Restaurants in Renaissance: A Guide to Recovery in 2021

The restaurant industry experienced massive growth in the five years prior to the pandemic, leading to a “talent crisis”—too many restaurants looking to hire from a limited pool of talent. One year after the pandemic started, restaurants find themselves in a familiar position: competing for talent in a scarce pool of applicants. To fully recover, restaurants will need to figure out how they can win the talent war and meet their staffing needs from this limited pool. To attract the best talent, restaurant owners should consider focusing on three main pillars of employee experience: health and safety, leading with compassion, and embracing a new way of working.

Health and Safety Concerns 

On top of everyone’s mind is the need for a clear and transparent approach to health and safety. Restaurants should focus on short-term recovery and sustainability as they work with their employees to outline an approach that not only adheres to their different state and city codes and requirements, but also takes into account their employees’ comfort levels. As regulations continue to loosen, staffing strategies should evolve as well, and owners and managers should use this time to redefine what makes a restaurant a “great place to work.” 

To attract the best talent, restaurant owners should consider focusing on three main pillars of employee experience: health and safety, leading with compassion, and embracing a new way of working.

When it comes to health and safety, an easy first place to start can be the  digitalization of as many touch points between staff and customers as possible. Adopting the use of digital menus and no-touch check-out limits staff-to-customer touchpoints, while automating back office operations like business insurance and payroll can help streamline operations both for front of house and back. By adopting automation and redesigning day-to-day work tasks, restaurant owners can streamline work for employees, and embrace a new health-conscious, digital-first approach to customer service.  

Lead with Compassion

Leading with compassion is another way restaurant owners can adapt to the times and maintain goodwill with their staff. But what does “leading with compassion” mean, when each restaurant has different dynamics and needs? There are many options for owners to take a more conscientious approach to management, including offering flexible or staggered work schedules, additional resources for employees who are parents or are the sole caretaker of their elderly family members, or even offering paid time off to employees who need time to get a COVID-19 vaccine. Given the stress of the past year, supporting employees’ mental health should also be top of mind. Restaurant owners should consider offering mental health days or additional resources to help employees get the support they need.

With the growing need for staffing as the world opens back up, a key area for restaurant owners to consider is being even more flexible with the types of employees they hire. A mixture of full-time, part-time, and contingent employees can provide restaurant owners with an arsenal of people who can fit the staffing needs of the business, while different backgrounds of candidates can help make a restaurant’s team more well-rounded and adaptable to any business challenge or need.

Embrace a New Way of Working 

While the restaurant industry grows towards a full recovery, it’s a great time to revisit and rethink existing best practices and company culture. Restaurant owners should be mindful of what works for their employees, not just the bottom line. Managers should keep in mind that their employees' morale is a direct reflection of work conditions and in order to keep a happy staff, they must know what changes, if any, could make the work environment more comfortable for everyone. 

Though it may seem simple, it’s important to communicate clearly and transparently with staff. Restaurant owners should have regular “temperature checks” with staff in the form of town-hall style meetings (or anonymously via a quick survey) to assess what would make employees feel safe, secure, and happy every day at work. 

Listening and adapting to the needs of employees is no longer optional for restaurant owners. In the wake of COVID-19, employees have a higher expectation of what an engaged and healthy workplace looks like. Old tactics in this new environment simply won’t work, and employees and restaurants that embrace a new, more inclusive and adaptable approach will be the ones to thrive in a post-COVID world.