The Labor Shortage and Restaurant Operations
By Greg Staley, Synergy Suite
Virtually every restaurant is struggling to find enough labor to staff full shifts right now. Some are working skeleton crews, while other are cutting hours off their day or days off the week to make sure the hours they are open are fully staffed. Whatever the situation, coming back into full operations but then being unable to find enough employees is a frustrating dilemma that’s unlikely to be resolved for months.
The labor shortage is complex and has a number of causes, including:
- Every restaurant is trying to rehire at the same time. This rush on hiring has created a squeeze on the employees still in the industry and has allowed employees to be selective about which position best fits their scheduling or salary needs.
- Unemployment insurance extensions make it possible for employees to take a break from the industry or wait until they’re vaccinated to return to work.
- During the worst of COVID-19, many restaurant employees left for jobs that had more hours available or where they could interact with the public less.
- Industry-wide burnout was already an issue on the rise pre-pandemic, but it accelerated for those who stayed in the industry.
No individual operator can control these variables, so part of making it through the labor crunch will simply involve the time needed before labor normalizes. However, there are things in your control that will help you both recruit and retain talent to stay competitive in a difficult labor market.
- Offer Interview, Hiring, and/or Referral Bonuses
Unusual labor markets call for different tactics. Be honest with your employees about the labor shortage and let them know you value them. Offer a referral bonus for any employee hired that they brought in to you. This shows you not only appreciate them but are looking for the kind of people they bring in to work for you. You can also incentivize the prospective employee with a bonus for coming to the interview, upon hiring, or after a specific amount of time to improve retention.
Be sure to highlight what makes you stand out as an employer during this process. Talk about benefits, culture, opportunities for advancement, flexible scheduling, and anything else that makes your restaurant a great place to work.
- Make Employees Your Advocates
In the restaurant industry, everybody talks. Just like you would look at reviews before a new purchase, your prospective employees will be talking to people they know who currently work or have worked for you. The best way to make sure you’ll be getting 5-star reviews is by focusing on a culture that values employees as much as customers.
Provide tools that help employees do their jobs more efficiently, like digital inventory, purchasing and checklists. This shows employees you are invested in them and want to make your restaurant a good place to work. That kind of investment pays off as employees are your biggest advocates and tell others about their experience.
- Optimize Scheduling
If you’re paying one and a half or double your hourly wage to retain employees, controlling your labor costs is more important than ever. Overscheduling a shift now has an exponentially larger impact when your labor costs are that high.
Tap into modern labor management tools that can optimize your schedule based off sales forecasts. This helps avoid unbalanced allocation of resources that can kill your profitability and will not only help as this labor crunch goes on but will be an ongoing benefit into the future.
Most modern labor systems will also make managing schedules easier for managers and employees by putting the whole process into an app. Employees can set availability, request time off, and swap or pick up shifts without a single group text. This convenience and familiarity for employees – who are already used to managing their lives from their phones – is just one more benefit on your side in a market where every differentiator matters.
Getting the restaurant industry back to normal after the COVID-19 pandemic has been dealt yet another setback with the current labor shortage. Because there is little we can do to immediately bring employment back to normal, you must control what you can. Make your restaurant stand out as an employer by providing employees the tools they need to do their jobs well. Harness good relationships with current employees to advocate for your business. Optimize everywhere possible so wage increases don’t have such a dramatic effect on your bottom line.
Greg Staley is the CEO of SynergySuite, a back-of-house restaurant management platform. Greg focuses on facilitating better visibility and increased profitability for restaurant chains through the use of intelligent, integrated back-of-house technology. For more information, please contact Greg at firstname.lastname@example.org.