5 Excellent Tips to Retain Workers during Restaurant Labor Crisis

restaurant retain workers server cleaning floors

5 Excellent Tips to Retain Workers during Restaurant Labor Crisis

If you’re a restaurant operator, you’re probably experiencing the labor crisis first hand. The staffing shortage is threatening to derail many restaurant reopening plans and crush the hopes of economic recovery.

The problem is not just with hiring. With turnover rates at an all time high, restaurants are losing hundreds of thousands of servers, line cooks, busboys and other workers each month. 

To hold on to whatever staff they have left, restaurants are now focusing on ways to retain workers. If you’re one of them, you’d be right to double down on retention. Your existing restaurant staff has never been more valuable. 

Paying higher wages to retain workers at your restaurant is an obvious solution. And so is providing employees with better working conditions. But this is a long road and restaurant operators need solutions now (read our in-depth analysis of the labor crisis or join the debate on Facebook for more insight).

Good news is there are 5 excellent alternative solutions to retain workers that don’t involve cutting into your margins.

Table of Contents

Hire less people

Before COVID, workers would perform countless insignificant, back-breaking tasks, while restaurants would spend outrageous sums on payrolls that did not contribute to their bottom line. 

For example, it used to make sense for restaurant workers to spend precious billable hours scavenging for supplies at the endless isles of wholesale warehouses like Costco or RestaurantDepot.

This lack of efficiency is no longer acceptable in a post-COVID world. Workers are not interested in standing in line or doing other non-productive tasks, nor can restaurants afford to pay for it.

If you haven’t already, it’s time to upgrade to a wholesale food supplier that has an easy to use app alternative and next-day delivery, freeing up your employees to do the things that really matter.

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Another way to hire less kitchen staff and retain existing workers is by making prep time more efficient. Programs like Cheetah Just in Time (JIT) offer a ready-to-serve inventory of high-quality fresh-cut items, saving businesses hundreds of hours in prep time and labor costs. 

Rather than having an entire team of prep cooks working long hours to chop and sort things into containers, JIT allows you to order everything ahead, cut and prepped to your specs. You could afford to hire less cooks if they could get more work done in less time.

>>> learn more about Cheetah JIT

Flexible scheduling

retain worker with flexible shift scheduling

Labor shortages have made scheduling more important than ever. Flexible shift scheduling will make your staff feel that their needs are being met, which is important to retain workers. It will also ensure peak volume shifts are covered over non-priority shifts.

Scheduling, especially in the midst of a labor crisis, can get very messy. You need a system to help streamline and optimize your existing labor. Something to effectively control costs and increase profitability.

One example is Toast and 7shifts, an integrated scheduling and labor cost control technology. This helps restaurant operators save time scheduling, effectively manage their labor costs and streamline workforce communication.

Retain workers with employee benefits

COVID and the current labor crisis have raised awareness to the way restaurant workers are being treated. As the industry struggles to resolve the issues, every operator should take a hard look at their restaurant employee benefits and ask themselves: Do my employee benefits make my restaurant a top choice for prospective employees? 

Benefits, second only to salary, substantially contribute to employee retention and recruitment. This is not just another operational expense. Replacing an hourly restaurant worker can get as high as $5,000. Which means it is far better to retain workers by offering worthy benefits than dealing with the costs of turnover. 

Profit-sharing plans, bonuses during the year, and free-shift meals are all good ideas. Other ways to go are performance-based incentives. For example, accumulating PTO based on the number of hours worked or setting up health-care benefits that kick in once the employee has reached their one-year anniversary. 

Another way to go is to invest in employee training. Offering to pay for Spanish or English language classes, for example, will not only be a huge benefit to your staff member, but will also help improve communication among staff and guests, encourage applicants of all ethnicities to apply and unlock advancement opportunities for recent immigrants.

Whatever employee benefit package you choose, be sure (and check with your employees) it would be enough to retain workers.

Cross train your existing staff

Cross-functional training is key to retention. It is a great way to build a resilient team where everybody knows how to do everything. It gives your restaurant the advantage of being able to adapt to complicated situations while running a tight ship and a lean staff. 

In your existing team and when hiring, look for transferable skills. Perhaps a back-of-house line cook could be a gracious host, or a dishwasher a wonderful front-of-house supervisor. Why not let your sous chef run food out to customers while letting servers make breadbaskets? 

You should cross-train every one of your employees, with no exception. That way they can swap roles whenever you need them to, covering for each other behind the counter, in the kitchen or at the cash registers. 

Cross-utilizing your team will not only boost productivity at your restaurant, but will also be a skill set and career path your staff can take with them wherever they go. Helping them grow their skills and overcome challenges is a great way to make workers move up.

This translates to increased staff productivity and operating at a higher capacity. In other words, this not only ensures that you have a workforce who can multitask but also leads to a growth of professional capabilities of the staff and better retention rates.

Talk to your staff

The best way to learn how to retain workers at your restaurant is by asking them. Sit down for a one on one meeting with every staff member and ask for their feedback. Do this on a regular basis.

Employees feel appreciated when their needs are met. Trying to resolve problems before they grow is the best way to show your team you care about them and their careers. Employee loyalty is earned through transparency, honesty and open dialogue. This is the best thing you can do to retain workers.

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