The Very Real Problem of Restaurant Understaffing

Use the most financially sound hiring practices to combat the real problem of restaurant under-staffing.Staffing is one of a restaurant manager’s greatest challenges. From knowing how many people you’ll need during each service to managing employee turnover, it can feel like a constant struggle — one with the ability to directly impact your bottom line.

Let’s take a closer look at the issue of restaurant staffing, along with highlighting some of the savviest, most financially sound hiring practices.

Staffing Needs 101

Not all restaurants have the same staffing needs. Before you can begin to hire adequate coverage, there are a few primary things to consider, including the type of restaurant, type of food service, type of food items on the menu, and the number of seats in your restaurant.

For example, a fast-casual, deli-style establishment will have very different staff requirements than a fine-dining restaurant.

Knowing your concept is critical to assessing critical positions within your operation. For example, while a fine dining restaurant will need an executive chef, sous chef and maitre d, a fast foot restaurant will require short-order cooks and order takers.

Other typical positions you’ll find in many restaurants? Managers, bartenders, hosts, dishwashers, bookkeepers and accountants, and maintenance staff.

Staffing: It’s a Numbers Game

While talking about staffing in theory seems fairly straightforward, the basic principles can be more challenging to apply in the real world. While there’s no single formula for predicting staffing needs, factors which go into the equation include number of tables, kitchen layout, and busy times.

Additionally, budget is not just a factor in indicating how much you’ll pay your employees, but also in determining how many team members you can afford to hire. Many restaurants find staff charts to be extremely useful in scheduling employees.

Keeping a close eye on staff numbers can also help you trim costs by identifying employees at risk of overtime.

The Trouble with Understaffing

An overstaffed restaurant can lead to a multitude of less-than-desirable scenarios, including bored employees and budgeting woes.

However, under-staffing has even more detrimental outcomes. The obvious issue with having too small a staff? Inadequate floor coverage leading to poor service and unhappy diners.

Over time, this can significantly and irreversibly tank your restaurant’s reputation.

But diners are far from the only ones impacted by understaffing. Lack of sufficient staff also causes issues for employees themselves, including fatigue and eventual resentment.

Over time, this can breed server burnout, the erosion of organizational culture, poor performance, and high turnover.

In this sense, efforts to cut costs by cutting back on staff backfire: You’ll end up spending more money on hiring and training new employees while simultaneously further burdening your remaining staff.

Back-of-the-house under-staffing is equally problematic, leading to everything from slow cook times to poor quality and sloppy presentations.

In other words, lack of good hiring practices is far from a mere inconvenience. Rather, it’s a significant obstacle in the way of your restaurant’s success.
Beyond the Numbers

Of course, your restaurant is nothing without its employees, which makes choosing the right people as important — or even more so — than hiring the appropriate number of people.

In addition to delineating critical positions, also take time to determine the ideal characteristics for each position. For example, while attention to detail may be a top concern for a dishwasher, a friendly, outgoing personality is essential for front-of-house employees, such as hosts and waitstaff.

Not sure which traits you need where? Follow the lead of your star performers.

One last thing to keep in mind? No matter how well you click with a prospective employee, there’s no substitute for reference checks.

Any restaurant manager or owner who’s ever bypassed this step and ended up with an untenable employee can speak to the importance of following through when it comes to requesting and checking references.

As most restaurant owners and managers know, there’s no “magic bullet” when it comes to staffing your restaurant. Rather, it’s a learning curve. The good news? Labor is one of your most controllable expenses — if you know what you’re doing, that is.

Even better news? The longer you operate your restaurant, the more you’ll get a feel for daily and weekly trends which directly inform who, when and how many staff you need on the typical day.

The happy result? Better experiences for staff and diners alike.

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