labour shortage

Solving the labour shortage is tough but, of course, can be done

The labour shortage — “The Great Resignation”, as some have termed it — is continuing at varying levels across North American foodservice. But why is is persisting, and what can be done?

A new labour report from TouchBistro and 7shifts found that four in five restaurant operators say they are short at least one position.

Servers (30 per cent) and dishwashers (27 per cent) are the most in-demand, with one-third of restaurants reporting that they’re short on both roles.

Meanwhile, 22 per cent of restaurants need chefs, 16 per cent line cooks, and 13 per cent prep cooks. In the front of house, 19 per cent need bartenders and 18 per cent are short of managers.

Without enough team members to fill each position, service suffers: dine-in guests wait longer for tables and food, and takeout and delivery customers endure longer wait times and more frequent order errors. Ultimately, subpar service leads to a poor dining experience that can deter customers from coming back. In other words, short staffing is bad for business.

Second, many restaurants can’t find employees who will work in high-risk, people-facing roles for low wages while the risk of catching COVID-19 is still present. With lower demand for restaurants than before the pandemic, operators are generating less revenue, making it challenging to increase compensation.

The consequences of staff turnover

Even filling vacant positions is only half the battle during the labour shortage. Retaining existing staff is critically important, but difficult.

Staff turnover is incredibly high for restaurants. According to TouchBistro’s 2022 State of Restaurants Report, the average turnover rate for the industry is 23 per cent. However, family-style restaurants see turnover at rates of
up to 32 per cent, meaning that in one year, about one-third of the restaurant’s team will be replaced with new employees.

How are restaurants coping?

Restaurateurs are implementing various strategies to mitigate the effects of the labour shortage.

Before the pandemic, 61 per cent of operators offered higher wages to stay competitive and fight turnover, according to TouchBistro data. Now, with less revenue coming in, offering benefits is the industry’s top retention strategy.

Because most restaurants can’t afford to increase wages, they’ve had to get creative with how they reduce labour costs. Mor than half (54 per cent) of restaurant owners say they have tried increasing productivity among existing staff, while 33 per cent have reduced their hours of operation.

When restaurants have been able to bring on new staff, they’ve turned to social media for hiring. Social media is now the number one way restaurants look for new employees, which represents a dramatic shift in recruiting techniques. Before the pandemic, referrals and networking were the go-to’s for hiring.

What’s perpetuating “The Great Resignation”?

If you ask restaurateurs, issues related to COVID-19 are the primary concern driving restaurant workers to quit. According to TouchBistro data, restaurant owners cited “fear of working with the public due to COVID-19” and the “fear of enforcing COVID-19 restrictions” as the top two reasons for labour shortages. These fears are very valid.

However, fear of catching the virus is far from the only reason for the labour shortage. The pandemic severely changed the market, and, as a result, 35 per cent of restaurateurs have trouble finding staff with the skills they were looking for. One in three operators also point to competition from COVID-19 benefits and other restaurants as reasons for the shortage, according to TouchBistro data.

But the pandemic and its widespread impact isn’t the only reason that restaurant workers are leaving. The main reasons that restaurant workers leave can be divided into two age groups: those under 25 and those over 25, according to data from 7shifts. For employees under the age of 25, the top-listed reasons why they’ve left jobs (or are planning to) are wages, schedule, and school. For those outside of school ages, the first two factors – wages and schedule – remain constant, while manager recognition takes the place of school.

While there is little that restaurant owners can do about younger workers leaving the industry to attend school, issues such as wages, scheduling, and manager recognition cannot be ignored. In fact, addressing these specific
issues is crucial to solving the restaurant industry’s ongoing staffing shortage.

What can be done?

The insights uncovered by TouchBistro and 7shifts find that, fortunately, there are strategies operators can implement to navigate the labour shortage and save money in the process.

Ultimately, a three-pronged approach of boosting wages, improving manager recognition, and offering greater scheduling flexibility to attract and retain staff is the suggested way forward.

Pay more

7shifts found that restaurant workers ranked a pay increase as the number one thing that would make them feel more engaged at work.

If operators really can’t afford to raise wages, they should consider
providing more benefits like health insurance and paid time off. Benefits are the most popular retention strategy in the restaurant industry, according to TouchBistro research, and a whopping 69.5 per cent of 7shifts survey respondents said they’d like manager recognition to come in the form of paid bonuses.

Provide growth opportunities

While wages and schedules are both points of dissatisfaction across all age groups, manager recognition is a particular point of contention for the older set of hospitality workers aged 25 and above.

By this point, many in that demographic may have a career in the business. This is where the dissatisfaction with manager recognition comes from, and why it may drive those seeking a solid career away. 7shifts found that 33 per cent of respondents would like to see manager recognition come in the form of promotions. As well as promotions themselves, providing clear evidence of a pathway for growth and development opportunities is important.

Be flexible

In an industry notorious for unpredictable, unstable work schedules, 7shifts found that 56 per cent of employees say that flexible scheduling would greatly affect their happiness at work by allowing for a better work-life balance.

By considering these approaches and refining the way restaurants address labour, restaurant operators can safeguard both the future of their restaurant and their staff.

You can find the full report here.

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