A restaurant manager congratulates a team member on a job well done.

Labour and staffing: 4 ways to hire and retain staff

Restaurants struggling to find help can start by protecting their own workers.

Call it a labour shortage. Call it The Great Resignation. Whatever the name, no one knows when the restaurant staffing crisis will end. For now, a smart path is focusing on the employees you have to meet their needs and yours.

Finding workers is a struggle in the best of times. Forecasts aren’t predicting a return to those days anytime soon. 

  • Restaurants Canada estimates that 800,000 foodservice jobs have been lost across Canada. 
  • The Ontario Tourism Education Corporation (OTEC) survey shows only 42% of displaced hospitality workers intend to return to the industry. The rest report they have sought work elsewhere.

There are several areas operators can address to bolster employment now and in the future.

Address employee wages

During the pandemic, many people took higher-paying jobs in other industries. The good news is that restaurant operators can still compete:

  • Increase pay. It’s becoming unavoidable—restaurants face labour shortages despite a 10% increase in hourly pay, according to recent study by Blackbox Intelligence and Snagajob.
  • Attract and retain. Solid wages will lure job candidates and build loyalty among existing staffers—87% of Snagajob survey respondents want a set liveable wage.
  • Protect profits. Pay hikes cut profits, but Snagajob notes that consumers accept higher prices at restaurants, where menu prices are up more than 4% during 2021.

Highlight the positives

Restaurant employment offers advantages many people desire. As they apply, pitch these to prospective employees:

  • Work-life balance. Consider part-time work, flexible hours, choice in scheduling and accommodations for those who need it.
  • Benefits. Childcare, tuition, scholarships, etc.
  • Training, development and promotion. This appeals to career-minded foodservice workers.

Strengthen your culture

Restaurants are all about teamwork. Use that mindset to make yours a place where people want to work:

  • Communicate. When recalling laid-off staffers, ask about their safety concerns. Restaurants Canada reports 50% of foodservice employees are concerned about their own health and safety while working with the public.
  • Recruit by networking. Encourage happy staffers to bring friends onboard, perhaps offering a recruitment bonus.
  • Each one, teach one. Utilize cross-training so everyone can fill multiple roles.
  • Coach for success. Be a mentor to engage your best and brightest. A 2019 survey by 7shifts asked 1,900 Canadian restaurant workers what led to workplace frustration. Most “at-risk” employees cited poor management.

Get creative

In today’s climate, extras can make a difference:

  • Employee of the week/month. Offer a cash bonus for top performance.
  • Team outings. A picnic, bowling party, movie night or team-builder builds loyalty.
  • Meal discounts. Work with other operators in your neighbourhood (or restaurants in your multi-unit company) to offer price breaks.