The foodservice industry is currently facing a labor crisis.

With restaurants, hotels, and concession businesses reopening, customers are more than willing to brave the post-pandemic, post-vaccine world. However, after laying off workers at the start of 2020 due to COVID-19, foodservice operators are finding it difficult to acquire enough labor to meet demands.

If you’ve been following the news and foodservice industry magazines, you know many companies have blamed America’s unemployment checks for keeping the workforce at home – and not taking hospitality jobs. However, this argument grossly neglects some crucial facts – including labor shortages and job dissatisfaction before the pandemic started.

After COVID-19 changed the world, many formerly foodservice staff have found jobs in other industries, where they have greater benefits and fulfillment. Work-life balance in foodservice is difficult with ever-changing schedules and long hours.

This isn’t to say that greater unemployment benefits haven’t played a role – they have. Rather, it is noteworthy that it has not been the only factor.


Knowing the causes can help establishments create solutions. Therefore, we first outline common reasons cited for employees not returning to foodservice:

  • Low wages
  • New careers in other industries
  • Lack of paid time off, health insurance, and benefits
  • Rude, aggressive customers
  • Lack of work-life balance due to scheduling challenges
  • Concerns over COVID-19 and related regulations
  • Tasking nature of the positions
  • Inability to move up or further ones’ career

Let’s consider these. Many restaurant workers were formerly making less than $20,000 a year. They felt unfulfilled, overworked, and like they weren’t getting what they deserved. Most worked overtime with very inflexible schedules. They weren’t provided paid time off, sick days, health insurance, vision or dental insurance, or bonuses. This made it hard to take time off to provide for family needs or to destress. The weight this caused on one’s mental health is considered too heavy now that COVID-19 has changed our world.

Many individuals are cautious about working in foodservice because of the exposure to customers and other employees. Not only does this put them at greater risk for contracting the coronavirus, but it also means they will have to interact with often aggressive customers who don’t appreciate being asked to show their vaccine card or told they have to wear a mask.

The physical labor of foodservice is often tasking, causing back problems, and aching feet. For this reason, many have opted for office jobs or careers in education – positions less physically demanding.

When one considers the causes people left, it can seem bleak for the foodservice industry. However, this post is meant to be about solutions, not concerns.

Retaining Staff

Solutions to the above can be quite simple for those now embarking on a staffing war. Competition from others in the industry, and those in other industries, is steep. Understanding what you can offer without overextending funds is important, but here are some suggestions:

  1. Increase hourly pay
  2. Provide benefits – paid time off, insurance, sick leave, vacation days, bonuses
  3. Institute safety measures against, and training measures on how to cope with, aggressive customers
  4. Offer flexible schedules
  5. Establish COVID-19 protocols, regularly clean facilities, and install hand sanitizer stations
  6. Purchase equipment to make tasks easier and safer. Consider providing comfortable footwear for employees
  7. Offer training opportunities

Cross-training is especially helpful with fewer staff. This allows any employee to know how to jump in and take care of concerns as needs arise. Cross-training them for managerial roles also allows them to receive higher pay and can increase a sense of worth and appreciation.

Labor Saving Tools

While implementing these changes, there are other actions to mitigate staffing concerns. You can, for example, reduce the hours your establishment is open and streamline your menu. Streamlining one’s menu can also save on costs since it reduces the number of ingredients necessary to create dishes.

You can also streamline the number of customers you allow in the building by closing off parts of the restaurant or spacing settings for social distancing. This reduces the number of people staff will need to serve at a time. Work to retain the employees you have, but make open positions known. You can do this through a company's LinkedIn account, job search websites, and word of mouth. Many restaurants have posted “Help Wanted” signs outside their buildings.

Consider updating your websites’ application forms and changing the way interviews are conducted.

Interviewing electronically shouldn’t be out of the question. Many have busy schedules so meet interviewees where they’re at. Set up a zoom call or schedule a facetime call through phones, messenger accounts, or Instagram pages.

Other actions that can be taken to reduce the effects of the labor shortage are to examine work processes and incorporate automation and technology. Work processes can often be streamlined to be more efficient. Ask staff what can be changed to increase productivity safely. They are experienced in the kitchen and at the counter so have the knowledge necessary to answer honestly.

Incorporating automatic and technology often allows staff to work on other projects while computers do part of the labor for them. Consider, for example, purchasing or installing software for customers to order online or from their seats, make reservations online, create staffing schedules online, and manage inventory through software. Hybrid POS and POS systems can be quite helpful in reducing staff workloads.

These aren’t necessarily long-term solutions, but they will reduce the work your current staff has to do so they can focus on other pressing tasks. Long-term solutions are, as mentioned above, creating an environment where employees will want to work. A concern not mentioned above is culture.

Steps you can take to improve workplace culture are providing training and growth opportunities, fostering open communication between staff and management, hosting social events or food tastings for staff, and providing job security. Simply put, let employees know they’re valued.


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