Shortage of staff in the restaurant industry - these 6 strategies can help

The current situation, the reasons for the misery and ways restaurant operators can to solve this problem

Klaus Preisner
September 14, 2021

Staff shortages in the catering industry were a big issue even before Corona and caused overtime and bad moods. Since the end of the lockdown, however, more and more staff - and thus turnover - have been missing from the restaurant trade, as if infected by a virus. The severity of the situation and what restaurant owners can do to solve it is the subject of this article.


The actual situation

All over Europe, the hotel and food & beverage industry is lacking employees. In the UK an estimated 102,000 workers are needed. Comparable to the rest of Europe, in Italy there are already 150,000 needed, in Austria over 200,000, in Germany up to over 300,000 and even in the high-price country of Switzerland, the situation looks bleak.

Almost every fifth employee has turned his/her back on the gastronomy industry during the Covid pandemic. The job ads are therefore skyrocketing.  Service and kitchen staff are desperately needed as many workers returned to their home countries in other parts of Europe during lockdown. Paul Askew, chef-patron of the Art School restaurant in Liverpool, lost 7 staff members who repatriated and is now trying to get by with 25 employees, rather than their usual 35. 

The staff shortage is so severe that restaurateurs are already suffering considerable losses in turnover due to a lack of staff. Fewer tables are being set up, events cancelled, days off introduced, brunch and lunch cancelled. “I lost about £30,000 in revenue. You can’t do that too many times.” says Askew.


Numerous restaurants could only open late or not at all after the lockdown due to a lack of staff. This will continue to cause a financial burden on restaurants. Data from the Office for National Statistics reported revenues of 70% below normal for restaurants, and pubs and nightclubs are faring even worse.


The reasons

Staff turnover in the pub and restaurant industry has always been high, but now staff are moving to other sectors. While most restaurant were closed during lockdown, kitchen and waitstaff had to find other jobs, and are staying at them. Especially if these new jobs allow them preferable working hours, less stress, and higher basic salary.

In particular, remuneration has been the deciding factor for switching to other sectors during the lockdown. Short-time allowances, furlough, and state wage replacement benefits only apply to the basic salary. Depending on the country, these range from 60 to 80% of the already meagre fixed wage. Tips, a significant part of the income in the service and kitchen, are completely eliminated. Often enough, the employees are left with too little to live on. In Berlin, a cook usually only earns 900 euros - which is often not even enough to pay the rent.

 The issue of a lack of staff is further increased as current staff is forced to self-isolate. Restaurant workers all over the UK are being "pinged" by the NHS test and trace, requiring them to stay some as a covid safety measure. Leaving already understaffed establishments with even fewer workers. Trade body UKHospitality estimates that up to one third of the industry workforce are off work self-isolating, with numbers rising.


The outlook

The staff shortage is acute - and likely to remain so. During the pandemic, many apprenticeships were cut and far fewer applications were received. In the hotel industry, there are one-third fewer apprenticeships, and one-fifth of the apprenticeships for cooks have been eliminated. So in the future, too, there will probably be a shortage of the all-important, well-trained skilled workers.


Possible solutions

The staff shortage is acute - and likely to remain so. What can restaurateurs and hoteliers do? Here are 6 possible strategies to alleviate the staffing problem.


1) Make cutbacks

One path that many restaurants are currently taking is to downsize. Less elaborate cuisine, fewer tables, fewer events, fewer long opening hours. But that also means less turnover. This is the strategy for restaurants with comparatively low fixed costs. However, if you have high fixed costs, you can no longer operate profitably with less turnover. 

Example capacity reduction: Due to the Corona protection measures, restaurants had to reduce the distances between tables and the number of seats. It quickly became apparent that the revenues from lower capacities could no longer cover the costs - unless they relied on double seating, which can be implemented with the appropriate tools without much effort and, above all, without mishaps.

The idea is simple. Instead of serving 100 guests once with the corresponding personnel costs, the guests are divided into two shifts (seatings) with a limited dwell time of 50 guests each. In this way, the same turnover can be achieved with less personnel, and with less stress for the kitchen and service. 


