Strategies to Navigate the Staffing Crisis

By: David Hopkins

The hospitality industry is facing a significant crisis: staffing.

It’s a trend that has been particularly exacerbated over the last year—foodservice operations across the country are struggling to find, hire, and retain staff.
So why is this happening, and what can pubs do to be competitive in the labour market right now? We have been working closely with our clients to understand the challenges they are facing and develop new strategies to find success with hiring. The bottom line is that restaurateurs need to look for alternative strategies to what they’re offering people; pre-pandemic incentives aren’t going to cut it anymore.

Holistically Investing in Staff

It’s clear that pubs need to invest in their staff like never before. While signing bonuses can be a great initial incentive, they are only effective until staff have the opportunity to leave for more lucrative options. So it will be important to invest in staff holistically. A key component of this is thoughtful staff training. With a limited pool of workers, hiring “for desire,” based on a candidate’s values and attitudes, and training “for mechanics” by spending the time to ensure this person is well versed in your pub operation will be an effective strategy. You’ll also likely need to improve employment perks to be competitive in the market. This includes upgrading programs such as staff meals or redistributing server tips to provide more equity in position remuneration and allow for a better “hourly wage” in the back of the house, as kitchen jobs are proving to be the hardest to come by right now. Balancing staff schedules to avoid long hours, posting schedules to provide adequate shift lead times, and providing flexible shifts will also help attract workers by offering them more flexibility.

“Improve employment perks to be competitive.”

Raising your menu prices can also help you invest in staff. Our recent consumer attitude survey indicated that the majority of guests support a moderate menu price increase (5%-10%). This will add to the bottom line and provide you with more ability to improve staff pay rates.

It will also be strategic for pubs to build strong “core teams” as businesses in other industries do. Assembling a strong, reliable group of people who play an important role in the proper functioning of the restaurant and are valued in their work will help keep turnover low in the future. This will provide a framework for rewarding staff for their commitment and tenure and for bringing on new team members.

Fostering Positive Work Environments

Restaurants are notorious for breeding challenging and sometimes toxic work environments.
COVID acted as the catalyst for change for many workers to switch industries, and now they’re not looking back. Employers must offer a better work culture going forward and treat staff with respect; it is an employee’s market, and people will no longer settle for less. Only those who wholeheartedly embrace creating positive work environments will attract talent.
Open lines of communication and systems for providing feedback and complaints need to be established. Relationships between management and employees must be built on respect, and the understanding that there are new standards and values staff are looking for. But as always, actions speak louder than words; you must be prepared to demonstrate your restaurant’s positive, beneficial workplace to potential employees by sharing examples of your best practices or providing references from current staff. If you create a great work environment, you can also offer existing staff referral payments to bring other great people into the fold.

Being Realistic About Current Operations

The way that your pub operated pre-pandemic may not be the optimal way to operate right now. Working with a bare-bones team and trying to maintain a 10/10 guest service experience is going to be extremely difficult, so we recommend updating your hours of operation to focus on your busiest times.

“Update your hours of operation to focus on your busiest times.”

Rather than staying open on Monday and Tuesday or during lunch hour when there is limited traffic, close the pub during those times so you won’t have to book staff. This doesn’t have to be permanent and can easily be changed again when there is an uptick in hiring, but ensure that you keep guests apprised of these updates in person and across online platforms. This way, you can prioritize your team’s schedules for your pub’s busiest, most profitable times.

Planning for the Future

The previous strategies present important ways to move forward, but some of the current staffing issues will likely resolve themselves with time. The staffing pool will slowly grow again as more and more people need to find work. Hospitality industry employees will likely be more eager to return to work when they are confident that working environments and the mindsets of employers have improved. But it is essential to improve employment incentives now, regardless of what’s to come.

“Adopting a new mindset around hiring is the essential way forward.”

Like so many aftershocks of the pandemic, the restaurant staffing crisis seems to be changing daily and presents ongoing complications. So while there isn’t a clear-cut solution just yet, adopting a new mindset around hiring, considering newfound incentives, and instilling a strong sense of value in your employees is the essential way forward.