The Importance of Flexibility in Restaurant Hiring

With restaurants reopening under guidelines calling for decreased capacities, efficient practices are top of mind.  Modern Restaurant Management (MRM) magazine asked  Mark Heymann, a labor expert and CEO of UniFocus, for his insights on navigating post-pandemic restaurant recovery through  effective hiring and training.

What are the best practices employers can put in place to welcome back apprehensive restaurant employees?

We all know our country has been through a lot over the last few months in terms of the COVID-19 pandemic. From a restaurant industry perspective, the mandated non-essential business closings were devastating. Some moved to takeout only, but others closed their doors indefinitely – forcing them to either layoff or furlough a majority of their staff. Now, as these employees return to working in public settings, it’s highly important that we make them feel as safe and comfortable as possible in their workplace environment in order to successfully integrate them back into the workforce.

In reality, a new post-COVID-19 industry normal exists. These practices will be essential as restaurants reopen.

  1. Ensure all staff members are wearing masks properly
  2. Have hand sanitizer available upon entering the restaurant for customers and employees alike
  3. Ask customers to hand sanitize prior to entering the dining room
  4. Make efforts to consistently clean and sanitize all public surfaces touched by customers upon their departure
  5. Ensure restrooms are spotless and provide proper PPE for cleaning
  6. Use silverware rollups and paper menus that can be thrown out after one use
  7. Make efforts to address employee concerns and drive home that their voices are heard
  8. Remain flexible with scheduling needs, call-offs and shift durations
What are the unique employment challenges faced by restaurants post-COVID?

Although this may not be unique to the restaurant industry alone, a challenge many restaurants are facing post-COVID-19 is rehiring employees who may be earning more income on unemployment. Another challenge restaurants face is staff availability issues. Since the pandemic hit, many people across industries are facing altered at home responsibilities. A change in personal care needs, childcare needs, parental care needs and more due to myriad reasons, including illness, have become common. Because of this issue, last minute coverage for shifts will be frequent and unavoidable. By reskilling the majority of employees to ensure coverage of tasks across the restaurant and allowing for efficient shift swapping, employers can easily guarantee the absence of skill gaps when employees must change their shifts.

Additionally, to safeguard schedules from skill gaps or ending up short staffed is effectively tracking and understanding new demand patterns in the early stages of the reopening to accurately schedule staff to meet as much of the demand as possible. As we enter this era, demands will have shifted, and peak times will have changed. Understanding these new patterns of customers is key to staffing accurately.

Why is flexibility important when attracting restaurant personnel?
Mark Heymann

As we all settle into the new normal, many aspects of our lives are not the same as they once were. Schools are still closed and are uncertain about reopening in the fall. Also, childcare is not readily available, altering the ability to accurately predict employee schedules on a week to week basis. Employers must keep in mind that not only is there an adjustment period to this new normal, but the new normal continues to change. Aside from childcare, many other factors of today’s world play into staff’s ability to accurately predict their schedules, increasing the need for employers to remain flexible and agile when scheduling staff.

Flexibility is increasingly important and will remain that way for a long time as we all adjust to our post COVID-19 world. Allowing staff to have peace of mind that if their situation changes, their employer will be understanding and flexible can be a huge draw when hiring staff. Employers can also utilize the posting of shifts for pickup by other employees to meet employee availably, allowing employees to have more control over their shifts as their life outside work changes. Staying flexible and allowing for employees to have more control over their schedules can be a huge draw when looking to hire new or more employees.

In what ways is training a key factor in restaurant recovery? 

While training is always a key factor in operating a successful restaurant, in today’s world as we enter recovery it is even more vital to the success of a recovery plan. There are five key training factors to ensure success:

  1. Sanitation procedures: Sanitation procedures must be reviewed and taught, as well as be visible to guests as they enter and dine at the restaurant
  2. Cross-training: Training employees to perform multiple jobs across the restaurant ensures the best use of staff time to enable restaurants to be more profitable.
  3. New food handling procedures: To demonstrate to the guest that their safety is being accounted for, new food handling procedures must be put in place to ensure there is no contamination of customer meals
  4. Creating a more welcoming environment: With masks being the new normal and the inability for facial expressions to create an inviting feeling for guests, a welcoming environment must be created by verbal and nonverbal cues to return guest comfort levels back to normal
  5. Training follow-up: Management must perform regular training follow up and provide feedback to the whole team to support these efforts list above
How can owners set the tone that will ultimately make guests feel welcome?

Owners of restaurants can set the tone to make guests feel welcome by encouraging verbal and nonverbal cues – other than smiling – from their staff to ensure a feeling of comfort. They also must place their focus largely on ensuring sure guests actually see the updated sanitation and food handling procedures in place. When guests are able to assure themselves that the restaurant is properly sanitized, it will put the customer at ease by letting them know the restaurant has their health and safety as a top priority.

Owners must also take the time to lead by example for their staff. They must be at the front of house wearing their mask properly, greeting guests and jumping in on sanitation procedures, as well as checking in on guests to be sure they are feeling comfortable and welcome by the overall experience. By showing up and jumping in, it encourages staff to be at the top of their game – thus creating a welcome environment for customers that intern makes them come back again.