How to Overcome an Understaffed Restaurant

how to overcome an understaffed restaurant

It’s been a rough couple of years for everybody. If you’ve been in the food and beverage industry however, it’s likely been nothing short of terrifying.

First the pandemic shut down a lot of restaurants. Those that were able to remain open had to adjust to a surreal new reality of social distancing and covered faces in places where close proximity and interaction were once the norm.

Now, even as things begin to return to normal in many places, there is a labor crisis that is leaving many restaurants short staffed. It is no longer an issue of hiring the best candidate for an opening. Finding anyone to fill any position at all has become a huge challenge for many restaurants. If you’re the owner of an understaffed restaurant you’re probably wondering when and if things will return to normal. While it’s impossible to answer that question, the question of what can be done to adjust to a restaurant industry where labor shortages are the new normal is one that we can help with.

Restaurants are short staffed: Why?

This was covered in more depth in a previous blog about restaurant staffing shortage, but a brief overview is in order. Simply put, restaurant work is hard and demanding and workers who previously worked in restaurants have been finding other work that they feel offers better pay, hours, and environment.

The pandemic may have shut down many restaurants but, to give just one example, places like warehouses have been doing vigorous business in the last few years and have offered jobs to those former restaurant workers that they like better. Many restaurants have tried to entice workers back with mixed success. If you’ve personally had success in enticing an adequate number of workers to your restaurant, then good for you! Treat them right and they’ll help you treat your customers right and bring in more business. The subject of this blog post is how to adapt to a new reality of managing a perpetually understaffed restaurant.

Front of house

Adjusting hours of operation

If you own or run an understaffed restaurant, you may need to adjust your hours of operation. This may not be ideal, but it can help you to utilize the labor you do have most effectively. Most restaurants have busy hours—the lunchtime rush for example. When thinking about adjusting hours, consider your menu and clientele.

Maybe your restaurant is near a major transit hub that sees large surges of traffic in the mornings and late afternoons when commuters are coming to and from work. Consider adjusting your hours of business to those times of day and shutting down in the interim.

If your restaurant is one that sees a lot of family dinner traffic then consider shifting your staff and work hours to the evening and/or weekends and keeping the place closed on weekday mornings.

The exact adjustments that need to be made will depend on the restaurant. If you need help analyzing these patterns and identifying your most busy and profitable times of day, our restaurant reporting software can help you there.

Consider going “all in” on dine in or “all out” on take out

Many restaurants offer both dine in and take out, but if yours is an understaffed restaurant, consider choosing one over the other and adjusting your operations to maximize the experience for your clients. This will free up your staff to focus all of their energies on that set of experiences. Much life adjusting hours of operations, you’ll need to consider what your restaurant’s strengths are and what your diners’ habits are like to decide which of these options to pivot towards.

Implement new technologies

Technology affects restaurants. Advisors worth their salt will advise restaurateurs to adopt technology to stay competitive, reduce waste, and maximize profits. To address the challenges of an understaffed restaurant, there are some technologies that are especially helpful.  

Self-ordering kiosks

These interactive devices provide a platform for customers to place orders and can also double as a point of sale. Kiosks do not have to be large, boxy devices. Kiosks can be as simple as a table mounted tablet with a suite of software applications installed. These devices can be placed on individual tables or can replace registers. This frees up your staff from having to take orders and process payments.

Mobile apps

A mobile app installed on a customer’s phone or tablet is obviously very similar to a self-ordering kiosk. The key difference is mobility. Customers can order and pay from their device at your restaurant or before they arrive. This has many of the same benefits to the understaffed restaurant and the diner as the self-ordering kiosks; plus, it can be used to advertise to specific customers based on their ordering histories (privacy laws and permissions permitting).

Back of house

Keep it simple

If you haven’t already, consider simplifying or streamlining your menu so that you only offer a few items—but that your staff makes very well. In short, focus on quality options over how many menu items you offer. In addition to spending less money on inventory, this can enable you to streamline food preparation and reduce the number of cooking stations that have to be online.

For example, offering three or four different salads will enable your staff to pre-prepare them before customers even arrive at your restaurant, speeding up the serving process and freeing up time for your BOH staff. Experiment a little and see what other food prep processes can be sped up by pre-preparation.    

Purchase pre-prepared ingredients

Do you really need to have one of your line chefs chopping vegetables or peeling potatoes? Unless such culinary mundanity is part of the experience your diners expect, these are steps of the food preparation process that really do not have to be done in house. Many vendors offer ingredients that come at least partially pre-prepared, saving your kitchen staff time.

It is certainly true that pre-prepared ingredients can cost a bit more money per unit, but the time saved by your kitchen staff may very well make up for the additional costs.

Back office

HR and employee scheduling software

Even with a reduced number of employees, the manager of an understaffed restaurant will still want to computerize human resource management. The days of jotting down employee availability on a scratchpad or post-it note really need to be put behind you. There’s simply too much room for mistakes or errors that can irritate your employees and leave you over- or understaffed.

Good HR and scheduling software can centralize all of your employee data and make it easy to manage your staff from your computer, phone or tablet. It can also streamline time-off requests and hours worked.

Marketing and advertising

If you’ve implemented new technology, like what was mentioned above, then you will have started to capture an enormous amount of useful data about your customers: who they are, what they eat, when they eat, how much they spend, etc.

You want your customers coming back and coming back often. Analyzing the data you’re collecting on them can be a boon for marketing and advertising and enable you to craft marketing content that will entice them back.

Not sure where to start with this? Our suite of restaurant software applications can make the analysis process a snap.

Feeling a little daring?

If you are the owner of an understaffed restaurant, have you considered changing your format entirely? Brick and mortar restaurants aren’t going anywhere, but food trucks and food carts have been growing in popularity.

If you have a menu that lends itself to such a format, consider turning your restaurant into a food truck. Among the benefits of doing so is that you can go to your clients. You’ll also save on the expenses of owning or renting a building and you can run a food truck on a much smaller staff. This isn’t for everybody of course, but the events of the last two years have demanded a lot of experimentation and innovation from restaurateurs. If you’ve ever thought about shaking things up, there’s never been a better time to try.

We can help

Whether you have a fancy sit-down restaurant, a fast food franchise, a food truck, or a humble food cart selling pastries and coffee on a train station platform, we have the restaurant management tools to help you manage your operation. Get in touch with a member of our team and they can help you figure out which of the software solutions we offer are right for you! 

Leveraging Technology to Manage Restaurant Labor Costs Whitepaper cover image

Leverage Technology to Manage Restaurant Labor Costs

Between increased costs, labor shortages, and socio-economic complexities - staying on top of labor costs is more important than ever for franchise owners.

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