2) Do not only rely on skilled personnel

Since Covid, a lot has happened in the labour market as a whole. E-commerce companies in particular have hired many new employees. In other areas, a huge number of jobs have been lost - for example in coaching, travel and construction.  Many employees have to reorganise or reorient themselves. This also creates opportunities for you. You don't necessarily need the right training to work in reception or as a kitchen assistant. People with other professional backgrounds can also be very useful in other areas of the restaurant business. This means that many people who are currently looking for a job come into question. 

Even in service, unskilled staff are conceivable. It can work if the people have a flair for dealing with guests. If they can be quickly trained by experienced staff and if profound knowledge about wine, ingredients and preparation is not part of the restaurant's concept.

However, it should not be forgotten that the demands have increased even more with the pandemic. In addition to a smile and competence in food and drink, the requirements of the health authorities must also be met. It is important to implement the guidelines sensitively and yet decisively. At the very least, stress-resistant staff are needed.


3) Search far & wide, and massively improve working conditions

The wider the job advertisements are spread, the more potential applicants are reached. That is an important prerequisite. However, possible channels are often completely disregarded or forgotten. Therefore, here is a short list of possible distribution channels:

  • The own website: Interestingly, only a few restaurants make use of publishing their open positions on their own website. This is a mistake, because people interested in the gastronomy industry like to take a closer look at a restaurant's website.

 

  • Flyers at universities: Are there universities or similar in the vicinity? If so, flyers and notices on the notice board could quickly lead to a response, because students are always looking for opportunities to earn money.

 

  • Social media: Especially Facebook, Instagram and TikTok are good platforms to reach as many people as possible. But LinkedIn is also a good place. In our experience, employees from the hospitality industry are underrepresented there. But potential candidates who want to change from another industry can be reached.

 

  • WhatsApp: Another great way is to share the vacancy with appropriate contacts via WhatsApp and ask them to share the message with others. If all restaurant employees do this, there is a good chance that someone close will respond. 

 

  • Newsletters and emails: Often restaurant businesses send out a variety of newsletters - automated and manual. In this case, it is worthwhile to adapt the templates at short notice and, for example, to refer to the vacancy at the end. This can also be done for reservation confirmations. This way, a lot of people are reached every day - even those who would otherwise not be reached.

 

  • Job boards: From Linkedin Jobs to Indeed and Jobscout to offers specific to the sector, e.g caterer.com or restaurantjobs.co.uk. It is worthwhile to advertise vacancies on as many portals as possible. After registering once, this can be done relatively quickly for all other jobs. There is also the possibility of so-called multi-channel postings. Appropriate software does this for you. Examples are Compana, Zoove or Recruitee. However, you have to pay for these. In return, however, the advertisements are spread on hundreds of portals.

 

  • Posters and flyers: Why not put a notice on the tables in the restaurant in the form of a small display. Or enclose flyers with the take-away offers. After all, this will reach all those people who already know the restaurant. So the trust factor is already there.

 

  • Recruiters, temporary employment agencies, job agencies: Such offers do not exist by chance. There are providers specialising in the restaurant industry who already have large databases themselves.


4) Convince with the job advertisement

Quantity alone is not enough, of course - quality, i.e. what the restaurant can offer its employees, counts even more now.

On the one hand, this means attractive wages and working hours, on the other hand, opportunities for further training, gaining experience, social networking, perspectives within the company or in other outlets, co-determination. In these uncertain times and for the new generation of workers, secure future prospects and co-determination are key factors when deciding on an employer.

Here are a few more tips for job advertisements:

  • Job title:
    Avoid fancy titles like "cooking artist" or "guest savant". Even though it may be funny, these are jobs that are not actively being searched for. You give away the chance to be found by search engines.  Besides, most people don't really know what they mean.

  • Introduce your restaurant:
    Restaurant job advertisements are often very similar. Take the chance and describe your restaurant in a personal way. Try to arouse emotions in the readers. This will also arouse interest.

