get restaurants through the labor shortage

Four labor-saving ideas to get restaurants through the labor shortage

It’s hardly a news flash to say the restaurant industry is struggling through a major labor shortage. In fact, a 2018 study showed that nearly 60% of restaurant managers point to hiring, training and retaining staff as their biggest challenge. And while the most common response may be to get more competitive for employees, with better pay, incentives and creative sourcing, the best answer (especially for an industry with perpetually thin margins) may not be “hire more workers” but “use less labor.” Here are four ways you can do exactly that.

Rethink your menu

It’s simple: menu complexity is the enemy of labor saving. A multitude of offerings, with many steps of preparation, can require highly skilled kitchen labor, and lots of it. So, the first step is to take a good, hard look at the extent and nature of your menu. Do you really need to offer everything you currently do? Can you focus on the dishes that are both popular and profitable?

And does your staff really have to do all the preparation? Pre-prepared foods may serve just as well for some items, such as pre-sliced chicken breasts for your salads, while it may be worth it to start from scratch with whole breasts for entrees and signature dishes. When you cut down on both the difficulty and steps in preparation, you cut down your operating costs.

Serve up a healthy side of technology

It pays to remember that some of the best modern restaurant “workers” aren’t people at all. Tableside tablets and kiosks are minimizing server workloads and the total number of servers required, while often improving customer experience and purchasing, providing everything from games to special offers. They also integrate with overall restaurant technology solutions that in turn save time on back-office tasks from payroll to scheduling. The same digital management platforms can be optimized to ensure that only the necessary numbers of workers are present during any given day. A few restaurants are even putting robots to work serving drinks, although human servers aren’t quite yet an endangered species.

Get creative about the basics

While most labor-saving attention is paid to the front and back of the house, you also need to think about “the sides,” the necessities such as ensuring that hand towels and napkins are always available to guests. Placing traditional hand towels in traditional dispensers seems easy enough – unless one or more of your workers has to interrupt what they’re doing multiple times a day to replenish supplies (or take complaints from customers unable to dry their hands). High-capacity and one-at-a-time hand towel dispensers can improve guest satisfaction and significantly reduce those labor requirements and waste, and one-at-a-time napkin dispensers will do the same for your business.

Create a culture that keeps good employees

No matter how many labor-saving strategies you employ, you still need employees. In a tight labor market, it’s much easier (and cheaper) to keep good workers than to find and train them. It’s estimated that replacing employees earning $30,000 or less costs a restaurant 16% of their annual salary – without any guarantee that, once hired and trained, those new employees will stick around.

The wisest approach is to create a working environment people enjoy. That requires a mix of incentives, such as better pay, healthcare benefits, flexible time off, and training, to ensure job satisfaction and the potential for advancement. Each of those areas for improvement is receiving new attention, including creative approaches to boosting compensation (such as putting suggested tips on checks or even making tipping automatic).

Technology helps here, too. Scheduling apps that optimize server levels not only save you money, they also put more in the servers’ pockets by eliminating excess people on the floor and maximizing each individual’s tip total. Taken all together, efforts like these create a culture that encourages employee loyalty – and that saves you money.

Labor saving isn’t optional

These are just four ways to reduce your labor requirements and costs. In an industry beset by low margins, increased wages and a shrunken labor pool, every restaurant needs to take a fresh look at the processes, products and people required to be profitable.

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QSR magazine: Six ways to cut costs in your restaurant