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Tim Kidder
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02.8.22

Restaurant Staffing Issues Continue. What Can You Do?

Today’s restaurant industry is experiencing a severe staffing crisis – affecting both the front and back of the house operations. Twenty-six percent of restaurants say they are actively looking to hire cooks and line cooks, while 17% need servers and 7% are seeking bartenders, according to 7shifts, an industry scheduling tool designed to simplify team management.[1]

According to a survey conducted by Black Box Intelligence and Snagajob[2], there are 70% more job openings and 10% fewer people looking for positions, resulting in a painful workforce gap that isn’t helping understaffed restaurants fill their slots. Adding to the stress of this crisis – leisure and hospitality — which has long had high quit rates — are now experiencing the fastest growing quit rates of all industries.

Why Is There a Restaurant Labor Shortage Today?

It’s likely that today’s restaurant labor shortage is the result of a perfect storm of converging factors, both related and unrelated to the pandemic. For restaurant workers, the pandemic created health concerns about being regularly exposed to unmasked diners, poor treatment from customers frustrated by or refusing to follow COVID rules and, on the positive side, a larger-than-usual financial cushion through stimulus checks and larger unemployment checks.

That financial cushion means that people looking for work can afford to take more time and be pickier about the jobs they accept. This has exacerbated long-term issues within the industry. Restaurant work has not had the best reputation among workers, who may view it as fast-paced and stressful, thankless, low paying, lacking benefits and hard on family or social life with night, weekend and holiday hours.

Given the broad-reaching current labor shortage, workers are not only able to pick and choose from many employers, but also from multiple industries. Some are leaving the restaurant world for good and going to larger companies with more perks to employment. Others, who might have chosen a restaurant position for their first job, are choosing other paths. The U.S Bureau of Labor Statistics[3] projects the number of teens in the labor force to drop by 660,000 over the next 10 years as more and more choose to pursue entrepreneurial opportunities or experience – like volunteer opportunities and community service – that look good on college applications.

When is this trend expected to end? Most restaurant owners and industry experts don’t believe it will reverse anytime soon. That leaves many restaurants fighting for workers to fill open positions while struggling to serve their customers short-handed.

How to Find and Attract Workers to Your Open Restaurant Positions

While the simple “Help Wanted” sign in the window used to be effective in pulling new staff in the door, this is no longer true. It seems like every other business today has one of those signs. So how can you stand out and get the attention of future employees?

Optimize the Search and Hiring Process

This means looking for your prospective employees where they are and telling/showing them what differentiates your business and why they’re a better fit than the competition.

Your future staff is online. Make sure your website has an attractive and informative career page. Include good job descriptions that tell a truthful tale of the open position’s responsibilities (no one likes to take a sous-chef job and then find out they are supposed to wash the floors too) and market your restaurant as a good place to work. Show off your positive culture on social media – especially through photos of your staff at work and play. Then make sure you have an easy online application. If you don’t make applying convenient, many of your prospects won’t bother.

Once you have applications, be prepared to move fast, before workers are offered another job. Consider using texting as your primary mode of communicating rather than phoning or emailing. Texts have a 99 percent open rate and are the preferred communication vehicle for millennials and Gen Z.

You can also use job boards but focus on industry-specific boards which offer the best conversion-to-hire rates. Think about a referral program with rewards for staff and even customers whose friends or family fill your open roles. You may also want to try innovative ideas like a Hospitality Networking Night to bring potential workers into your space and give them a positive experience that might influence their next job move.

Offer Whatever Benefits You Can Afford

Benefits are becoming more popular in the restaurant industry as the competition heats up for workers. Signing bonuses make a difference and are a growing trend. Competitive pay is always helpful. Other benefits that are becoming more common include tuition or training subsidies, retirement plans, medical insurance and paid time off.

Even if you have a small facility that can’t absorb these costs, try to think of something you can offer. Shift meals or free food at the end of the day? The ability to access earned wages in advance — which can reduce financial stresses on families? Or even fostering a network of parents who may be able to exchange emergency childcare?

Show That You Care

Creating a culture of respect and empathy for your workers will help you both attract and retain workers. With the industry’s high quit rates and a $5000-$6000 average price tag for replacing those who quit, this may be one of the most important (and least costly) actions you can take.

The first step is just to listen. Your workers have voices. Make sure they feel free to use them, to report any problems or issues and make suggestions for improvement. Respond, show them respect and be willing to address their concerns.

Other steps you can take to show that you care about your workers is to be flexible about adjusting schedules to accommodate their personal and family needs. Work to create a team culture that feels like family, emphasize employee safety in all your procedures and create opportunities for workers to cross-learn new skills and advance their careers.

7 Useful Tips for Running a Kitchen with a Skeleton Crew

Even if you do everything we suggest, it’s important to recognize that there is a real shortage of workers, especially for BOH positions, so you may have to spend some time short-handed. Here are seven practical tips for running your kitchen and satisfying your customers when you are understaffed.

  1. Leverage technology. If you’ve been thinking about automating some of your processes, this is the time. A kitchen technology system can help direct orders, highlight what needs to be produced and make operations more efficient. If you can’t invest in the technology right now, consider adding an expediter to your team to allow the head chef to focus on food preparation rather than order tracking.
  2. Streamline your menu. As much as you’d like to serve your customers a rich variety of menu items, it’s better for now to make sure every dish is delicious and satisfying and that your kitchen crew survives the night. Eliminate labor-intensive dishes and items that require extra trips to the freezer or cooler. Keep your best sellers, of course and offer specials that are quick and easy to prepare.
  3. Shift staff. If you’re short on cooks, train one or two servers and dishwashers to do simple tasks like using the deep fryer or making salads. Use a non-cook to plate dishes.
  4. Prep more items. Put more items on the menu that you can precook in large batches and hold. Some dishes need to be made to order, but even with these, some prep may be possible ahead of time. For example, cook taco meat in advance and peel potatoes early.
  5. Emphasize daily readiness. Everything that isn’t in order when a shift starts can slow down your chefs. Make sure all equipment (steamers down to knives) is clean and in working order and the kitchen is well-stocked with ingredients.
  6. Create workstations. If possible, prevent slowdowns at bottlenecks by designating clear and separate workstations for different tasks and steps in the food preparation process.
  7. Create an employee manual. (Groan.) Nobody likes this task, but well-established and understood standard operating procedures make a kitchen run more efficiently and produce quality results. Make sure your staff reads the manual and do spot checks on procedures.

 

[1] https://www.7shifts.com/blog/restaurant-hiring-shortage-data-jobs-applications/

[2] https://emerging.com/how-restaurants-can-attract-employees-in-a-tightening-labor-market/

[3] https://www.bls.gov/opub/reports/minimum-wage/2018/home.htm

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