual restaurant chain Chipotle took things a step ahead and offered employees free degrees in culinary, hospitality, and agriculture. Apart from offering paychecks to quarantining staff members, & Pizza offered unique benefits like $5 Lyft rides to help employees avoid public transportation.

Appreciate their dedication

The restaurant industry is not easy to survive in. For whatever reasons someone chooses to work in a restaurant, it is important to acknowledge what they bring to the table. No matter what position a staff holds in your restaurant, take good care of them and make sure they are treated with respect.

This enhances their work satisfaction and allows them to work sincerely even on difficult and stressful days. Although fair compensation is the major reason for job satisfaction, employees who are appreciated for their work stick to their jobs even if they are not paid as high as their expectations. 

A big benefit of this is your employees will spread the word about the positive work culture. This will attract applications from eligible candidates and make your job easier. A candidate is more likely to believe that you offer a good work environment when they come to know about it from a fellow worker in the industry. 

Get creative

While restaurant management technology has simplified processes and made it easy to control food costs, self-service technology is yet to be widely adopted. If you are understaffed and cannot afford to hire more, leverage the power of self-service kiosks. They allow customers to place their orders themselves through an intuitive screen. Customers can take their own time without holding back your staff.

Since customers are placing their orders themselves, there are lesser chances of mistakes. Your staff can be utilized for other jobs like serving customers, delivering food, or helping in the BOH. Not only does this reduce the cost of labor, but also helps customers feel safer because ordering becomes contactless.

Start retention from the very beginning

In this restaurant staffing shortage crisis, one of the best things to set things straight is to implement retention strategies as soon as a staff member is hired. Most businesses focus on retaining an employee only when they have declared that they are quitting their job. Losing a well-trained high performing staff member can be disheartening for any restaurant.

Instead of convincing them to stay when they quit, try to understand why they felt the need to quit. This will allow you to understand areas of improvement in your system. Besides this, you would also learn what things matter to your staff. All of this helps in creating a blueprint that will serve as an early retention strategy.

Training staff members and equipping them with the necessary skills when they come onboard also helps in attracting potential candidates. Advertise your training program when spreading the word about available restaurant positions. You can create a referral program as well for your staff so they will broadcast the information to their contacts in the industry.

Conclusion

The pandemic has brought about a much-needed change in the way restaurants treat their staff. The staffing situation may seem grave, but it can be overcome with the help of the above tips. Adapt to the situation and transform your company culture for good. Once you do this, you will experience things turning around in your favor in the coming months.

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