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5 Unique Ways to Combat the Restaurant Labor Shortage

Across the culinary industry, many restaurants struggle to attract and retain skilled staff. To address the ongoing restaurant labor shortage, it’s imperative to understand the underlying causes and develop innovative solutions. The complexity of the issue requires a nuanced, multi-faceted, and intentional approach. In this blog, we’ll dive into the background of the restaurant labor shortage and share unique strategies to combat its effect on your business.

Understanding the Restaurant Labor Shortage

The restaurant labor shortage is a complex issue influenced by various factors. Most notably, the COVID-19 pandemic had a significant impact on the restaurant industry. It was one of the industries most affected by the pandemic, along with the airline, hotel, and automobile industries. While staffing levels have improved since the early stages of the pandemic, many restaurants are still operating without adequate staffing. The full-service restaurant employment rate in February 2024 remained 4% below its pre-pandemic figure in February 2020.

Beyond the workforce attrition, customer loss, and higher supply chain prices from COVID-19, there are several other factors that contribute to the restaurant labor shortage. These include:

  • Demographic shifts: Changing demographics contribute to a diminishing pool of young individuals entering the workforce, including the culinary field. In fact, culinary school enrollment and the number of culinary school programs declined in recent years. That could mean fewer people qualified and able to take on restaurant staffing roles, further contributing to the restaurant labor shortage.
  • Work-life Balance: High-pressure work environments, long hours and low wages at some restaurants are among the reasons that deter potential employees from pursuing careers in the restaurant industry. Moreover, these factors can contribute to high turnover rates, forcing restaurants to frequently replace and re-train new staff members.
  • Skills Gap: The demand for skilled chefs and hospitality staff often exceeds the available talent pool, sometimes resulting in fierce competition among establishments. For chefs and head cooks specifically, employment is predicted to grow 5% from 2022 to 2032, which is faster than the average for all occupations.

Innovative Solutions for Managing the Shortage

1. Invest in Employee Training and Rewards

Invest in comprehensive training programs to enhance skill development and foster employee loyalty. This could include role-specific training, cross-training, mentorship programs, continuing education, and setting actionable objectives for your employees to reach each quarter. By investing in your employees’ success, they are more likely to feel capable, fulfilled, and confident, ultimately leading to greater productivity on the job.

High turnover is another major aspect of the restaurant labor shortage. Incentivize staff retention by offering competitive wages, benefits, and opportunities for career advancement. To boost morale, consider ways to recognize the hard work of your staff. This could include employee of the month awards, performance bonuses, or special perks such as gift cards, restaurant discounts, or extra paid time off. Publicly acknowledge exemplary performance during staff meetings or through shout-outs on your social media platforms.

2. Leverage Restaurant Tech Solutions

Embrace technology to streamline operations and alleviate the burden on existing staff. To do this, consider Implementing point-of-sale (POS) systems, online reservation platforms, and kitchen management software to optimize efficiency and reduce labor-intensive tasks Here are the benefits of these tech solutions:

  • POS systems: Ensure seamless communication between front-of-house and back-of-house staff. Access real-time sales data and analytics to make informed decisions about menu offerings, pricing strategies, and staffing levels. Streamlines order processing, payment transactions, and inventory management.
  • Online reservation platforms: Reduce the need for phone reservations and manual booking entries by leveraging online reservation platforms such as OpenTable, Resy, or Yelp. As a bonus, guests will enjoy the streamlined booking process.
  • Kitchen management software: Make it easier for your staff to oversee food preparation, order tracking, and inventory control. Your restaurant can integrate your kitchen management software with POS systems to synchronize order tickets and prioritize cooking tasks based on real-time demand.

3. Optimize Your Menu

Identify dishes on the menu that require fewer labor-intensive steps for preparation and cooking.

On the same note, focus on recipes that can be batch-prepared or assembled quickly during peak service times. Grilling, roasting, or sous vide tend to take less time than other cooking methods. Certain types of kitchen equipment, including combi ovens or induction cooktops, can expedite cooking processes and maintain consistent results.

Furthermore, consider incorporating seasonal ingredients and simplified cooking techniques to expedite preparation and minimize staffing requirements. Collaborate with local farmers and suppliers to source seasonal ingredients at competitive prices. Over time, you can rotate menu offerings to highlight seasonal specialties and capitalize on customer demand for fresh, in-season fare.

4. Adopt Cost Control Measures

Conduct regular cost analyses to identify areas where expenses can be trimmed without sacrificing quality. As part of this process, analyze your current menu’s item profitability to determine which dishes contribute most to overall revenue and which may need adjustment. Some restaurants utilize cost-tracking software or spreadsheets to monitor expenses and identify trends over time.

Another opportunity to cut costs is with your suppliers. By establishing strong relationships with them, you may be able to negotiate favorable pricing, better terms for bulk purchasing, or consolidate orders and leverage group buying power to secure discounts and reduce procurement costs.

Other tactics for reducing costs include:

  • Implementing portion control measures
  • Repurposing leftover ingredients or trimmings
  • Utilizing inventory management software to track stock levels

5. Utilize Pre-Baked or Pre-Cooked Ingredients

Introduce pre-baked or pre-cooked components to your menu. If you utilize high-quality products, these ready-to-go ingredients won’t compromise the integrity of your signature dishes. This approach reduces kitchen workload, expedites service, and ensures consistency in taste and presentation.

If you're unsure about the switch, monitor customer feedback and adjust menu offerings as needed to optimize the balance between scratch-made and pre-prepared items.

Position Your Business to Withstand the Restaurant Labor Shortage 

By adopting a multifaceted approach that encompasses employee benefits, technological integration, menu refinement, cost-conscious strategies, and prepared ingredients, restaurants can weather the challenging headwinds of the ongoing restaurant labor shortage. If you’re looking to incorporate any of these tips, feel free to try out Paris Gourmet recipes, order our prepared ingredients and other products, or contact us with questions.

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