Tackling Staff Shortages

Jul 28, 2021

With consumers hungry to return to restaurants, and owners eager to increase capacity to pre-pandemic levels, many operators are facing a new crisis; severe staff shortages. The National Restaurant Association reports that the “eating and drinking industry shed 2.5 million jobs in 2020.”  A U.S. Bureau of Labor statistic reveals that employment at eating and drinking establishments was still 1.5 million jobs below pre-pandemic levels, or down about 12% as of May of this year.


There are many reasons why people may not be willing to return to their restaurant job. Some are still worried about catching the virus. Some have decided to leave the industry for other more stable and better-paying jobs. And with the extra government benefits available, some are content to stay home. Jot Condie, who heads the California Restaurant Association, has said, “the employment gap is a full-blown crisis.” In a survey from the National Restaurant Association, “72% of operators rated recruitment and retention of workforces as their top challenge, up from 8% in January.”


The industry is notoriously volatile, and the makeup of restaurant employees historically, is typically transient – students, aspiring actors, and musicians looking to supplement their income, kitchen staff who move on for bigger paychecks elsewhere.  The hours are long, benefits are scarce, coupled with low pay, causing most to be completely reliant upon tips.



Many operators are looking to the summer as make-or-break time for the restaurants that managed to survive the upheaval forced by the pandemic over the last 16+ months. And as they did in the early days of the pandemic, owners are once again forced to be creative in how they staff their restaurants.


An article from NCR outlines how operators can attract the best talent to staff their restaurant, using the following six key strategies:


Stress Employee Safety – For those with safety concerns, make sure your website and job opening posts emphasize all the safety precautions you’re taking to protect your staff.  Be specific about the protocols in place, such as providing personal protection equipment and paid sick time.


Offer Unique Perks – Driven by fierce competition and a limited applicant pool, restaurant operators are offering an array of incentives ranging from immediate pay, increased hourly wages, free college tuition, or a raise after a 90-day performance review. While smaller establishments cannot afford to provide these costly incentives, other attractive perks could be a mentorship for candidates who want to learn about running a restaurant or opportunities for advancement into roles with increased responsibility.


Make Applying a Breeze – You must look at your company’s website to ensure it’s user-friendly and easy for candidates to apply online.  More candidates look for restaurants offering online applications because it allows them to apply anytime from anywhere.  Don’t overlook the importance of your online application process, or you will be at a distinct disadvantage for attracting the best talent.

hiring sign
Make applying easy

Move Quickly – You must be prepared to engage with applicants quickly before other offers pull them away.  Consider using a text message business card as texts have a 99% open rate, and it is the preferred communication type for millennials, and Gen Z.  Texting allows you to interact immediately with candidates to pre-screen their qualifications and schedule interviews.


Showcase Your Company Culture  – If you are relying only on help wanted signs and ads, you miss out on a wealth of social media benefits.  Be creative to attract more applicants.  Showcase your restaurant’s culture on all your social media profiles and your website.  Post photos of your team having fun while serving customers.  Include video testimonials of your staff sharing all the great things they love about working at your restaurant, such as flexible schedules, great pay, employee discounts, supportive teammates, and anything that sets your restaurant apart.  Keep your social media pages updated.


Solicit referrals and recommendations from your existing team – Your best employees are a great asset for identifying qualified candidates.  If they enjoy working at your restaurant, they’ll likely recommend friends who are hard workers that would be a good fit.  Reward your staff with incentives to provide extra motivation to submit referrals.  Consider incentives such as bonuses, company swag, time off, gift cards, or a reserved parking spot, or give them their preferred schedule for a month.


A well-performing team is your best advertising tool, so make sure you’re keeping your current employees happy as well as you focus on hiring new staff. Smokey Bones, CEO James O’Reilly fosters “human-centric leadership.” For example, offering “generous benefits beginning on day one of employment, including basic medical, prescription drug, a la carte hospital, illness and disability benefits, scholarships for all employees and family members, benefits and discounts on thousands of companies products and services, legal, and mental health services.” A supportive work environment fosters hope, happiness, and innovation, says GSR Brands CEO Roger David.  “Company culture and values positively impact employee satisfaction, so if building a solid culture isn’t at the top of your to-do list, it might be time to add it.”


The pandemic changed how people want to work and what they expect from their employer, so what can operators do to stand out?  QSR Magazine reports the following:

What are employers doing to stand out?


Across the nation, operators today are faced with difficulties finding and retaining qualified workers to fill their team and meet increased demand. Therefore, it is critical to recognize what today’s workers want, what attracts them, and what will make the difference when hiring and retaining employees.  If you need help navigating these new challenges, Synergy Consultants and our team of industry experts is here to help!