Operators need to find new ways to overcome the labour shortage
By Mo Chaar
Restaurant operators are facing an unprecedented labour crisis. While the hospitality industry is no stranger to hiring and retention challenges, the pandemic has only exacerbated the issue, leaving some restaurants struggling to fill job vacancies.
According to a report titled Tipping Point: Pandemic forced restaurant and bar workers into better paying jobs, by David Macdonald, by February 2021, a quarter of a million workers in Canada who used to work in food and accommodation had found a new line of work outside of that sector — a staggering amount.
As restaurants endured lockdowns and workers faced layoffs time and time again, many of these hospitality workers looked for greener, and more secure, pastures. Some workers found new employment after being laid off, while others left by choice to go back to school, start a business, or find work in less precarious industries. Now, more than two years since the start of the pandemic, restaurants are still grappling with the impact of labour shortages, and it’s up to operators to find ways to combat these challenges.
The great re-set
Between 2019 and 2021, job vacancies in hospitality accounted for nearly a quarter of the increase in overall vacancies, according to data from Statistics Canada. With the Great Resignation in full swing, restaurant operators should consider two equally important best practices to hit the re-set button and combat the labour crunch.
First, operators should invest in automation to ease the ordering process for guests and reduce friction with staff. For instance, online orders sent directly to the kitchen cut out the middleman and eliminated the need for a server to enter the order. Advanced kitchen-display systems (KDS) can be paired up with point-of-sale (POS) technology to intelligently queue orders with cooking instructions, saving time and reducing the margin of error for back-of-house staff. Restaurant operators can also employ automation to ease the payment process for staff. Your online ordering application should also be able to pull check data from the POS system to allow the guest to split and pay their check as they see fit. Also, the use of payment-processing systems that accept multiple payment types can help to eliminate pain points for guests.
Second, the importance of creating a positive and productive work culture cannot be understated. When employees aren’t engaged, the entire business suffers. Company culture starts at the top, and operators should lead by example to foster a strong organizational culture. It’s crucial that employees have opportunities to provide input and that they’re listened to. Open and honest communication is key, whether through anonymous employee surveys or regular staff meetings. Invest in your employees. Not everyone knows why processes and procedures are in the place they are, but communication on the reasons why keeps the staff engaged and helps them feel part of the decisions. Events hosted by management, such as a team lunch or outing, are a great way to celebrate staff and ensure they feel appreciated.
Lastly, show empathy. The pandemic has been hard on all of us. It’s important to keep in mind that employees may be balancing competing priorities beyond the job, such as caring for an elderly, ill family member and/or children. If operators and managers show compassion, accountability, courteousness, and honesty, this will be reciprocated from the bottom-up.
Creativity is key
Restaurant operators will need to think outside of the box to attract, retain, train and re-train employees.
Many workers are experiencing burnout, and some businesses are experimenting with a four-day work week. While this movement is more commonplace in office settings, some restaurant operators across the border such as KNEAD Hospitality + Design are testing the waters. Burnout isn’t limited to corporate environments, and restaurant employees often work long hours, especially during the labour shortage. We’re likely to see this working model implemented across more industries, including hospitality, in the future.
One of our clients, an upscale restaurant chain with nearly 60 Canadian locations, recently had a soft opening where staff invited friends and family for a fixed menu meal. At the opening, junior staff shadowed senior employees, and management utilized role-play situations to provide training and guidance. It was a fun night for all involved, and helped alleviate stress from employees who felt well-prepared when opening day arrived.
To conserve labour, we can also look to next-gen technology. While it’s a costly option, operators might consider a new source of staff through robotics. The robot revolution is upon us, and while robots will never fully replace humans, they can be implemented to create automation on repetitive tasks. Restaurants have already started utilizing robots in roles that are typically difficult to fill, such as the frying station, while others have even brought in robotic servers to fill in staffing gaps.
The future is flexible
How can restaurateurs offer greater flexibility to staff, while ensuring their needs as an operator are met?
The answer is simple: implement a labour-management solution to allow staff to manage their own shifts. Several web-based scheduling systems are available with apps, such as 7shifts or Ameego. Some employees juggle parenting duties, schooling, and even a second job, and these products enable employees to update their availability via their mobile phones. They also allow staff members to communicate with management, pick up available shifts, and swap shifts with colleagues. Managers in charge of scheduling can utilize these systems to anticipate staffing needs, and create flexible work arrangements for the day, week, or month. Your POS system should also have an integration with your chosen labour-management solution. This simplifies the process for employees and managers.
When everyone is happy with their schedule, it’s much easier to maintain a strong restaurant culture and employee morale. Offering flexible work arrangements is an easy way to help retain staff and promote a healthy work-life balance.
The light at the end of the tunnel
While we hope the worst is behind us, the workforce shortage is likely our new normal for the foreseeable future. While challenging, it has also given us an incredible opportunity to make changes for the better. The pandemic exposed the restaurant industry’s shortcomings, and now is the perfect time to assess your organizational culture and evaluate what’s working, and what isn’t. Workplace culture, recognition, investment into each employee, and salary will be vital to retaining hospitality staff in the future. If owners and operators keep these practices at top of mind, they will make it through this labour crisis stronger than ever before.
Mo Chaar is the Chief Commercial Officer of Givex, where he oversees commercial strategy and development worldwide as well as managing sales teams within North America.