As restaurant sales climb and dining room capacity expands, a staffing challenge is taking over. According to the National Restaurant Association, more than eight in ten operators say their staffing levels are lower than they usually would be before the pandemic.
The restaurant industry already suffers from recruitment and retention of employees, but many operators were also forced to let go of valued staff during COVID-19. While the last four months have generated 645,000 jobs, the industry is still 1.7 million jobs below pre-pandemic levels. Though the hiring trend is moving in the right direction, the labor shortage is 100% affecting your current staff, and turnover is record-high.
Restaurants are reopening their doors for indoor dining, and with more guests coming in, there's a demand for more staff to be hired. During COVID, it was normal for restaurants to be operating with two to three people. But, after two to three cycles of businesses reopening, bringing their staff back, then closing, having to let them go again, workers are not returning.
So, how do you take care of your team? In these uncertain and challenging times, here are a few ways to provide help for your staff.
1. Provide a Safe Working Environment
Over time, restaurant operators have found that workers are not ready to come back to work because they do not feel safe. Creating a safe working environment for your staff is the most crucial thing you should be doing right now.
Here are a few things you can do:
- Ensure your facility is fully clean, disinfected, and equipped with the proper solutions for maintaining safe conditions.
- Set up a support system for employees to communicate the emotional challenges they are experiencing.
- Create a plan for how you will protect your employees and share it with them regularly.
There shouldn't be a day where your restaurant runs out of hand sanitizer, soap, or masks. And it's not limited to these necessities, but the tools needed to keep them clean and safe need to always be in place.
During every staff member's shift, a manager should constantly check-in and ask if everything is going okay. Let your employees provide honest feedback on how they could have received more help if they had any issues and how they are doing mentally.
It would also be helpful for your staff if you bring on a cleaning crew to come in every night or on your busiest nights to do deep cleaning and sanitation of the entire restaurant. After working a long exhausting shift, it can still take hours to clean the floors and kitchen. Bringing on some outside help can relieve some of this stress and let your employees get the rest they need.
2. Increase Wages & Benefits
The second biggest strain on restaurant workers at this time is their income. Many are hesitant to return to work because they are getting paid minimum wage, tips are low, and they are being asked to do so much more work for less money.
How do you retain your employees through this? It would help if you offered competitive compensation and substantial employee benefits. The workers who rely on the service industry as their primary or sole source of income may not be motivated to work without these perks. Determine which of your employees get paid hourly versus salary based on position and federal and local labor laws.
Also, giving your employees paid sick leave can help improve their well-being during this time. Even though vaccines are rolling out, employees can still get sick with COVID or the flu and need the reinforcement of paid sick leave to recover. You want your team healthy and not coming into work sick without struggling to make ends meet.
3. Improve Your Company Culture
Operating a restaurant is not a one-person job. All of your staff has to work closely together for operations to run smoothly. Every employee needs to be communicative, collaborative, and overall a great team player. These traits are the foundation of creating an attractive business to work in.
7Shifts shares that the annual employee turnover rate is at a staggering 73%, and the root of the turnover problem is because of hasty hiring. Bringing on people who don't share the same values as the rest of your team will decrease employee satisfaction and cause them to be less engaged in their work. 7Shifts did a study on workplace happiness in the restaurant industry and found that some of the top reasons why workers are unhappy are:
- A lack of team-building exercises
- Dissatisfaction with pay
- A lack of recognition
Your restaurant's company culture is key to retaining hard-working employees. When everyone is motivated to work, more work gets done, and nobody feels like they're getting the shorter end of the stick.
4. Slowly Reopen
It's important to remember that most restaurants are in the same boat right now. Operators are looking forward to getting back to higher profits and fewer capacity limits, but you need more ramp-up time with less staff.
In this case, you need to do what's best for your operations, and you may want to consider reopening more slowly than allowed. What's worse, opening at max capacity, overwhelming your staff, and not delivering excellent service? Or reducing the number of guests, having time to focus on service, and having happy customers?
Likewise, you could also consider adjusting your operating hours and the days you are open. Use your point of sale data to evaluate which days and times are your slowest to see if the hours are worth it or if you can schedule less staff.
5. Promote Mental Health
The top key focuses during COVID have been on health and safety for both your staff and guests. But, one part that is often overlooked is the mental health of your employees.
Our attention is given to customers in the service industry, but it's important to note that a good customer experience originates from your staff. Working in a restaurant is already challenging, but the pandemic has heightened stress and anxiety in your team.
Taking care of your employees is now more important than ever before. Managers need to focus on their staff's well-being and mental health to prevent burnout and them quitting. Here are a couple of ways to do this:
- Allow them to take mental health days: It's scary asking for a day off. Offering mental health days and even implementing a program for therapy reimbursement can help your staff decompress and recharge.
- Encourage physical wellness: Look into nearby gyms to see if you could get a membership deal for your staff. Exercise is proven to boost overall mental health. You could even coordinate group classes as a fun activity for everyone to do together.
- Create team-building activities: Get your team altogether for a fun activity such as a scavenger hunt, trivia night, or ice-breaker games to have them work together in a different setting than the restaurant. This will build their loyalty to each other and help them work stronger as a team.
There are also many organizations that support the health and wellness of hospitality workers. Check these free resources out and share them with your employees:
One of the most important things we've learned in the past year during the health crisis is we must help each other. Provide help for your staff by creating a safe working environment, promoting mental health, and improving your company culture. Prioritizing the tactics in this article will help you show your team you care about them, value their work, and, most of all, want to keep them safe.
To find more tips on how to provide safety right now for your staff and guests, download our Ultimate COVID Operations Guide. Find universal strategies that you can leverage right now to help manage day-to-day operations and prepare for the future.