Helpful strategies for understaffed restaurants

Smiling bartender preparing a drink.
Smiling bartender preparing a drink.
Photo: Andrea Piacquadio

Many restaurants in Europe don’t have enough staff to meet the demands of hungry guests. An understaffed restaurant risks having to turn down bookings and losing revenue. Let’s explore some strategies to help you and your team in times of understaffing.  

In Denmark, the trade association and employers’ organization for the restaurant, hotel and tourism industry, Horesta, estimates that 6.000 to 10.000 new colleagues are needed. The French hospitality industry also struggles. Now that tourism is blooming again, the restaurants, cafes and bars in France have 250.000 vacancies to fill. This is a large-scale issue where many factors play a role. It’s not something that will be solved overnight, but there are many ways of lessening the burden and finding more staff.  

Attract new staff to your restaurant 

If you need a new colleague for your restaurant team, it’s time to spread the word as much and wide as possible. That doesn’t have to be very complicated or time-consuming, and the process can even benefit you when it comes to marketing and SEO.  

Does your restaurant have a LinkedIn page? If not, create a company page. You can get started right here. You’re also welcome to drop by our LinkedIn page anytime you want!  

On LinkedIn, you can easily create posts to let potential new colleagues know you’re hiring staff for your restaurant. While you’re at it, connect with other people from the restaurant and hospitality industry. 

Using recruitment platforms such as Indeed is also a great way to make the recruitment process easier. These kinds of platforms give you a good overview of applicants and CVs in one single place. Google around a bit to figure out which job sites are most popular in your country, and make sure your vacancies are shown there. 

Why is this good for marketing and SEO? Because your restaurant’s name is mentioned in multiple places online. Write a good job ad with a thorough and detailed job description. Make sure your ad shows all strengths of your restaurant. Potential guests could also stumble upon the ad, and this will give them a good impression of your place. 

Be honest with your guests 

If a restaurant is understaffed, guests often have to wait a long time for their food. They might even experience that the waiters don’t have as much time to chat about the menu as they used to. Because the guests don’t know what’s going on behind the scenes there’s a risk that they perceive these things as a decline in service.  

Being honest with your guests can help you avoid this. If guests know your restaurant is short on staff they’ll understand and sympathize with you and your team. Use your social media channels and your website to inform guests that waiting times are a little longer. You can also place a sign somewhere in your restaurant.  

As soon as your guests know what’s going on, they won’t mind having to wait a little longer for your delicious food! 

Jacks of all trades  

Make sure your entire restaurant team is familiar with many different tasks. Have days where staff members show other team members how to perform new tasks. This is always a good thing because it gives everyone a better understanding of all tasks, but it’s especially valuable in times of staff shortage. 

Naturally, people will always have their field of expertise, and that’s great, but a restaurant where everyone can help when someone is sick or there’s just too much to do is much better equipped to handle periods of staff shortage. 

A smiling waiter holding a plate of food.
Photo: Petr Sevcovic

A bulletproof restaurant schedule  

Putting together a schedule is extra difficult when there aren’t enough staff members to fill all shifts. Nevertheless, scheduling is crucial to avoid chaotic days and unnecessary stress.  

The longer ahead you’re able to plan the better. This way all staff members know when they’re expected to work and who they’ll be working with. Confusion about whether someone had the day off is the last thing you need in times of understaffing.

To make it even easier and smoother to create and edit the schedule, it can be great to use a scheduling app or workforce management software. This way everybody will get a notification if something changes, and nobody will l have to rely on a paper schedule that’s hanging on the wall somewhere in the restaurant. There are many scheduling apps out there. Download some, click around in them, and chose the one you like.

A simpler menu that your guests will love 

Do you have certain items on the menu that demand a lot of preparation time? 
Remove these from the menu in times of staff shortage. If you don’t want to remove them, maybe you can find a way to simplify the process of making them.

Menus with fewer dishes and items is a current trend in the restaurant industry. This could have something to do with the widespread issue of understaffing, but it also seems to be welcome among guests.  

Try to shorten the menu. Remove items that aren’t so popular, and introduce new, simpler dishes with a few delicious ingredients. Guests will be much happier with good food that arrives faster, and they don’t mind a simpler menu. Most people like it when it’s easy to decide!  

Prepayment to fight time-wasting no-shows 

All restaurants wish they didn’t have to deal with no-shows, and even more so if they’re struggling with understaffing. Guests who book a table but don’t show up waste time for busy restaurant teams who are doing their best in the kitchen and on the floor.  

Prepayment is a good way to reduce the number of no-shows. When a guest is asked to pay an amount in advance, they’ll instantly feel more committed to their visit. If something comes up, and they can’t make it anyway, guests are much more likely to cancel a prepaid booking in good time. This makes it easier to plan quantities, tasks and schedules.  

Arrange events with different themes and plan set menus. That way you’re offering your guests a unique experience while making simpler workdays for your team. Simpler, because you’ll know in advance how many guests to expect and what they’re going to eat. 

Give your staff good reasons to stay

Two laughing cooks pointing rolling pins at each other in the kitchen. Both have flour sprinkled on their dark blue uniforms.
Photo: Anna Tarazevich

Having great colleagues quit is always sad but for an understaffed restaurant, it can be the straw that breaks the camel’s back. People who feel appreciated and get along well with their team will stay longer. Even in times of stress, tasks feel less overwhelming for an employee who knows they can rely on their team and that their hard work is noticed.  

As a restaurant owner or manager, you should aim to be as present and communicative as possible. The restaurant industry is known for its harsh tone, but this isn’t the way to go in a time where the goal is to motivate staff members to stay. If a restaurant offers a welcoming work environment for its employees, this has an effect all-around, all the way out to the tables and the guests.  

Sure, you can joke around with each other but keep a good tone and remember to make some positive noise for everyone who succeeds with something, big or small. Share positive feedback from guests and check in on each other as much as you can.  

And finally, the salary matters too. We can’t get around that. People who work in the restaurant industry are passionate about what they do, but they can’t live on that alone. Take a look at your budget. Can you afford to raise the salary and give a Christmas or summer bonus? If so, that’s a straightforward way to show your appreciation.  

Do you know how your staff members feel about the work environment, colleagues and tasks in your restaurant? Schedule one-on-one meetings on a regular basis, perhaps once a month or once every second month. This is an effective way to prevent one or more staff members from leaving because of something you could have solved or changed if you had only known it was an issue.

Reshaping the restaurant as a workplace

There is a myriad of factors that play a role when it comes to understaffing in the restaurant industry. Nobody quite agrees on the exact reasons, and that’s likely because the reasons are intertwined and have to do with ongoing changes in society as a whole.

Whatever the reasons, there are many ways to change things for the better. It’s often when we’re in a tricky situation that we come up with the best solutions. Why not see this as an opportunity to reshape the restaurant as a workplace? A workplace that’s vibrant, full of passionate people and an environment where it’s possible to grow as an employee and person.