The restaurant staffing shortage is a major challenge for restaurant owners today. According to the National Restaurant Association 2023 Restaurant Industry Forecast, 9 in 10 restaurants are experiencing staffing shortages. This statistic is based on a survey of restaurant operators conducted in January 2023. The 2021 COVID-19 pandemic caused many people to leave the hospitality industry, and many have not returned. This has left restaurants struggling to find and retain staff. According to the Bureau of Labor Statistics July 2023 Job Openings and Labor Turnover Summary, the number of job openings in the food services and drinking places industry was 1.9 million, while the number of hires was 1.3 million. This means that there were 600,000 more job openings than hires in the food services and drinking places industry in July 2023.

There are several reasons contributing to the restaurant staffing shortage. One key factor is that during the pandemic, many restaurants had to shut down or operate at reduced capacity, leading to layoffs and job insecurity. As a result, many workers had to find alternative employment in more stable industries.

Another reason is the fear of contracting the virus in a high-contact environment. Despite the vaccination efforts and safety measures implemented by restaurants, some potential employees may still be hesitant to return to work in this industry.

Additionally, the enhanced unemployment benefits provided by the government during the pandemic have made it financially feasible for some workers to stay unemployed instead of searching for a job in the restaurant industry. This has created a disincentive for individuals to return to work.

Furthermore, some workers may have chosen career changes during the pandemic, as they reassessed their priorities and desired a more stable and secure restaurant job.

The restaurant labor shortage has had significant impacts on restaurant operations. Many restaurants are unable to operate at full capacity and have had to reduce their hours or even close certain days. Some owners have had to take on multiple roles themselves or hire unqualified staff, affecting the quality of service and customer experience.

Labor Shortage Solutions in the Restaurant Industry

To address the restaurant worker shortage, restaurant operators have been taking several approaches. Some have involved staffing agencies, increased wages, offered signing bonuses, or implemented referral programs to attract new employees in the service industry. Others have focused on creating a positive environment, providing flexible schedules, and offering growth opportunities and employee benefits to retain existing staff.

Efforts have also been made to improve the perception and reputation of working in the restaurant industry by highlighting career progression and skill development opportunities. Additionally, some businesses have partnered with job training programs and schools to attract a new generation of workers to the industry.

Despite these efforts, the restaurant staffing shortage remains a significant challenge. It may take time for the industry to recover fully and regain its workforce. In the meantime, restaurants continue to adapt and explore innovative solutions to overcome this hurdle and ensure their businesses can thrive. Here are some of the best ways that restaurants are dealing with the current worker shortage.

1. Offer restaurant employees referral bonuses, competitive wages, and benefits to combat the labor shortage. 

This is essential for attracting and retaining top talent. Make sure that you are paying your employees a fair wage and offering competitive benefits, such as health insurance, paid time off, and retirement savings plans. In addition, creating a positive environment is crucial.

Regularly reviewing and adjusting your compensation and benefits packages to align with market trends is crucial. Stay informed about industry standards and ensure that your offerings remain competitive.

2. Create a positive bar or restaurant work environment to retain restaurant staff. 

Employees are more likely to stay with a company if they enjoy their job and feel valued. Make sure that your restaurant has a positive and supportive culture where employees feel respected and appreciated.

  • Promote a culture of respect, inclusion, and growth, where employees feel valued and have opportunities to learn and advance in their careers.
  • Encourage open communication and provide frequent feedback and recognition for outstanding performance.
  • Investing in employee development and training programs is another way to attract and retain top talent. Provide opportunities for professional growth and skill enhancement, whether through internal training sessions, workshops, or covering the costs of external courses or certifications.
  • Ensure that your recruitment and selection processes are efficient and thorough. Provide a positive candidate experience and showcase your company’s values, mission, and vision during the hiring process.
  • Develop a strong employer brand and use multiple channels to attract talent, including social media, job boards, and networking events.

3. Be flexible with staff member scheduling to help reduce your restaurant staffing shortage.

Offering flexible work arrangements, such as remote work or flexible hours, can also be a valuable perk that attracts top talent. Many employees value a good work-life balance and the ability to have autonomy over their schedules. Many people are looking for flexible work arrangements, so be willing to work with your employees to create schedules that meet their needs. This could include offering part-time shifts, split shifts, or weekend shifts only.

4. Cross train your new restaurant staff to keep up with the restaurant worker shortage.

This will give you more flexibility in scheduling and allow you to keep your restaurant running smoothly even if you have a few team members out sick or on vacation. By implementing a more flexible scheduling system, you can easily fill in shifts when team members are unable to work due to illness or vacation. This ensures that there are always enough staff members available to keep the restaurant running smoothly. Having a backup plan for staffing issues helps to maintain productivity and prevent any disruptions in service. 

