After the devastation of the pandemic, the restaurant industry should be making a comeback. But a persistent labor shortage stands in the way. While experts attribute the shortage to a number of factors – from stimulus payments to low wages – there’s no quick fix. And part of the problem is that hiring and turnover were serious issues even before the pandemic. So clearly something (or rather some things) are broken. Here’s a look at why the restaurant staffing shortage has been an issue and is becoming an even bigger one.

Employees are leaving for other industries

For some restaurant workers, COVID-19 brought existing frustrations with wages and working conditions to the surface. And when they were laid off or furloughed from their restaurant jobs, they sought opportunities elsewhere.

For some, the pandemic caused them to reevaluate their career and their plan. Many people took advantage of the downtime and went back to school. For others, it was a wakeup call about the fragility of hourly work. And for many employees, the pandemic was the catalyst for leaving the night hours and the tip-based compensation behind and entering an entirely different industry and worklife.

For example, while the restaurant industry struggled, other industries, like e-commerce, thrived. Frustrated restaurant workers are attracted to the regular pay and non-customer facing roles these industries offer.

To stop hemorrhaging employees, restaurant operators must invest in solutions that keep them engaged and satisfied. Many of those initiatives will come at a cost. To weigh those costs against the cost of your current turnover rate, use this Turnover Calculator.

Short-staffing leads to dissatisfaction – of guests and employees

Before the pandemic, an overwhelming majority of restaurants reported being understaffed. And our data shows that restaurants are making do with reduced staff in almost all positions.

The impact of limited staffing is evident in guest sentiment data. Guest satisfaction with service speed is down 4.2%, with staffing being a common area of concern. As a result, guests are more likely to go to restaurants that are known for speedy, streamlined service. To understand how your staffing issues impact customer satisfaction, consider a guest intelligence tool.

Ensuring the right staffing levels is critical to driving sales and retaining the employees you do have. Reduced staffing also leads to employee burnout and dissatisfaction. Many workers who weathered the rapid increase in take-out and third-party delivery orders are reaching a breaking point. Others who were furloughed are leery about returning to work that they see as unreliable and potentially unsafe.

Employee expectations have changed

The pandemic brought many restaurant employees’ long-simmering frustrations with the workplace to a head, and many want the industry to improve working conditions. They want more consistent working hours and pay, better compensation packages, and a generally less stressful work environment. These are long-term issues that operators must address, or their staffing issues will continue.

Black Box Intelligence™ and Snagajob joined forces to unpack trends driving the labor shortage and present data-driven solutions. Download The Post-Pandemic Restaurant Employee: Who Wants to Work and Why.

Labor isn’t the only thing in short supply

The staffing shortage is just one roadblock to the recovery of the restaurant industry. Supply chain issues are causing costs to rise. Operators are being forced to get creative (and sometimes spend more) to acquire menu items and cleaning supplies. Those shortages can make day-to-day work difficult for workers, which lowers morale. And the high costs cut into the funds operators could use on employee engagement and recruitment efforts.

With so many key business components in flux – from your menu items to your employees, it’s important to know where you stand in comparison to your competitors and the market as a whole. Use this benchmarking guide to learn how to establish your own benchmarks for your prices, turnover rates, and more.

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FAQs about restaurant staffing

Why is the staffing shortage becoming a bigger issue?
The staffing shortage is becoming a bigger issue for a number of reasons. For many employees, the pandemic caused them to reconsider their career goals. Some are returning to school, while others are choosing different industries. Additionally, the staffing shortage impacts guest satisfaction, which is already suffering, in part due to inadequate staffing.

How many staff does a restaurant need?
Determining the correct number of employees needed to staff your restaurant will depend on your sales volume, the type of restaurant you operate and even the region where you are located. However, one commonly cited rule of thumb is that you need one server per shift for every 12 customers and four back-of-house workers for every 50 diners in self-service restaurants. For seated casual dining, you’ll need one server for 5 – 6 tables per shift and 4 back-of-house staff per 50 tables.

Why is staffing important in a restaurant?
Staffing is vital to guest satisfaction. If you don’t have enough employees to turn around orders quickly and accurately, customers will go elsewhere. Having adequate staffing also impacts the employee experience. When employees are overworked, they’re more likely to burn out, impacting their performance and making them more likely to quit.

What are some things to consider for staffing a new restaurant?
As you plan to open a new restaurant, outline which roles you will need, and what their responsibilities will be. Your managers will have a major impact on the culture of your business, so think long and hard about what you will expect from them and how you will vet their skills. Finally, the hiring landscape is competitive right now, so it’s also important to evaluate your employer brand and compensation to make sure you stand out.

Being able to adapt is key to tackling staffing issues

The restaurant staffing shortage is caused by a number of factors, many of which can’t be solved with a single solution. In order to meet rising consumer demand, operators need to implement smart, cost-effective strategies to retain current employees and attract new ones.

The industry recovery hinges on having the right people in the right roles. But it’s hard to predict how long the restaurant staffing shortage will last, or how severe it will continue to be. It’s possible that the pandemic initiated a paradigm shift in the way that restaurants hire, compensate, and engage their employees. To keep up with the latest data as the industry recovers, sign up for the Restaurant Industry Performance Pulse.

Do you have the data you need to reduce your turnover?

Speak with a product expert to learn how Black Box Workforce Intelligence™ can help you impact your overall restaurant performance and build a workplace that fosters employee loyalty.

What do I get with my Black Box Workforce Intelligence subscription?

  • Monthly interactive reports featuring data on turnover, staffing, demographics and compensation with gender, age, ethnicity and transactional analysis
  • Quarterly overview of the latest industry trends, highlights and macroeconomic conditions
  • Monthly legislative report for HR leaders produced with Align Public Strategies on key issues affecting your workforce
  • Quarterly compensation report providing detailed data on annual bonus and total cash compensation benchmarks, down to the market level
  • Regional salary and wage data by percentile, DMA or segment
  • Access to client-only quarterly State of the Industry webinars and thought leadership events

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