  • Describe the tasks clearly:
    Applicants want to find out as much as possible about the possible job from the job advertisement. Define an individual profile of requirements that fits the job. The exact area of responsibility, scope of the job (full or part-time), location of the workplace, required qualifications.

    Also state what other knowledge and skills are desired (foreign languages, experience with reservation/cash register systems, etc.).

    However, try not to set the bar too high, otherwise possible career changers and people from outside the field will be deterred from the outset. 

  • Don't forget the benefits:
    Competition is fierce, so it is important to emphasise what the restaurant has to offer its employees beyond the salary. However, phrases like "team spirit" and "good working atmosphere" won't win you any trophies. More interesting are training opportunities, special working conditions (for example, weekends off because the restaurant is only open during the week).

    Are work clothes provided or is there no dress code at all? Does the restaurant organise an annual trip with the whole team? Do you offer employees the possibility of discounted accommodation? Do you offer help in finding accommodation? All possible benefits underline that you are an interesting employer.

  • Clearly define the application process:
    Provide information about the desired application method: digital or postal? Who is the contact person? By when must the application be submitted at the latest?

    It is also helpful for everyone involved to clearly define milestones in the application process. For example, in what time frame the interviews will take place. And whether they will be conducted online or in person. This will help the applicants to plan and make the appointments possible.

  • Optimise for mobile devices:
    Make sure that the job posting has a responsive design. This is the case with most job portals. Avoid linking a short description to a PDF with the full information.  This is more difficult to read on smartphones and the response probability decreases enormously.

 

5) Cooperation instead of competition

A shortage of staff means that employers are competing for workers. The better offer counts, but how far can wages, for example, be raised? Who can go along with that? For employees it is becoming increasingly attractive: they can choose between jobs and enforce better working conditions, but for restaurateurs it is becoming increasingly unattractive. 

But is competition the right strategy in times of crisis - and the staff shortage is a crisis? Rather, cooperation is the order of the day! For example, employee pools not only within gastronomic groups, but also across companies. This way, replacements are more readily available in case of shortages, illness or quarantine. In addition, staff can be flexibly deployed depending on the concept - lunch, café, dining - and the workload. And this is also in the interest of the employees, if they can gain more experience, network and possibly work more hours. 

 

6) Digitization and Automation

If good and suitable employees cannot be found and financed, restructuring operations is a strategy that all restaurant businesses should focus on. Because not all tasks have to be done manually and by people. Already with the conversion to digital online reservations and automatic table assignments, an enormous amount of time can be saved, which is better used in service. In addition, state-of-the-art tools such as aleno allow complex occupancy management with automatic table allocation, double or triple seating, automated personalised marketing and up-selling, as well as cooperation with optimisation of occupancy across establishments. 

Leading gastronomy companies such as the restaurant chain L'Osteria in Germany, the Aiola Group in Graz, the Steirereck in Vienna and Red Bull in Austria, or Michel Péclard's Pumpstation Gastro GmbH in Switzerland show the way.

The consistent implementation of digitalisation not only saves time and money, but also optimises capacity utilisation through the automation of capacity control and personalised marketing. This enables significantly higher turnover. And not only in the large businesses, but also in smaller ones. For example, the Japanese restaurant Ooki in Zurich can fill its restaurant two or three times a night without much effort thanks to automation.

Digitalisation, in particular, offers various possibilities to cushion the lack of staff. And it's even a win-win situation. Employees are relieved of precisely those tasks that are least fulfilling. In other words: administrative tasks, such as taking reservations on the phone, orders and payment.  With the connection of open apps like aleno and Yoordi, the entire guest journey from reservation to ordering and payment can be automated. Service staff can then focus more on the guests, their needs and wishes. This also promises higher tips. And improves working conditions.

 



By the way: the future is never far away - especially now that everything is open again and guests are spreading faster than viruses. In our new eBook, we have compiled a list of how restaurateurs can revive their businesses, live out their hospitality and let their businesses flourish:

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