Labor Woes? 4 Things to Consider Facing Labor Shortages

If you’ve been on the same roller coaster as the rest of the world for the last few years, you’ve seen recently that labor has been one of the biggest hot-button issues for most employers.

Of course, had we seen this coming years ago, we could have planned for it. But with another year looming bringing more uncertainty than ever, how can business operators make changes today to help safeguard from labor shortages persisting or even worsening without lasting, major impacts to their business?

Labor issues facing hospitality and retail industry Help Wanted Sign In Window of Restaurant


As the saying goes, the best time to plant a tree was 20 years ago. The second-best time is right now. While you might be impacted with labor issues today, you need to take action as soon as you can to help thwart any additional labor pains that might be on the horizon.

Below are four things you can consider TODAY to help protect your business, your employees, and your bottom line tomorrow.

  • Evaluate labor metrics. First and foremost, many businesses that survived through the pandemic era were constantly doing circus acts to figure out how much labor was needed… What were the changes that were affecting their business that day, who could be staffed, who was sick, and how were guests able to interact with them? Now that much of the world has returned to something that we’ll call “normal”, restaurants have defaulted back to old labor metrics. Open dining rooms at 100% means staff at 100%, right? Not so fast.

The big question that you need to ask is truly how much labor do you need to support the business? Starting from the back of house, how can you modernize processes, automate, and cross-train to achieve optimal efficiency? Is there a way you can train a host to also perform server duties? Or perhaps there are times you could use an extra hand in the kitchen, but could do without an additional body on the floor? By cross-training your team, you enable the same pool of talent to work multiple positions. You eliminate the need to hire specifically for one role over another.

Additionally, looking at technology to identify areas that you can automate has never been more important. Technology advances have come so far in just a few short years. There are many that you can quickly implement to help make each person on your staff more efficient. From kitchen automation tools to staff handhelds or even guest QR Codes, being able to stretch the capabilities of each staff member, understanding where each potential area for labor savings lives, and reduce the need for MORE people will be critical moving forward.

  • Develop programs for staff and reward retention. It’s simple business logic – it costs far less to keep a good employee as it does to hire and train a new one. If we follow that same line of thinking, the longer you retain an employee, the valuable they will become with time. How so? They will acquire more skills, more knowledge of your menu, be able to act more autonomously, and have more concrete impact to the business.

While it seems like a cost driver, developing compelling retention rewards for your staff is actually cost-neutral and the intangible (and in some cases, very tangible) benefits of retaining good staff members will be invaluable to your brand. How can providing a reward system be cost-neutral? Consider this: Let’s say you churn about 5 team members every year. Identify what it costs to attract, hire, and train each of those replacements. This is money that you are currently spending on new staff initiatives. Now, instead of investing in attraction and retraining, invest that money in a retention program. Sure, you’ll still have a degree of employee churn, but you will greatly reduce the need to constantly be hiring and training. And all the while, your top retained talent is becoming more skilled. How can you leverage technology or other efficiencies to help increase covers for each employee? Maybe your server staff can get by on only 3 servers in the dining room instead of 5 thanks to handhelds, a new to-go kiosk or an improved curbside experience. This will increase those staff members’ overall pay, increase their job satisfaction, and will keep you from having to hire more staff.

  • Let the customer take some of the work on, augment your service for today’s consumer. If one thing is certain, it’s that restaurant guests have been faced with a new wave of ordering options in the last few years. Studies show that many of these guests actually LOVE these new options. After all, it gives them the ability to pace their experience exactly how they want it, they can order more quickly, and can have the exact experience they want. In fact, OneDine customers are receiving up to half a star HIGHER reviews on sites like Yelp and Google thanks to these improved experiences.

So how can you put some of this work on the guest and how much will they be willing to do on their own?

The first thing to do is understand your overall business model (which, if you have been following our steps, would have been step 1). Where can you implement a technology to help offset the need for a person to do a fairly simple task? For example, instead of having someone hand out to-go orders, can you install a cubby system and Order Notification Board that would allow guests to pick up their food themselves? Or perhaps you are a high-touch restaurant with an extreme focus on personal engagement… Could you simply print a QR code on the bottom of your check to help expedite the payment process? This could save your staff the back-and-forth of running to POS stations and could increase table turns by as much as 20 minutes! Think about how many more guests could tip your staff with this type of simple change.

For this model, while sales and bottom line is important, understand that your objective is to safeguard your business from any future labor issues. As such, you need to scope your ROI as such. If you can increase table turns, increase the number of covers, decrease the need for multiple staff members in the back, etc. your business will not only see improvements in sales, but will also see a sharp increase in employee retention.

  • Get creative! We hate to admit it, but sometimes we forget our team members from both the BOH and the FOH have all the same expenses and worries that we do. It’s easy to get caught up in the day-to-day of running the business, but when it comes to employee retention and helping reduce the need to depend on the shrinking labor pool, how can you help address some of these outside stressors? How can you help your staff reduce their costs while not at work or help them achieve their career goals?

As an example, everyone’s gotta eat. Often, staff members will be able to eat at the restaurant for a discount. But what about meals when they aren’t working? Or what about their kids or spouses at home? Sure, it’s one thing to pay an employee more, but what if you could offset that pay with ways to save more money? After all, a penny saved is a penny earned. One way you could help reduce their need to spend on necessities like food would be to create meal plans for your employees. Food costs, while also becoming increasingly expensive, are still no match for labor costs. You could simply put together a meal kit using raw materials from your kitchen, or batch cook and send home food in clamshells for the whole family. You’re providing exceptional value to your staff and causing very minimal impact on your bottom line. This is a great way to retain your staff.

Overall, it would not appear as though the labor issue is going anywhere anytime soon. By putting some of these steps in practice, you can help keep top talent to keep the “Help Wanted” sign out of the window.

Have you found ways to increase your staff retention? If so, we’d love to hear about it. You can leave a comment here or head on over to the OneDine LinkedIn page to share! While you’re there, be sure to “like” and follow our page for more great content!