4 ways to maximize restaurant staff with limited resources

Restaurants have always been notoriously difficult to staff. Even before the pandemic, the number of teenagers seeking work in restaurants has declined for yearsand the average seniority of registered hospitality employees at less than 60 days.

Like many trends, however, these issues have accelerated during the pandemic. Many of those who worked in restaurants before 2020 have left the industry for different opportunities, and those who remain expect higher wages, benefits and opportunities for growth.

This leaves catering employers in a difficult position. Operating costs are rising to all levels, making it difficult to pay higher wages and benefits to the same number of employees they previously employed. Instead, restaurants have had to learn to operate with fewer staff, a trend that looks likely to continue well beyond the pandemic.

Here are four ways restaurants can maximize the staff they have.

1. Cross-training of employees

Restaurant employees in cross-training, or equipping workers to perform tasks outside of their primary responsibilities, is not a recent invention. For example, cashiers at a pizzeria may need to cut pizzas out of the oven, clean tables, or restock chips and sodas.

Today, however, cross-training is more of a necessity than a “nice to have”. No restaurant employee below management level should be an expert at everything, but each position can handle certain extensions when the team is down by a member or two. For example, training waiters to do the job of couriers or even buses can turn the tables quickly. These employees will likely need – and deserve – to be paid more per hour, but this increase will not compensate for the savings made in fewer hours of work.

2. Automate everything you can automate

Like cross-training, automation reduces the number of employees needed per shift, allowing more budget to be allocated to individual salaries and benefits. Eliminating tedious, inefficient, and frustrating work also allows staff to be more intentional with their time, which improves workplace culture and employee retention.

Here are some examples of automation that make restaurants more efficient:

  • Online orderwhere customers place takeout and delivery orders through a website.
  • Restaurant order, where customers scan QR codes and order from their phones.
  • Event managementwhere customers make inquiries about private events through a web form.
  • Merchandise stores, where customers purchase restaurant items through a website.
  • Automated emailswhere restaurants automatically re-engage customers at predefined intervals (e.g. 7 days after first purchase).

In each of these cases – and many more – technology performs menial tasks that workers have traditionally performed. This creates a high-margin passive income stream while freeing up staff to do more valuable work that requires a human touch.

3. Maximize productivity during off-peak hours

While there’s a lot of cleaning and prep work between the lunch and dinner rush hours, there’s always room for improvement. The more work done during these hours, the more staff will be ahead of things during peak hours.

Stocking all condiment and napkin holders, organizing utensils, and triple checking that back-of-the-house workstations are fully stocked should all be done well in advance of a busy shift for the having dinner. Checklists can help staff stay organized and productive during these times, and a strong work culture that promotes teamwork and accountability can keep them motivated.

4. Prioritize employee retention

It’s not just inconvenient when employees leave your staff, it’s expensive. Studies estimate that the true cost of turnover is more than $5,500 per employee. Combined with the short average tenure of hospitality employees (less than 60 days), this poses a serious threat to restaurant bottom lines.

And yet, when you read about labor shortages, you usually read more about hiring staff than about retaining staff. Restaurant owners need new strategies to fill openings, but their main goal should be to have fewer openings to fill. Competitive salaries and benefits go a long way towards retention – and can be awarded using some of the above tactics – but so is establishing a culture where management discusses career growth with managers. employees, makes them feel supported and regularly promotes them from within.

In short, to survive the labor shortage, restaurants must grow as an employer. But with the right approach, they can improve the industry for everyone, including themselves.

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