Understaffed restaurant solutions

Whether you’re a fast food restaurant like Mcdonald’s or a fine dining establishment with Michelin stars, understaffing seems like an almost constant concern in the restaurant industry. Whether it is because managers are accustomed to the worry or because they simply don’t know how to address it, many become complacent and simply accept that their restaurant will always be understaffed.

This can be a devastating assumption; no matter how fantastic the menu or renowned the chef is, staff shortages trigger a downward spiral that has been the death knell of many restaurants.

What happens when your restaurant is understaffed?

Guests are waiting longer for service, and — at the same time — receiving less individual attention from their server or bartender. A server who is covering extra tables simply cannot be everywhere at once, no matter how hard they may try. Being understaffed for even an hour affects the guests’ experience immediately.

While it’s probably obvious to you how understaffing affects the dining room, the dangers of perpetual understaffing run much deeper.

Servers who are having to hustle every moment of every shift risk burning out quickly. Fatigue and stress will wear on even the best server. Managers are asking them to take on more shifts, and more tables during each shift. They’re getting calls to come in early, and not getting cut when their shift should be over.

The money is often a great incentive, at first. When understaffing is chronic, though, employees become haggard. Overworked and worn out, they cannot possibly offer the service they could working fewer hours. Poor service, of course, means fewer happy customers.

The National Restaurant Association conducts an annual industry forecast, and good service almost always ranks at the top of the list why customers return to a restaurant. In 2013, 97 percent of diners ranked it the No. 1 thing they consider when choosing where to eat.

How does this affect employee satisfaction and retention?

When a restaurant doesn’t have enough employees, staff members often find it increasingly difficult to get the flexibility they desire. This is dangerous since flexibility is a primary reason many highly skilled employees opt to work in the industry in the first place.

Servers are making extra cash, but cannot take time off to go on the dream vacation they’ve been planning, or even get a shift covered for a dentist appointment. This pushes many of the best staff toward the door, or at least to another restaurant with better staffing.

The downward spiral really picks up speed here. You are losing well-trained, experienced servers and still scrambling to cover the floor. What is the answer? Hiring the first person to walk in the door often means spending hours training an inexperienced server, and hoping they make the cut. This training means you and your staff are stretched even thinner, and service may suffer even more.

How do I stop the spiral of an understaffed restaurant?

The only way to stop the downward understaffing spiral is to stop it in its path. Time and time again, franchisees and other restaurant owners have found that understaffing can be deadly if it is not addressed immediately.

It is imperative to make it a priority to fully staff your restaurant at all times. There are plenty of experienced, highly qualified servers looking for work, and searching for a well-managed restaurant that appreciates their time and work ethic.

When you make it an ongoing priority to identify these servers and hire them when they are available, you safeguard your business against the dangers of understaffing.

Does scheduling play a role?

Once you have the right staff in place, proper scheduling is the best way to prevent understaffing. Having the best employees in place doesn’t do you much good when they aren’t on the floor when you need them.

Poor scheduling means employees are constantly being asked to come in early, stay late, and pick up shifts. This quickly leads to many of the same issues as understaffing, and can be just as harmful to your bottom line.

Homebase quickly helps you address this issue. You can build your schedule in seconds, easily find coverage when you’re short, and even contact servers and hosts with just a few clicks. You can also set up automatic shift reminders to help eliminate no-shows and reduce the likelihood that you’re scrambling to avoid understaffing.

Is it possible to avoid the dangers of restaurant understaffing?

Understaffing is a plague in the restaurant industry. It’s widespread and plays a large role in the struggles many restaurants face. You’re probably going to be understaffed at some point, but the key is limiting this time as much as possible.

Since understaffing for any period of time reduces the service your customers receive, the time your restaurant is understaffed should be measured in minutes, not days, weeks or months.

By hiring highly qualified staff and putting the right tools in place to manage scheduling, you can avoid heading down the spiral in the first place. If you’re using Homebase for your scheduling needs, you’re already ahead of the game.


Understaffed restaurant FAQs


Why are restaurants so understaffed?

The pandemic was the main cause of a labor shortage in the hospitality industry. Pre-pandemic restaurant workers generally accepted less than minimum wage, while over the past year, a lot of people in the food service industry have found new jobs with better security and benefits, and are hesitant to return.


How can a restaurant handle short-staffing?

If your restaurant business is experiencing staffing shortages, you should try to minimize the effect on your restaurant employees while you’re looking for new full-time staff members. Consider offering more menu items such as takeout, for example, to divert some of the foot traffic and ease burdens on front-of-house workers, servers, and dishwashers.

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