In 2020, at the onset of the COVID-19 pandemic, the leisure and hospitality industry in the United States suffered more job losses than any other sector1. The majority of layoffs were in food service, with around 5.5 million chefs, waiters and cashiers forced out of their jobs.
As restaurants continue to recover, the main focus is on attracting customers while keeping costs down. However, the widespread labor shortage in the United States is making it difficult for food service companies to thrive and meet all-important revenue targets. The shortage is having a significant impact from small towns to major foodie cities including Orlando, New Orleans and San Francisco2.
Around 84% of operators state that their staff levels are lower than normal3. Full-service venues, kitchens and back-of house operations have been hit especially hard, with worker resignations at an all-time high. With that in mind, we bring you five tips for coping with staff shortages in the restaurant industry.
1. Encourage optimal hygiene practices
When facing a staff shortage in your restaurant, it is more important than ever to maintain good hygiene practices. Hygienic operations ensure the health and safety of staff and customers and also play a huge part in the perception of your venue. Post-pandemic, customers are picky about where they dine out, with hygiene being a defining factor in restaurant selection. Restaurant managers should create a checklist of cleaning duties and keep it updated. Ensure fair distribution of cleaning tasks to ensure standards are maintained. Your kitchen, dining area and rest rooms should be inspected regularly. For restaurants with high traffic, consider implementing high-capacity dispensers for both front and back of house, to free up time from refilling.
2. Streamline your menu
To optimize efficiency during the staff shortage, you might want to rethink your menu model. To make life easier for servers and chefs, engineer your menu to better align to customer taste, which should speed up ordering and table turnover. Remove or tweak dishes that are unpopular and provide clear information about each dish to minimize customer questions and modification requests. Make it easy for staff to flip between courses by color-coding items and categories. Streamlining the menu will pay off by saving time for both customers, wait staff and chefs.
3. Emphasize prep ahead of opening
Mindful preparation ahead of opening hours is essential if you want to take the hard work out of busy shifts during a staff shortage. Have front-of-house employees start ahead of opening hours to help with tasks such as rolling cutlery into napkins, filling condiment stations and stocking napkin dispensers. This will free up time for hosts and servers to concentrate on high-value tasks, including welcoming guests, table service and cross-selling. Back-of-house staff should concentrate on preparing ingredients, cleaning workstations and ensuring hygiene supplies are stocked to encourage good flow in the kitchen. Creating a clean, calm environment free of clutter before the customers begin rolling in should help even the busiest shift run smoothly – even with decreased staff levels.
4. Take advantage of technology
If you are struggling to cope with the restaurant staff shortage, consider investing in time-saving innovations such as contactless ordering, or switching to a self-service model. Self-service options are increasingly popular in casual fast service restaurants, as customers are increasingly comfortable with digital devices. Self-service kiosks generated a 20% increase in order size at the Dodgers Stadium, and increased purchase add-ons and overall spend at Subway4. Whether it’s digitizing paper checklists or automating food prep labeling or temperature monitoring, taking advantage of technology in your restaurant will free up time for staff to tackle meaningful customer-based tasks.
5. Keep up to date with periodical cleaning tasks
Hygiene is more important to customers than ever before. However, when you experience a prolonged staff shortage in the restaurant business, periodical cleaning tasks are often the first to get put on the backburner. While daily operational and safety tasks remain paramount, it’s all too easy to forgo your weekly or monthly deep clean. Sanitizing walls, cleaning drains, dusting light fixtures and scrubbing ceiling fans might not always be front of mind as jobs to tackle when the pressure is on, but scheduling regular time for non-urgent cleaning operations will help create a best-in-class customer experience.
Developing further restaurant efficiencies
Of course, staff shortages aren’t the only issue affecting the restaurant industry at present. To further improve productivity in your dining establishment, learn more about four common restaurant time thieves and how to eliminate them.
1 CNBC: Hardest hit industries
2 Money Geek: US cities most impacted by leisure and hospitality job losses
3 Touch Bistro: 7 ways to deal with the labour shortage in 2022
4 LS Retail: How the self-service trend is transforming restaurants