Covid-19 Resources | Labor and Staff

How Restaurants Can Adapt to a Smaller Workforce

Aug 26, 2021

How Restaurants Can Adapt to a Smaller Workforce

Dining rooms have been opening back up since the spring. But if you’re like 72% of other operators, finding and keeping employees is currently your top challenge as a chef or business owner.1

According to a recent article from the Washington Post, “The industry has 1.7 million fewer jobs filled than before the pandemic, despite posting almost a million job openings in March, along with hotels, and raising pay 3.6%, an average of 58 cents an hour, in the first three months of 2021.”2 So despite some pretty aggressive recruiting, restaurants are still having a hard time staffing up.

So how can you adapt to the smaller pool of workers?

Give technology a chance

Implementing new technologies is one way that you can create efficiency in your restaurant and ease the load on your current employees. Plus, customers are coming to expect it.

  • 46% of consumers want restaurants to provide ordering capabilities through kiosks, online or mobile.5
  • 1 in 5 customers say that app-based ordering would influence their choice of one restaurant over another.4
  • 55% of Gen Z adults (ages 18-24 in 2021) say they would choose to order and pay electronically from their table.4

Even though technology is becoming more expected, 64% of diners say they’d still choose to sit in a section with some form of traditional table service.4 So implementing more technology doesn’t mean you can forget about hospitality. Consider the parts of your business and brand that require a personal touch and which parts you can make more efficient with tech.

These new technologies could include:

  • QR Codes on the tables with a link to your digital menus online
  • Handheld POS systems for servers
  • In-app ordering and payment at the table
  • Self-service kiosk or tablet for guests to check-in or order

Other ways to manage labor more efficiently in restaurants

  • Ask your employees. Your employees are the ones on the ground and understaffing has made it pretty clear what parts of their job are the most time-consuming and inefficient. Talk to them to find out what kinds of efficiencies you can implement. Are they spending too much time at the POS punching in orders? Is cutting avocados for guacamole taking one person a half a day? These are the things you’ll want to prioritize. Read other ways to optimize your operations: Reopening Successfully, Part 3: Optimizing Revenue and Operations.
  • Shift business models. Can you shift toward a quick-service model that uses less staff? What about a subscription meal plan (55% of consumers say they would participate in one) so that you can better forecast sales and staff levels? Get creative! Read more about how to change your business model: How to Pivot Your Restaurant Business Model in a Pandemic.
  • Automate your scheduling. New apps and software integrate with POS systems and make it easier for you to forecast sales data and, therefore, easier to manage scheduling. Use these integrations to keep an eye on labor every day and manage your staff’s time. These solutions can also prevent unwanted costs like overtime and early clock-ins. Read more about managing labor through strategic scheduling: How to Forecast Your Restaurant Sales to Help with Scheduling.
  • Limit your menu. If ticket times are too long or you just don’t have enough labor to properly stock the line, it’s time to prune your menu. Consider the amount of time and labor it takes to create each dish. Read more tips on menuing strategically: Reopening Successfully, Part 2: Menuing Strategies.
  • Limit your hours/days open. This is a hard decision to come to, but ultimately a necessary one. Take some time to look over your sales numbers over different days and dayparts. Is it really worth the staff’s time and labor cost to be open on Tuesdays? Is lunch or dinner a more profitable time of day?
  • Communicate with your diners. Chances are your guests don’t know the extent to which you’re understaffed or how much they'll have to wait for their meal. So give them a heads up! Whether it’s a message on your ordering app or a scripted message from their server, it’s better to set expectations upfront. Read more about communicating with your customers online: Design a Restaurant Website in 3 Easy Steps.

Make the “New Normal” work for your operation

A recent survey found that 1 in 3 hospitality workers have left the industry for good.3 So the challenge with finding workers isn't likely to change any time soon. Take this time to get creative and familiarize yourself with the technology that can fill in the gaps in your staffing.



2 Washington Post “‘The final straw’: How the pandemic pushed restaurant workers over the edge” May 24, 2021.
4 National Restaurant Association “State of the Restaurant Industry 2021”, 2021