The restaurant workforce is largely back to pre-pandemic levels, signaling a much-needed reprieve amidst the larger, ongoing hospitality labor crisis. However, the typical increase in consumers wanting to dine out during the holiday season – not to mention the continued demand for take-away and delivery services – could disrupt this balance, even as businesses attempt to bolster their staff with seasonal hires.
This influx of new staff is a major stressor in itself. While new workers are brought on to help shoulder the swell in demand, training more people can leave restaurant managers overwhelmed. Add in the fact that many of these seasonal hires demand schedule flexibility and don’t intend to stay on staff for more than a few months, and managers may find themselves dealing with employees who see the temporary nature of their employment as an excuse to “check out”. This disengagement not only causes even more strain for managers, but it can have a negative impact on the level of service provided throughout the entire dining experience, hurting the overall business.
In addition, it’s often difficult to know how many seasonal employees restaurants will need to meet demand during this holiday season. With staffing having an outsized effect on both the customer and employee experience, restaurants must act quickly and strategically to address the problem.
Here are three trends restaurant managers should be aware of as we head into the holiday season:
#1: Accurate Demand Forecasting Is Make or Break
Demand forecasting has been disproportionately challenging since the pandemic began, but, as an overall cutback in spending grates against restaurants leading the “splurge” consumer budget category, it could be even more difficult to predict demand this year.
Restaurant managers and corporate leaders know that demand is driven by far more than just consumer spending power. It fluctuates daily, driven by factors such as local events, traffic and construction, and weather conditions. Chain establishments also need to plan for variance in these factors across locations – the same pressures on one location won’t necessarily have the same impact on all locations, so demand calculations must be specific to each individual restaurant.
These compounding variables make it impossible for managers to rely on gut instinct alone when creating employee schedules. Having accurate data across all touchpoints, in real-time, can help improve business agility, accuracy, and labor efficiency. However, this requires demand forecasting technology that will pull data from thousands of relevant sources to create an accurate portrait of predicted demand.
Restaurant leaders and managers should invest in a workforce management solution that enables intelligent automation, to precisely predict demand across all customer touchpoints. With highly accurate demand forecasts, restaurants can create optimized labor plans, budgets, and schedules, freeing up managers to spend more time training employees — and serving customers.
#2: Employee Satisfaction Is Paramount
Hiring employees is one thing. Keeping them on staff for the full holiday season is another.
The hourly workforce is under significant strain already, given the rising cost of living combined with the increased financial stress of the holidays. Many people may plan to work multiple jobs during the holiday season, which could further exacerbate their stress. But combining a stressed-out workforce with high customer expectations is a recipe for poor service, upset customers and unsatisfied employees.
How can restaurants relieve this stress during a time of year that’s synonymous with it? Research points to two key strategies: schedule flexibility, which enables workers to select shifts in line with their availability, and early wage access (EWA), which allows employees to access their earned pay on an as-needed basis.
Last year, Legion found that 62 percent of hourly employees agree that a schedule that meets their preferences is the number one factor in looking for seasonal work. Fortunately, this is another area in which intelligent automation can enable a better outcome. When managers can automatically generate schedules that match employee skills and preferences with business needs, seasonal restaurant employees are better able to fit work around their life.
Another recent survey from Legion found that 57 percent of employees want early access to their pay to cover everyday expenses – which becomes increasingly important when factoring in extra expenses associated with the holidays. EWA, when enabled through an accessible mobile app, empowers workers to take control of their finances and access their pay when they need it most. By current trends, EWA is the modern standard for hourly workers and is therefore critical to any seasonal recruitment strategy.
Throughout the holiday season and beyond, managers should keep in mind the direct relationship between the employee experience and the dining experience. When employees don’t feel like their job is a burden, they’re going to be more engaged and willing to provide better customer service.
#3: Flexibility Will Enable Safety
Between family get-togethers, busy airports and malls, and the start of flu season, the holiday season has long been associated with an increase in sickness. Add a pandemic-turned-endemic to the equation, and it becomes even more challenging to avoid getting sick.
To prevent the spread of illness, restaurant managers must not only have an easy way to find replacements for sick employees, but they must also ensure employees are empowered to take the time off when they’re feeling under the weather. If people don’t feel empowered to call out when they’re sick, they risk infecting not only each other, but also their customers. In fact, 40 percent of food poisoning cases are the result of restaurant employees working while sick. That’s not the sort of liability a business wants on its hands.
Fortunately, AI-powered workforce management solutions can provide the flexibility required to handle these unexpected schedule changes. By enabling employees to easily identify and adjust their availability, the system helps managers find someone to replace them for the shift and make changes quickly. In addition, it allows managers to more easily find and schedule a last-minute replacement when an employee calls in sick. This way, employees impacted by illness can have peace of mind and focus on their wellbeing, while managers are spared the chaos of an understaffed shift.
Using the Holiday Season as a Foundation for Future Success
The holidays can be an unpredictable time in the restaurant industry – but it can also be a great opportunity for restaurants to improve the experience for both their employees and their customers. By investing in an AI-powered workforce management solution that delivers intelligent automation, restaurants will be able to prevent under or overstaffing, provide more schedule flexibility, and foster greater employee satisfaction. With these tactics in place, restaurants can ensure they’re keeping employees and customers happy and healthy this holiday season.