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Staffing is the heart of any successful restaurant. From taking customer orders to building hospitality, restaurants need people to hire and retain — especially as the summer season begins. However, that’s a massive difficulty in today’s labor market.

In the National Restaurant Association’s May 2022 survey, 58% of restaurant operators reported that recruiting and retaining employees is currently their No. 1 challenge. They’re hiring, but skilled employees are now hard to find.

Restaurant success depends on great food and efficient service. Understanding how and why the restaurant industry is struggling with a labor shortage is your first step to addressing the problem and finding solutions.

Why is there a restaurant staffing shortage?

If you’re finding it difficult to hire and retain restaurant staff, you’re far from alone. Even before the COVID-19 pandemic, restaurant owners struggled with hiring long-term and seasonal workers. The pandemic brought these underlying issues to the forefront.

In the years since the start of COVID-19, many restaurants have drastically reduced how many staff they retain in their workforce. On the other side, there’s been the “great resignation” as workers chose to leave their restaurant jobs during the height of pandemic-fueled difficulties in a demanding work environment. Many employees felt undervalued or unappreciated for the work they were doing.

Similarly, the hospitality industry as a whole has been hit hard by surging inflation. Increased restaurant food costs and supply chain shortages have caused unprecedented volatility for restaurant owners nationwide. To withstand these challenges, you need skilled and experienced employees to fill open positions, however, the industry talent pool is smaller than it’s ever been.

If you can’t fill these labor gaps, the results can spread into the customer dining experience as long waits, higher prices and inexperienced (or insufficient) staff impact how the restaurant runs.

So, how do you find and retain these types of employees during a staffing shortage?

The key to staff retention during a labor shortage

Before you can start building a new workforce, it’s vital to take a deeper look at the employees you currently have and what you’re doing to keep them on board. 

Basically, the immediate answer to your labor shortage is employee retention.

Common restaurant industry problems that affect staff include low wages, few benefits and low (or no) incentives to remain on the team. This is a competitive industry, and you need to figure out how to make your restaurant stand out from the crowd as a great place to work. Is there a unique work culture that builds employee loyalty? Are you investing in your employees’ professional development?

For restaurant owners and operators, it’s time to explore exactly how to create long-term employees — and reduce turnover rates:

Make it all about culture

Employees are leaving the restaurant industry in droves and you don’t want your remaining employees to be part of that mass exodus. That’s where restaurant culture enters the picture.

People are more likely to stay at a job if they feel loyal and close to their work team. Whether they’re working overtime or dealing with difficult customers, employees will stay by your side if they know that the current team has their back and actively works together.

To form and nurture these close employee relationships, plan and provide a staff meal to bring everyone together. If employees are going to spend hours together, why not throw in one where they can relax and get to know each other better? 

For extra morale boosts that don’t cost you extra, consider sending surplus food home with staff at the end of the day. Not only does this reduce your daily food waste, but it’s a kind gesture to the hard workers that make your restaurant run smoothly.

Invest in staff training

If you’re already short-staffed, it pays to invest in the thorough training of your current employees. As demand increases through dinner rushes and holiday seasons, the workers in your restaurant know exactly what’s expected of them and how to handle their responsibilities.

You may also want to consider cross-training your team. Especially if you’re working with a smaller-than-normal crew. The benefit is that if a staff member is late, out sick or detained by other tasks, someone else can cover for them in the meantime. For example, do your host staff have the training to help server staff take drink orders when needed?

Another factor to consider is how front-of-house and back-of-house staff can collaborate when things get busy. Some solutions include training every team member on how to do common, easy tasks that get overwhelming during busy times. This may include running the dishwasher, putting away clean dinnerware and more.

Schedule regular employee check-ins

Your restaurant staff is your best asset. They know firsthand what’s working and what needs improvement. By meeting regularly with each employee one-on-one, you open honest dialogue.

Ask for feedback and be ready to make changes based on what you hear from your staff. You may want to specifically ask them what you can do to improve their workplace experience. These tips and suggestions can improve the overall work environment and solve minor issues before they become reasons to leave.

If there’s a challenge that needs to be addressed over time — rather than with a quick fix — be transparent about it. Your current employees will appreciate the honesty and feel supported and validated.

How to hire during a restaurant staffing shortage

Today’s staffing experience is much different than it used to be and it’s time to adapt to a more competitive hiring market. Everyone seems to be hiring, but not many workers are submitting resumes to fill those positions.

It’s time to set your restaurant apart from the competition and proactively attract new talent to your staff. Here are some helpful steps you can take to grow your team during the current labor shortage:

Make it known that you’re actively hiring

It’s not enough to post a job opening on your website or bulletin board. You need to cast a wider net to lure in prospective employees. Social media and job sites are ideal assets in your search.

Utilize social media accounts, such as Instagram, Twitter and LinkedIn to share job openings and reach a larger pool of candidates. Hospitality job boards similarly help you reach the exact audience you’re looking for: unemployed staff looking for hiring restaurants!

Each of these digital platforms usually has tools to help you target your job posts to find new staff. For example, you can target based on the geographical area to find workers based near your restaurant. 

Create a referral program

One great option is to incentivize your current staff to share about open positions. The restaurant industry is close-knit and it’s more than likely that one of your employees will know someone (or someone who knows someone) looking for a new restaurant position. Create an employee referral program that rewards staff that successfully refer people to open positions.

If you want to take a more out-of-the-box approach, you can also advertise your referral program to customers through your website or in your restaurant. Consider offering a free meal to any customer that successfully refers a new employee. This can be beneficial during the summer months when seasonal workers are in high demand.

Consider email marketing

Email marketing is a wonderful tool for advertising your restaurant’s food, deals and special events — and you can also use it to let them know about your open staff positions. Keep your subscribers updated on what staff positions need to be filled and how to apply.

If you use Grubhub Direct, a customized online ordering site where restaurants can receive commission-free online orders, you can also access additional customer data to help build out your email list. With an up-to-date and accurate email list, you’re able to reach more people and improve your chances of collecting resumes during this labor shortage.

Want to launch a customized online ordering site with us? Check Grubhub Direct out to learn more about creating a free-to-use, commission-less ordering website.

How Grubhub can help restaurants through the staffing shortage

The good news is that labor shortages aren’t new to the industry and they aren’t an impossible barrier on your road to success. In fact, they often create new opportunities for those willing to persevere and approach problems creatively. These evolutions in management, training and outreach can effectively improve the dining experience for staff and customers.

The even better news? In the restaurant industry, you don’t have to work alone. When you partner with Grubhub, you have one-of-a-kind access to infinite resources and solutions, including seamless integration and dedicated customer service — with no up-front service fee, risk or long-term commitment when you sign up.

Grubhub is designed to help restaurants thrive, including during a labor shortage. For example, if your restaurant is struggling to hire drivers or keep up with delivery orders, you can choose from our unique, flexible delivery solutions to help fill that gap. 

With Supplemental Delivery, restaurants can use Grubhub’s delivery fleet to reach customers outside of their delivery zone or to support their own drivers when orders are busy.

Meanwhile, Grubhub Delivery can fill the hiring gap completely when it comes to delivery drivers and fulfill all restaurant delivery order needs. 

Want to discover more ways that Grubhub can help streamline your restaurant business? Explore benefits and tools you can gain when you partner with us, such as contact-free delivery, curbside pickup and more.

Get started with Grubhub today.