chef shortage employee engagement

How to support restaurant employees during COVID-19

We’re now several weeks into the ongoing COVID-19 health crisis, which has had a singular and unprecedented impact on Canada’s food and beverage sector. Technomic predicts 2020 foodservice sales in Canada will be down 12 per cent to 27 per cent, with full-service restaurants and hotels being the hardest hit.

From reduced services to full operations shutdown, restaurant operators are facing difficult decisions every day – including ones related to staffing. A report from Financial Post cites an estimate that Canada’s restaurant sector laid off 800,000 in March alone. The current challenges facing the restaurant industry are having a huge impact on foodservice employees, from job insecurity to mental health, which were already severe issues impacting the industry prior to COVID-19.

Layoffs are every employer’s worst nightmare, and it can be difficult to know how to continue supporting staff, both still employed and laid off, as the COVID-19 outbreak continues in the coming months.

Based on expert recommendations, here are three ways restaurant owners can provide help to their staff.

Develop a communication plan

One of the easiest ways to help your staff is to communicate – clearly, and frequently.

Make sure to check in with still-employed team members on an individual basis as well as in groups. As “front-line workers,” they’re likely facing increased amounts of stress. It’s important to make them feel seen and cared for by management. Also make sure you are communicating regularly regarding ever-evolving health and safety procedures. Consider including a two-minute daily update at the start of shifts to keep staff apprised of the latest news and changes.

Critically, ask your staff what they want or need from you as an employer. Ensuring they understand that communication is a two-way street is important in the best of times, and even more so right now.

Supporting laid-off staff

It’s equally important to maintain communication with laid-off staff. Restaurant teams are often small and tight-knit, and the sudden loss of that social outlet, in addition to all the other stresses of being laid off in a health crisis, can be devastating. It can go a long way to develop even an informal communication plan to check in on laid-off employees and help them feel cared for. Make sure these laid-off staff are aware of the resources available to them, such as the new Canada Emergency Response Benefit (CERB).

As a gesture of care, consider offering prepared meals for staff who may be struggling financially. To implement this practically, take inventory of your current stock and determine how much product you can realistically commit to such a program, and how frequently you can offer these meals.

Supporting remaining staff

In a suddenly reduced staff, team members are likely finding themselves taking on new roles and shifts they were previously unfamiliar with. This in itself can be a source of stress, so it’s important to make sure you’re providing the necessary support to team members as they navigate changes.

Remember to break up and share responsibilities to reduce stress on individual employees: For example, duties that can and should be broken up between multiple employees within a shift are sanitation and customer-facing service (taking payments, handing off takeout orders, etc.); during a health crisis, these are physically, mentally, and emotionally demanding responsibilities that should not be a single team member’s responsibility for an entire shift.

As mentioned in the section above, making sure you’re regularly updating staff on new federal, provincial, or municipal measures and regulations is also important. Consider implementing regular “refreshers” on proper COVID-19 sanitation and food-safety procedures.

Make outside resources available

There are any number of free resources being developed by the federal government, industry associations, non-profits, and more to support Canadians through the COVID-19 crisis. As part of your communications plan, let your employees know about some of these resources:

  • Canada Emergency Response Benefit: As mentioned above, the CERB is a critical resource for laid-off staff. The federal government has worked to streamline the application process to get Canadians financial assistance as quickly as possible.
  • Individual provinces and territories are also implementing emergency-response benefits and programs to support Canadians. CTV News has compiled a province-by-province breakdown of these emergency benefits.
  • Mental Health Commission of Canada has developed a Self-Care & Resilience Guide for workers during COVID-19.
  • Nutrition for Non-Nutritionists has provided a useful infographic for serving food safely during COVID-19, which staff may find helpful to have posted in the workplace as a visual reminder.
  • The Canadian Centre for Occupational Health and Safety (CCOHS) has made a number of publications and courses available for free to support workplace health and safety through COVID-19.

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