5. During this restaurant labor shortage, use restaurant technology to your advantage.

Lavu can help you to automate tasks and make your operation more efficient. This can free up your employees to focus on providing excellent customer service. Some ways Lavu can help automate tasks and improve efficiency are:

  1. Order Management: Lavu provides a user-friendly interface for taking orders, which reduces errors and speeds up the process. The system can also automatically send orders to the kitchen or bar, eliminating the need for manual communication.
  2. Reporting and Analytics: Lavu generates detailed reports on various aspects of your operation, such as sales, labor costs, inventory, and more. These reports provide valuable insights to help you make informed business decisions and identify areas for improvement.
  3. Table Management: Lavu’s table management feature allows you to track table availability, manage reservations, and optimize seating arrangements. This helps maximize table turnover and reduce wait times, improving efficiency and customer satisfaction.
  4. Online Ordering: Lavu’s online ordering module enables customers to place orders directly from your website or mobile app. This eliminates the need for manual order entry, reduces phone call volume, and can increase sales.
  5. KDS System: A KDS system from Lavu automates the communication between your front of house and kitchen staff to free up time and resources.

By automating these tasks, Lavu frees up your employees’ time and allows them to focus on providing excellent customer service. They can spend more time interacting with customers, ensuring their needs are met, and enhancing the overall dining experience. 

6. Offer contactless payment options and other restaurant automation.

Lavu can help you provide contactless payment options to reduce customer wait times and free up staff resources even during labor shortages. With Lavu, you can implement contactless payment options such as mobile payments or card tapping, allowing customers to quickly and safely complete transactions without the need for physical contact. This not only reduces customer wait times, but also minimizes the handling of cash or cards, which can be a concern during the current pandemic.

Additionally, Lavu’s contactless payment options can help free up staff resources, particularly during labor shortages. Instead of having staff members manually process payments, they can focus on providing better customer service, taking orders, or ensuring a smooth operation.
By streamlining the payment process and reducing wait times, Lavu can enhance the overall dining experience for your customers, leading to improved satisfaction and increased customer loyalty. 

7. Consider adding people with disabilities to your labor force.

People with disabilities can be valuable employees to your front of house or kitchen staff, and they are often eager to work. There are a number of resources available to help restaurants hire and support people with disabilities. Remember, creating an inclusive workplace is not just about hiring people with disabilities – it’s about fostering an environment that supports their success. You can educate your staff about disability awareness, provide disability etiquette training, and ensure workplace policies encourage inclusivity. By implementing these resources and fostering an inclusive environment, restaurants can tap into a talented pool of potential employees and contribute to the diversity and success of their teams. 

8. Offer incentives for your staff to stay longer and help your restaurant improve the work culture.

This could include offering bonuses to employees who reach certain milestones, such as one year of employment or two years of employment. Offering bonuses to employees who reach certain milestones can be a great way to recognize and reward their commitment and loyalty to the company. Here are a few considerations and benefits of implementing milestone bonuses:

  • Employee Retention: Bonuses tied to employment milestones can be an effective strategy to encourage employees to stay with the company for a longer period. By acknowledging an employee’s dedication and contributions after completing specific time milestones, they are more likely to feel valued and motivated to continue their employment.
  • Employee Morale and Motivation: Recognizing milestones through bonuses can significantly boost employee morale and motivation. It shows that the company appreciates their efforts and acknowledges their loyalty, which can positively impact job satisfaction and overall engagement.
  • Rewarding Consistency and Reliability: Offering bonuses for reaching specific employment milestones not only recognizes the employees’ length of service but also rewards their consistent performance and reliability over time. This reinforces positive behaviors and encourages employees to maintain their dedication.
  • Encouraging the Achievement of Future Goals: By offering bonuses for reaching employment milestones, the company can set a precedent for future goals and milestones. This can provide employees with a tangible incentive to strive for long-term objectives such as five or ten years of service, fostering a culture of commitment and perseverance.
  • Employee Appreciation: Milestone bonuses show employees that their dedication and hard work are recognized and appreciated. It enhances the employer-employee relationship and helps create a positive environment, leading to increased loyalty and improved employee satisfaction.
  • Attracting Top Talent: Companies known for valuing and appreciating their employees are more likely to attract top talent. Prospective candidates may view milestone bonuses as an attractive perk when considering employment opportunities, helping the company secure and retain skilled individuals.

When implementing milestone bonuses, it is crucial to establish clear eligibility criteria, communicate the program effectively, and ensure fairness and consistency across all employees. Regularly evaluating the effectiveness of the program and gathering employee feedback can further refine and enhance its impact on employee satisfaction and retention. 

When will the shortage end and what are the next steps for the restaurant worker shortage?

Restaurants are currently facing a significant staffing shortage in the restaurant industry. With a labor shortage causing difficulties in finding and retaining employees, it is crucial for restaurants to navigate this situation effectively.

Restaurant operators should focus on improving employee retention by creating a positive working environment. This can be achieved by offering competitive wages, providing opportunities for growth and advancement, and promoting a healthy work-life balance. 

Additionally, implementing training programs can help attract and develop talent within the organization. This could involve partnering with culinary schools or offering apprenticeships to aspiring chefs or restaurant staff.

To address the current shortage, restaurant owners may also need to consider alternative staffing options, such as hiring temporary or part-time employees or utilizing technology to automate certain tasks.

Overall, restaurant owners need to adopt a proactive approach, adapting their strategies and seeking innovative solutions to overcome the challenges posed by the restaurant industry shortage and labor shortage. By doing so, they can ensure the continued success and sustainability of their businesses.