Operators are addressing the labor problem from different angles – and with short-term and long-term strategies. Larger restaurant brands have been able to boost wages and offer retention and referral bonuses to entice workers to join (and remain at) the restaurant. CNBC reported that brands including Papa John’s, McDonald’s, Darden Restaurants, Chipotle, Texas Roadhouse, Burger Fi and P.F. Chang’s are among the brands offering such incentives. Restaurants are also trying to circumvent hiring and retention challenges by adopting more technology that can automate a wide range of front- and back-of-house functions once handled by staff – tasks ranging from the streamlining of orders from multiple sources to the management of inventory. To be sure, these actions may be more feasible for larger, resource-rich restaurant brands, but there are solutions for smaller independents. This past summer, for example, New York announced a $35 million aid program designed to encourage independent restaurants throughout the state to hire more workers
– for every new hire, the restaurant could get a $5,000 state tax credit, up to a maximum of $50,000 per operation, Restaurant Business reported. (Learn more about that program at esd.ny.gov.)
Regardless of a restaurant’s size, now could also be prime time to recast what restaurant jobs look like – and present them as viable long-term career opportunities as opposed to short-term gigs. For some operators, that could mean restructuring their business model to make employees true partners in the enterprise, with a stake in the success of the business. It may also help to design more robust training programs that could usher an employee through a rotation of roles in different parts of the business, which could offer the dual benefits of increasing retention of skilled team members and better ensuring a business can adapt when it is short on staff.
Whatever you do to make changes, focus on making and sustaining connections with employees. Create incentives for existing employees to refer good people to you when you have openings. Establish platforms and channels for employees to connect with each other and with management, to ask questions, and to openly share feedback and concerns. Employees who feel more connected to the business are more invested in contributing to its success.