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10 Ways Owners Can Beat the Labor Shortage

Let’s start by stating the obvious: staffing in the restaurant world was never easy. The industry has a turnover rate twice the national average—and that was before COVID. During COVID, 25% of the workforce left the industry. Why? There are a lot of reasons, but what it boils down to is that a layoff due to COVID provided people an opportunity to reconsider their livelihoods. They decided to make an investment in themselves by continuing their education, joining a labor union, or starting a business. That’s what unemployment is for after all.

How about attracting new people to the industry? Just this week, my 15-year old step-son landed a job working at a local restaurant. Even though they were presented with his working papers which stipulate no work after 7pm, required meal breaks, and no more than three hours a day on a school day, they hired him. He started training immediately, of course. He learned to mop the floor by first doing it wrong and having to re-mop the entire thing. He didn’t get home until after 11pm on a Sunday night. No meal, no break, and he left wondering how he only had $2 in his pocket. (The tipping structure was not explained to him.) He messaged his manager the next day that he wasn’t comfortable working past 9:30pm and her response was “restaurants require late hours.” Of course. But she’s the professional and he’s a kid. She never should have hired him, and she certainly never should have scheduled him for shifts that didn’t comply with State regulations. And then there was the lack of onboarding and training. Sadly, this is all too common.

So here we are in a multi-nationwide labor shortage. How will you attract good people to work for you? Signing bonuses might get people to apply, but they don’t keep people around for long. I believe it’s time to start treating these jobs like a career. Here are my Top 10 ways to beat the labor shortage:

1. Appreciate your staff.

Once you recognize that people are your most important asset, you’ll start treating them better! They are worth an investment. If this attitude genuinely comes from the top, it will be apparent throughout the entire organization. This will go a long way toward creating a positive work environment and attracting and retaining good people.

2. Focus on the Want Ad. Make sure your culture shines. Highlight the benefits of working for you. Aside from traditional benefits, maybe you offer free shift meals, or half price for family. If your hours don’t run late or if you’re only open Mon-Fri, that’s perk. Are there opportunities to work at outside events, or is there room for advancement? This is a sales pitch, so be creative!

3. Don’t skimp on the onboarding. This is where you set expectations and make the new staff member feel welcome and comfortable. They will appreciate the structure, the information, and that you are focused on their success.

4. Develop a training program. This goes beyond showing people how to clock in and throwing them an apron! How about an orientation? Customer service training? A menu guide? Use checklists to ensure the training gets completed, and make sure you communicate with your trainers when the training is scheduled.

5. Offer short term incentives. What really worked for me was offering raises with completed training and certifications. My employees knew how much more they’d be making in 90 DAYS, six months, or a year. That was effective at reducing turnover and instilling pride in their work. SHORT TERM INCENTIVES=LONGEVITY.

6. Offer benefits. For health insurance to be truly seen as a benefit, the recommendation is to cover at least $250 of the monthly premium. There are other traditional “benefits” to consider, such as short-term disability or life insurance.

7. Offer paid time off (PTO). In Philadelphia, employees should be earning paid sick time, up to 40 hours per year. How about other paid time off for full timers, tied to excellent evaluations?

8. Make sure your employees have breaks! I know from experience, that some people would rather not sit down, and that’s ok. But especially for younger people, it is required by law. Schedule an overlap. Cross-train. And make sure the supervisor or manager is asking people if they need a break. Most of the time, the employee won’t ask even though they need one.

9. Provide room for advancement. This is a tricky one, especially if you’re not planning to open more locations. How can you diversify your business? Does someone have a skill you can tap into that they would love to use—marketing, bookkeeping, event planning? It’s a win-win.

10. Create a new budget. If you’re going to pay people more and offer benefits, it’s time to re-engineer your menu, analyze costs, and make an investment in marketing. You still need to manage your labor costs at or below 35% of sales.


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