Finding Restaurant Staff Today Is Nearly Impossible

In 2019, the hospitality industry found it exceedingly difficult to staff our properties. We blamed the extraordinarily low unemployment rate of 3.6 percent. Employees could pick and choose because there were far more jobs available than people to fill them.

COVID-19 hit and then, because we had to close our properties or suddenly utilize only 25 percent of the space, we had more staff than we could use. Now, as we come out of COVID-19 and begin opening our locations, we cannot find staff to fill any open positions. The U.S. unemployment rate for March was six percent so, in theory, there are many more people available to work than in 2019. But where are they?

Many owners and operators have taken their eyes off the ball by getting into the political discussions of why they cannot staff. I am not wasting time on trying to figure out why. I am, however, spending all of my time on either how I can staff my properties or how I can cut positions without compromising quality and reputation. 

Don’t Be Choosy … Train!

I was with a client yesterday who was having this same issue of “we can’t find any staff.” I asked to review any applications they received in the past month. They received 11 applicants, all of which had no experience in restaurants/hospitality ­­­– gas station attendant, quick mart experience, plumber’s assistant and so on. 

I called all of the applicants, offered interviews and got 5 out of 11 to show up. Our openings were for dishwashers, servers and busser/runners. I offered jobs to all 5 and, of course, only 3 showed up. I put them in service as dishwashers and busser/runners. We are putting additional training and time into these three, and I have to say they are doing well. The moral of this particular story is that we filled three positions by taking the time to train, and these new employees are really enjoying working for us. 

Start Thinking Local

Over the past six months, we have been posting on Indeed, Zip Recruiter, Facebook, etc. Over time, we are getting fewer and fewer responses through social media. We are getting better responses now by going local: local job boards, the VFW, American Legion, and even grocery stores that let people put up cards that they are looking for any type of work. 

What does this tell us? That there are people who want to work but don’t have access to the internet, or they have internet but don’t know how to use social media. We have found that these individuals show up on time, work hard and, most importantly, are excited about learning and being trained. 

Stop Turnover –­ Appreciate the Staff You Have

During the past few months, many of our restaurant operators are experiencing explosive business. Dining rooms are opening and, of course, we don’t have enough staff to handle the crowds. We find that we are beginning to turn over some of our best staff and managers because they are now putting in too many hours and days.

To stop the turnover, we have met with the key team members and we have only one question: “What can we do for you?” Not one person has asked for more money. Not one has asked for more or bigger sections or better shifts.

They all wanted the same thing: time. Time off to spend with their families and friends, and just time for themselves. How did we keep these great employees? We gave them everything they asked for. Two days off in a row, no more than one or two doubles a week, vacation time and the big prize: They all choose their schedules. Since we have been doing this, the turnover of great staff has gone away. 

More than four million people have left the workforce since the start of the pandemic. They may not be actively looking for a job, but that doesn’t mean they don’t want to work. Find them, train them and treat them well, and you will have more staffing success.

Crosstrain – Make the Most of the Current Staff

If we want to stop turnover, we need to make an investment. The best investment we can make in terms of staff is cross training. First, be willing to spend additional dollars in hourly wages in order to get the cross training done as soon as possible.

Second, be willing to spend time with those individuals getting cross trained and let them know how proud you are of them for taking the initiative to learn something new. Many of my operations have cooks that are also servers, dishwashers who are runners, and bussers who can work the pantry. This is money well spent. We spend time with the employees who will stay because they are learning more, getting more hours and, most important, they are proud of themselves because they know they have the power to learn something new.