Since quarantine lockdowns began mid-March of 2020, restaurants faced unprecedented turmoil. Before global lockdowns, the U.S. restaurant industry suffered from a 74.9 percent annual turnover rate, and even more for some businesses. At the onset of the pandemic, around two thirds of all restaurant employees were displaced, with many restaurants pivoting to off-premise dining to survive. Already some prominent restaurant groups are rehiring their staff, signaling better times ahead. As we head into an uncertain future, let’s examine what restaurant staffing will look like post-pandemic.
Regardless of the circumstances, staffing is an economic commitment. On average, onboarding a new employee can cost between $1816 per hourly worker. If your restaurant team is 25 people and you lose 74.9 percent per year, then you’ve spent around 34K per year on training alone. This figure can go up for management staff, which costs $10,361 on average in 2019. With the median profit margin between 3-5 percent, capacity maximums, and a net industry loss estimated at around $240B by the end of 2020, every dollar counts.
Staffing Today and Tomorrow
We know how the pandemic has changed things, so what now? Is your operation in a position to rehire lost staff? Are you prepared for how that might affect your budget? Do you have existing technology that can ease those burdens? Perhaps most pertinent: do you need to restaff to the same levels at all?
In all likelihood, you already have a robust tech stack that might include a kitchen display system (KDS), a restaurant management platform for your front-of-house needs, or a point of sale system. In each case, you can program these technologies to show reminders for staff new or old. A rich KDS or guest management system allows you to program in phantom tickets, orders, and operations that appear at scheduled times to demonstrate or remind staff on tasks and how and when that needs to happen.
Likewise, you can use a recipe viewer to do much the same, which serves as quality control and a training tool. Ideally, an appendage to a KDS, a recipe viewer instructs kitchen staff on the optimal ways to prepare a meal. Don’t know how to cook a particular item? A recipe viewer can help, and it can likely integrate easily with your existing technology.
Outside of training, you can use technology to mitigate your staffing needs outright. First, contactless technology allows your patrons access to do what they need, as they need it. Using QR codes and smartphone technology, guests can use their own devices to get in line, view a menu, and place an order. Likewise, some contactless tech includes SMS texts to guests on the waitlist to inform them that their table is ready. You can assess your staffing levels’ overall need or free existing staff up for other responsibilities by employing contactless tech.
Self-serve restaurants have a long history in the industry, notably with automats’ onset in the 1920s. As with contactless technologies, self-serve devices allow guests to place orders, refill drinks, and settle tabs at their leisure. Examples of this technology include drink refill stations and digital kiosks.
While it may seem like science fiction, many restaurants have begun employing robots. That includes server staff, as well as kitchen robots who flip burgers or prep other food items. Keep in mind, though, that while you may be replacing the need for human staffing, there is a cost associated with restaurant robots. Still, some consumers are a little apprehensive about robots in restaurants. Ensure you balance the potential costs of purchasing and maintaining a robot that may have a particular use with annual onboarding costs.
It’s hard to say what the future holds for restaurants or anything else at the moment; everything has changed so drastically in 2020, and that could persist. The silver lining is that while guests are cautious in dining in, they are more than ready to eat out. That some restaurant segments are already starting to bounce back only supports that customers want to go to your restaurant. With that in mind, you can calculate your optimal response to a diminished bottom line and the problem of staffing or rehiring, using existing restaurant tech options to help navigate your decision.