The Restaurant Labor Shortage: How to Grow While Short Staffed

The food-service industry is recovering, but the restaurant labor shortage threatens continued growth. Here’s how to manage it effectively.

By all accounts, the restaurant industry is seeing a strong recovery, with revenue returning to pre-pandemic levels. A recent survey found that 25% of restaurants have surpassed previous revenue benchmarks. Unfortunately, more than half of these restaurant operators say they don’t have enough staff to keep up with demand.

In spite of these staffing challenges, it’s critical to maintain a growth mindset. Acquiring new customers allows you to bring in new revenue and recover what you lost during the pandemic. Read on for strategies on how to maintain the delicate balance of staffing and growth.

How to get by in the restaurant labor shortage

The pandemic changed the way consumers behave, so there’s no need to operate your restaurant the same way you did before. To meet growing consumer demand and grow your base, you need to hone in on exactly what those consumers want, and utilize the employees you do have to better serve them. Here are a few ideas to navigate the restaurant labor shortage:

Improve retention by taking care of employees

Replacing employees is always expensive, but especially when there’s a restaurant labor shortage. To avoid this, take care of the employees you do have, because it could take a lot of time and resources to find and train replacements. Identify what they need to continue working and deliver it to the best of your abilities.

Consider increasing pay or providing bonuses based on performance. Offer PTO to give employees time to attend to their personal needs. Even little gestures, like scheduling friends together on the same shift, can raise morale and increase job satisfaction. Happier employees create happier customers — and better reviews.

Create an employee referral program

The employees you retain can serve as a built-in recruitment tool. There is a low number of job seekers in the industry right now, which can make it hard to attract the right candidates. Leverage your existing employees to draw talent from their own networks, and incentivize them to bring them on board by offering a referral bonus if their candidate is hired.

Automate basic workflows for better efficiency

Another way to support your staff is to remove unnecessary work from their plates — and boost efficiency in the process. Invest in inventory tracking software so kitchen staff can focus on prep. Implement QR-code menus and ordering systems to avoid miscommunications with the kitchen and the hassle of settling multiple checks. Plus, customers will appreciate the contactless nature of online payments as well as the ease of splitting the bill.

Convert into a ghost kitchen

No restaurant can function without a kitchen, but if you’re experiencing short staffing in the front-of-house, consider converting your restaurant into a ghost kitchen. The takeout-only strategy helps you focus all of your labor in the kitchen, and increases time and resources to fulfill more orders per hour. With the right scheduling and cost controls in place, you could even increase your margins.

Grow through the restaurant labor shortage

Every moment your restaurant is open and staffed is an opportunity to generate more revenue. Anything you can do to increase the number of orders you receive per hour will help your bottom line, and could help end your own labor shortage. Higher revenue positions you to offer higher pay and benefits to attract and retain employees, putting your short staffing days behind you.

Upside helps make the most of your staff by driving new, fully attributable customers to your restaurant for a hearty lift in revenue. The free Upside app incentivizes users to choose your location with personalized cash-back offers, filling up your empty tables and even increasing average order size. Best of all, you pay nothing for this upfront — only a share of your incremental profit.

Read our new eBook to learn more about the success that other restaurants are seeing on Upside, and how Upside can help your restaurant grow.