As Americans head into a potential post-pandemic world, the restaurant industry continues to recover from two years of economic, staffing and supply chain chaos. Of these, one of the biggest challenges facing independent, franchise and fast food restaurants is staffing.
According to the National Restaurant Association’s 2022 State of the Restaurant Industry Report, more than half of restaurateurs believe it will take a year or more before business conditions return to normal, one dominant factors being labor costs. A recent New York Times article cited a 5.7% increase in the average hourly wage in the United States in 2021, noting in particular a rapid increase in wages for recreation and hospitality workers. Rising labor costs, combined with other economic factors, are putting enormous pressure on an industry whose recovery remains both tenuous and emerging.
Faced with multiple headwinds, restaurateurs and management must use the most effective tool available: effective communication. When issues are discussed constructively with input from team members, a stronger sense of cohesion can be achieved. If workers feel they have a role to play, the team is more likely to function better, more productively and with a greater sense of purpose. In chaotic times, clear and consistent communication can make all the difference.
In chaotic times, clear and consistent communication can make all the difference.
A good starting point for troubleshooting many issues is using a management log. Like a diary or journal, it’s a great way for shift leaders to relay key issues, concerns, and even potential solutions from one shift leader to another.
Team meetings can also be extremely helpful. Whether it’s a five-minute huddle at the start of a shift change or finding ways to incorporate team meals, managers should look for opportunities to collectively discuss key issues with the team and solicit feedback. This can include asking for recommendations or references for new hires, as well as checking the morale and mental health of the team. Employees invested in solutions are less likely to leave, saving the significant time and expense of employee turnover.
And don’t forget a long-established business management tactic: the employee suggestion box. Providing employees with a way to provide anonymous feedback, especially during difficult times, can help management stay ahead of an issue before it becomes a crisis.
The managers are already busy. Making time for individual check-ins, daily team meetings, and taking the pulse of the organization’s workforce seems like one more thing to try to accomplish in an already hectic restaurant environment. However, ensuring that employees feel heard, considered and valued can mean the difference between retaining good workers and trying to manage a smaller, less flexible workforce.
Have ‘The Talk’
The most tense conversation in any workplace is about compensation. However, in times like these, restaurant managers can turn this industry’s biggest challenge into a positive potential.
Make time to bring staff together, either at times when they are not scheduled for a shift or, if possible, before or after restaurant hours. Invite staff to share their questions or concerns. And, if as expected, the question of wages arises, do not try to dodge it. Instead, approach it directly.
Without going into the details of a staff member’s compensation, and as clearly as possible, describe the restaurant’s compensation strategy. Based on objective criteria, the description of salary or hourly wage scales provides transparency on remuneration and reduces the risk of gossip or misunderstandings. Of course, these conversations are only effective if staff are paid fair and competitive wages. If the restaurant does not offer competitive salaries or if recent salary growth has exceeded the restaurant’s current compensation strategy, every effort should be made to remedy the situation quickly.
Additionally, talk about any staffing challenges the restaurant is facing and how they might impact hours for the rest of the team. If the restaurant’s margins have shrunk significantly due to inflationary pressures, be honest about that reality and how management is handling the situation. It is important to ask for suggestions on issues that concern staff. Let them know what’s going on with supply chain issues, sales, and the overall health of the organization.
To show creativity
The simple fact is that not every restaurant can afford top salaries for every member of their team. And with inflation and rising wages driving much of the nation’s economic discussion, this reality will add to the pressures on restaurant owners and managers to find ways to recruit and retain workers.
Above all, restaurateurs should explore all available options to ensure they fairly compensate staff at prevailing market wages. But there’s more to recruiting and retaining staff than just basic pay. This is where keeping the lines of communication open between management and staff can make all the difference. It is important to understand the needs and priorities of employees. Get some creative help too.
Considering the full picture of potential benefits for restaurant workers can help creative restaurateurs find solutions.
Some restaurants in 2021 added additional fees to each customer check to support staff salary increases or simply to avoid having to lay off staff as diners stayed away from restaurants. As the 2022 economy continues to pose challenges to the industry’s recovery, some restaurateurs may consider adding such fees. Alternatively, they could also consider adding a default minimum tip to customer checks. And letting customers know it’s part of a strategy to ensure workers can earn a fair wage can, in many cases, rally supporters — and therefore more customers — to the restaurant’s cause.
Another tactic adopted by a Denver restaurant owner who interviewed his employees was to use a therapist as a resource for restaurant staff. According to reports, access to reliable mental health services for restaurant staff has proven popular in a climate where most standard health care plans do not adequately cover the costs of mental health care. .
Considering the full picture of potential benefits for restaurant workers can help creative restaurateurs find solutions. Other benefits to consider include transportation subsidies, expanded employee meal programs or discounts, increased sick or paid time off, child care allowances, and of course , cash bonuses.
Whether through loyalty visits or robust tips, many restaurant patrons have continued to step in to try and help their favorite establishments and staff. This provides an opportunity for restaurateurs who work proactively to help their employees, and subsequently themselves, to promote their efforts.
Publicizing how the restaurant supports its staff has a number of benefits, as well as risks. A little positive attention can not only help attract needed workers to the front and back of the house, but also help existing workers better appreciate what they have. This promotion can be done through social media, as well as contacting local journalists if what is being done on behalf of employees is truly outside the norm among other restaurants in the area.
Where customers may have already checked a restaurant’s Facebook or Instagram for a bit of food cravings, savvy restaurateurs can also use these spaces to highlight unique perks, happy workers, or tell their business story. trying to survive and thrive as a business in unprecedented times. One caveat, though: Those choosing this route should consider potential reactions from disgruntled current or former restaurant staff, as well as members of the public who might make unreasonable demands or otherwise criticize the restaurant. If you do decide to share your stories on social media, be sure to monitor your social media closely and be prepared to respond to potential negativity in a way designed to defuse and take the conversation offline.
And don’t forget to contact your local news station, daily newspaper or local food blogger. Sharing a well-told story of supporting workers through difficult times can lead to a significant increase in bookings and overall attendance. Don’t underestimate the power of sharing your story.
The restaurant industry will continue to face many challenges in the months ahead. Restaurant owners and management need to adopt a better communication strategy supported by thoughtful actions if they want to change things. If they follow this approach and ensure they communicate effectively with employees and the public, restaurateurs can discover that one of today’s biggest challenges – staffing – can also become their greatest strength. .