If the pandemic did one thing that we can all agree on, it must be the labor shortage. This has struck the restaurant industry especially hard.

The first defensive move for restaurant operators is to cut down the hours and the days so that they can be staffed properly. But this is not a long-term solution. The sales and profit of your operation has been severely limited. This was a great opening move for survival, but not a long term, strategic solution. No manager or owner ever opened a restaurant just to break even. 

So, the labor shortage brings two major issues. How to keep the employees you currently have and how to attract new employees.   

To keep your employees, it is important to regard retaining your employees that you have as vital. It is so easy to take them for granted and assume they’ll be here tomorrow and next week.  But the reality is that they have choices; they really don’t have to stay. 

A few suggestions.

Don’t lean more and more on your best people. We’ve all done it. “Could you stay a little longer?”  “I know it’s your day off, but could you work tomorrow? I’d really appreciate it”. This is a trap that we’ve all been in. Your best people want to help you, but after a while they’ll only feel that they’re being taken advantage of. The result is that they go from your best employees to quitting. 

Asking (demanding) that your part timers work much more than they originally signed up for. Sure, they’ll do it once or twice, and gladly, but when it becomes often, they’ll quit. And now, congratulations. You’re in worse shape. It will hurt in the short term, but you’ll keep your employees. 

Finally, make sure you know why your employees are working for you. What do they need? Do you know each individual employee’s goals? If not, start to know. 

Does a kitchen employee not speak English that well? Look for ESL classes. Many are even free. This will enable the employee to get a better job with your organization, like going from dishwasher or busser to cook or server. You have given this employee options for a better life and you’ll have a loyal employee also. Don’t forget to add a little for transportation to the classes. 

Do you have contests to spice up the daily grind? If you do, don’t have prizes that only appeal to a few. Make sure that they actually would want the prizes. What a concept. I always found that having two or three selections worked best, instead of just one. Believe it or not, not everyone wants to go to a Justin Bieber concert. Personally, I would try to lose. Maybe offer a gas card, restaurant card, and something else. And of course, make the contests so that many can win, not just a select few. Also, make sure that the contest is driving behavior, not just a contest. Faster service, better service, or higher check averages, for example.   

Make your schedules monthly or permanent. Everyone wants a stable schedule. I used to make weekly schedules, which had to be incredibly tough for employees to plan.  I’ll bet your schedules are more stable than you think anyway. I’ll bet you give the same schedule to several of your employees already. This would not be a big deal to implement, but your employees would love it and you only have to do it once a month. And when you hire, you can tell them exactly what their schedule will be. Easy for you and easy for them.  This costs you nothing. Nada. Zip. 

A question for future thought: What do hotels and airlines have in common, but not restaurants?

Answer: yield management. This means that almost every seat in an airline or room in a hotel has a different price. Restaurants for some reason have never done this. 

Think about an airline. You want an exit seat with a little more legroom? Costs more.

You booked during a holiday? Costs more.

You want a non-stop flight? Costs more.

Restaurants have the potential to do this also, but it just hasn’t happened. Yet. I think it is coming though. You want the best seat in the restaurant? Charge a little more

You want a reservation at a peak time? Charge a little more. 

We’ve made a little progress in this by a few restaurants actually charging customers who don’t show for their reservation. I think it is about time. Airlines started doing this several years ago when passengers just didn’t bother to show up for their plane and expected a credit. Not anymore.  Passengers want to change their reservation date or destination? Guess what? Costs more. But at least they don’t lose all their money for not showing up. 

I doubt if the climate is ready for restaurants to do this today. But it will happen and might be something to think about in the new year.