Labor Shortage Solutions Part I: Recruiting - Coping Strategies

Pt I Recruiting COPING

Andy Cook, Harbor Foodservice Restaurant Solutions Group Consultant

“This is the most challenging period of the pandemic yet” is a repeated theme I’ve heard over and over. The weather is nicer, the days are longer, new freedoms releasing pent-up demand coupled with the publics newfound empathy for, and understanding of, the industry that we’ve never had before… and we don’t have the staff to measure up to the demand or expectation.

It comes down to two main challenges: what hours and days can I be available so that I don’t exhaust and turn over the employees I do have, and what can I do to temper the expectations of my guests so that they and my team have the best experience together?

Messaging That Alters Expectations
Service is meeting expectation; hospitality is exceeding them. Whatever your operational dynamic it all comes down to the expectations of your diners. When you’re an owner or manager this HAS TO includes your staff as well.

Covid has earned our industry levels of empathy, understanding, support, and trust that we may never have received without a pandemic. We need to capitalize on that and use it to draft messaging that help them to understand the impact of this (and future) labor shortages are having on the flow and execution of your service and hospitality.

When the public begins to understand that service seemed inattentive and rushed it’s because their server has 10 table when they should have 5, and their food is taking longer because the kitchen is being run by 3 cooks instead of 6. Altering expectations while informing will create more pleasant experiences and build on our newfound industry empathy.


We’re sorry to have limited our hours. Due to the historically shallow labor pool, we’ve made this difficult choice to ensure that the staff we do have can maintain a healthier work/life balance.

If you know anyone who would like to work somewhere who cares that much for their wellbeing, please send them our way!

Broadcast this EVERYWHERE

Signs | Menus | Website | Social Media | Google

Use the lists you’ve gathered through online ordering, your social media following, loyalty program, etc. To put out a survey thanking them for their patronage and asking them to advise you on how to best build back up when staffing becomes more available. Keep the survey brief (5-ish questions)

Limiting hours and days
While we touched on editing your menu to adapt to limited labor, we spent more time discussing limiting hours, dayparts, or entire day(s) as a method of retaining current staff levels for 2 key reasons.

  • Retention: Providing downtime and work/life balance for your staff is important. Put aside the unknowable cost associated with exhaustion related mistakes, overworking will drive employees to quit, forcing you to limit hours & days (or worse) anyhow.
  • Guest Experience: Running with a threadbare staff as if you’re fully staffed will create inevitable disappointments; irregular service, inconsistent food, and hurt feelings that will limit returning diners.

Self Service Styles
Pre-Covid, online ordering was a trend-on-the-rise for restaurants and a nice option for many diners seeking takeout. Now, it’s a vital piece of operations and an expected feature of our diners. The technology is there, the public has acclimated to it, and we can capitalize on its greater potential.

  • In-House Online Ordering: A service trend in its infancy but being executed well in many environments is using online ordering as a method of in-house self-service. Here’s a couple examples:
    • Informal setting: Guest(s) find or are shown to a table, they order online via a link or QR Code and are notified by text, email, or “shout out” that their order is ready. They pick it up and take it to their table all-the-while a dining room attendant provided service & sanitation.
    • More formal setting: The QR Code is posted on a table tent with the table’s number and instructions to share the number when ordering. Drinks go to the bar, food goes to the kitchen, and runners deliver providing extra service.
  • Kiosks: This is a no brainer for most counter service operations. Most modern POS systems can accommodate self-serve kiosks as part of the system. For cloud and tablet-based systems it’s usually a matter of adding a license.

Some of today’s challenges will fade with the pandemic, while other will remain evergreen. We know that the industry is somewhere between what it was and what it will become, but it will remain a low-margin, highly competitive industry. Many of adjustments and innovations we field test today, will become the standards of tomorrow.

The information, insights, resources, and ideas shared are intended to be motivational. The real value comes when new ideas and aha moments are aimed at a goal and powered by a plan. I LOVE my career as a Restaurant Consultant with Harbor Foodservice, if I can help you or your team personalize any of these ideas, I’d welcome the experience with you.

Contact Andy Cook:

More in the series on Recruiting

Attracting Talent | Recruit Like a Marketer