Diners Believe Customer Experience Is Declining Due to Labor Shortages

A majority of diners report diminishing guest experience because of labor shortages at restaurants, according to a consumer survey from HungerRush.

Key takeaways include:

  • More than half of consumers surveyed (51 percent), felt that independent restaurants have been impacted the most by not having enough staff to take orders, cook food, and handle deliveries – followed by major chains (36 percent) and mid-sized regional restaurants (14 percent).
  • 57 percent of consumers aren’t confident that a busy store will take their order correctly.
  • 72 percent of consumers said they would opt to use an automated phone bot to place an order depending on the situation.

With these shortages, friction points are increasing in the dining experience with longer wait times to receive food (33 percent), diminished customer experience due to overstressed staff (32 percent), and longer wait times just to place an order (17 percent) being among the top three pain points.

To learn more about the survey's findings on the impact of restaurant staffing issues, Modern Restaurant Management (MRM) magazine asked Olivier Thierry, CRO of HungerRush. 

What should restaurant owners take away from the survey findings?

It’s always great to know exactly what customers are thinking and to have direct insights into friction points. Overall, we were able to uncover that diners believe the customer experience is declining due to the ongoing labor shortage and identify which points in their journey they are feeling the most dissatisfied. One of the data points that stands out is that 39 percent of people are likely to write a negative review after going to a restaurant suffering from staffing issues, long wait times, and order inaccuracy. The impact this has on brand perception, repeat visits, and acquiring new guests is table stakes. 

This really illustrates how important it is to ensure customer services don’t suffer as a result of labor challenges. As consumer confidence in dining out continues to increase, restaurant owners and operators need to keep this top of mind. Creating a fully connected restaurant experience will keep negative reviews low and increase repeat business. There’s a plethora of options available to restaurants looking to increase loyalty and decrease operating costs, and technology is a great solution when it can be integrated in a way that reduces major friction points. It's time for restaurants to listen to customers and adapt accordingly. 

What are best practices restaurants should follow to improve the guest experience?

The best, and fastest, way to improve the customer experience is to make everything as connected and seamless as possible from start to finish. When restaurants are able to reduce the time customers spend waiting, no matter if it is on the phone or in person, or waiting to get their order placed, it can drastically improve their experience. In fact, 72 percent of consumers said they would opt to use an automated phone bot to place an order depending on the situation. Technology can be incorporated into the ordering process to reduce time spent waiting, ensure and improve order accuracy, hold customer data and dining preferences, and free up employee time spent on tasks other than creating a relationship and as positive of a dining experience as possible. In addition to the above, adding this kind of technology can increase order volumes, reduce food waste and improve the guest experience as reduced in-store labor deals with maximizing the in-store guest experience.

What are the most common friction points customers report?

Waiting on hold! We live in a world where we are accustomed to instant satisfaction, an ode to the Amazon effect, and they expect the same at restaurants. We found that 91 percent of consumers surveyed said the maximum amount of time they are willing to wait on hold to place an order is three minutes or less. 25 percent and 19 percent expect to place an order in less than two minutes and one minute respectively, demonstrating just how critical speed to order is to today’s consumers. 

Ordering via phone also posed another concern for diners and that is order accuracy with modifications. 57 percent of consumers aren’t confident that a busy store will actually take their order correctly if they need to personalize or modify regular menu items. Knowing that phone ordering is causing issues and friction points for customers, it’s time for restaurants to look for solutions, like technology, that can reduce these stressors and help empower employees. It’s also a benefit for restaurants to think about text ordering options as well – and reducing overall reliance on phone calls. It can increase order volumes, speed, and accuracy but also helps marketing teams work on retention goals. As many guests tend to re-order the same meal, text ordering represents a significant up-lift channel for the stores. Not only can it reduce labor demands when connected directly to the POS, but it also represents a marketing channel with high open rates coupled together with the immediacy of direct ordering responses within the text marketing message streams. 

What role can technology play in helping improve the situation?

Technology is an excellent solution to the situation restaurants are unfortunately facing with a labor shortage. Not only can technology help with tasks such as ordering, which we’ve seen more fast casual and fast food restaurants adopting these days, but it can help reduce overall costs as well. Through the survey, we were able to uncover some of the largest pain points for diners and one is seasonal hiring. Because diners feel that it increases order inaccuracy, longer times to order food, and loss of personal connection with seasonal staff. We live in a world of online ordering modifications and “hacks”, so order accuracy is top of mind. When technology is used in the order-taking process, it can eliminate order inaccuracy which not only keeps customers happy but also helps with ordering and reducing food waste and food waste costs. We’ve also heard from restaurants that use technology, like AI-powered phone bots, workers really find more joy in focusing on the in-store experiences. When they don’t have to spend time juggling phones ringing off the hook, pickup orders, and in-store dining customers at one time, they can really focus on creating relationships with the customers that are meaningful and drive loyalty and appreciation. 

Is this just the “new normal” that guests should expect?

The end goal is the “new normal” for guests is to feel appreciated and for employees to feel empowered. When both parties know they are valued, it makes the overall experience more enjoyable. Restaurant operators want everyone to feel good about their experience. Technology won’t be taking jobs away from people, it should be used to empower employees and we were able to uncover more details on what customers expect from restaurants in this survey. The labor shortage has been a struggle for a few years now and coupled with the hits the industry took from the pandemic, there has been a great deal of unexpected changes that had to be made quickly. For the most part, restaurants have entered the digital age at a rapid rate and now have to find solutions to the shortages. Ultimately, technology needs to be integrated to help better the experience and eliminate added frustrations and unnecessary friction points.


The survey was commissioned by HungerRush and conducted by Dynata in May 2023 of 1,000 U.S. consumers 18 years and older to understand how the labor shortage is impacting restaurants of various sizes and the customer experience.