Employee HiringOperationsstaffing

Restaurant Workers’ Shortage Slowly Improving

If you’re a restaurant operator, your first response to this blog’s title is probably, “But not fast enough!”  The restaurant staffing shortage has affected our industry in countless ways, from leaving our faithful staff overworked and disgruntled to increasing wait times and diminishing operating hours.

So, let’s start with the good news. According to the Bureau of Labor Statistics, the food service industry added 41,000 jobs in June 2022. Additionally, compared to last year, hospitality unemployment rates have fallen from 10.9% to 5.2%. Now for the bad news, we’re still down 7.8% since just before the pandemic hit in February 2020.

While everyone seems to be handling the staffing shortage in their own way, including increasing pay and offering benefits, there’s a limit for many restauranteurs, a wall they can’t go past if they want to keep the lights on and the doors open.

Fortunately, there are several ways to handle a staffing shortage. Let’s explore our options. 

Improve Overall Culture

Today’s restaurant workers are looking for a balanced lifestyle. In the restaurant industry, that can be a challenge, with the busiest shifts on weekend nights and split shifts not out of the ordinary. While it may seem near impossible to provide a healthier and more life-affirming environment, your team undoubtedly has some ideas on how to make the workspace better while ensuring all shifts are covered. 

Sit down with your team and brainstorm. You’ll be surprised at the results, which include a sense of having a voice even before any changes are made. Of course, if your restaurant is in a tipped minimum wage state where you only have to pay $2.13 an hour, it will be hard for your staff to swallow your “can’t afford it” scenario. 

Flexible Scheduling

In the Summer of 2021, Black Box Intelligence took a survey and found that every restaurant they spoke to did not have enough workers. The actions these restauranteurs were taking back then included the following: 63% offered wellness benefits, 80% offered 401K plans, and 54% provided flexible scheduling. 

Promotion Opportunities

Incentivizing staff with training and promoting from within gives them a reason to stay the course despite the occasional rude customer, extra tables, or employee shortages in the BOH. Knowing you believe in their potential and backing up that belief will give them a reason to persevere through difficult periods.  

Employee Referral Program

Creating an incentive for team members to refer friends, family, or others looking for work can bring in more staff than you imagine. Consider a cash bonus for each person hired and retained.


Why is there a restaurant industry labor shortage?

As you’re probably aware, many employees who left the industry following layoffs brought on by the pandemic never returned. They cited quality of life issues, low pay, no benefits, lack of professional development and advancement opportunities, and a culture in need of repair. Many operators listened and made changes that aligned with workers’ requests. As a result, those restaurants pulled in the lion’s share of a depleted workforce. 

If you’ve scoured the books and can’t find the extra funds for increased wages, consider other areas you can improve upon, like a positive culture, training and promotions, and offering more free meals or other perks while working a shift. 

What are some short-staffed signs?

This may seem like a fairly clear-cut topic. “Well, I can’t cover all the shifts, duh.” But, if you’ve been in the business long, you’ll agree that this is one of the most challenging labor environments in recent memory. Even if you breathe a sigh of relief because you could fill the schedule, one call-in-sick or no-show can throw you off, and your customers’ quality service, is much faster in light of today’s challenges. 

Restauranteurs are a resilient lot. In honor of that, we thought we’d share some of the creative want-ad signs in establishment windows. 

“Are you breathing? You’re hired.” 

“Are you Awesome? You’re hired.” 

“We Are Hiring: Low Pay, Bad Hours, Jerk Boss…Apply Now.”

“Now Hiring. Please no dinosaurs with clever human costumes—Fool me once, shame on you…” (That was Blockbuster Video, but I had to share it). 

“Now hiring now…right now we’re hiring now.”

“Server: Sober, sane, non-dramatic, experienced, able to work mornings, appreciation of skillful sarcasm helpful.”

Do you see a similar vein running through these help-wanted signs? I believe it may be desperation. As Henry David Thoreau said, “Most men lead lives of quiet desperation…” While no truer words were spoken in our current workforce environment, putting a sign in your restaurant window showing the world that you have a labor shortage and your BOH or FOH may be slowed down to a crawl is never a good idea. Stick to online ads, LinkedIn, and word of mouth.

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