October 28, 2021

“I Don’t Want To Work...For You” How Successful Restaurant Managers Are Navigating The Labor Crisis

The labor crisis triggered by the COVID-19 pandemic is not exclusive to the restaurant industry. Entry-level workers across the country are demanding a change from their employers, including raised wages and benefits. 

The restaurant industry has received a lot of the focus, so this article is going to take a look at the challenges restaurant managers are facing while navigating the changes in the industry, and what success looks like for them.

The problems

Being a restaurant worker has never been an easy job. We all do it for different reasons, top among them being that we like to hustle, have a flexible schedule, and genuinely like hospitality. Regardless of how or why your staff is there they all face the same challenges and downfalls. 

Most restaurant employee complaints pre-covid included low pay, no benefits like a “normal job”, less job security, having to be nice to rude customers, a culture of sexual harassment, non-tippers and more. The COVID-19 pandemic only escalated all of the above for restaurant workers, plus added concerns about personal and family safety. 

This article from Eater gives an in-depth look at the anxieties restaurant workers have faced during the pandemic: ‘When We Get Back to Work After This, What’s Going to Change?’

The problems restaurants face in staffing and human resources are also being made worse by a few other things. 

Traditional, stagnant thinking is a problem in a lot of venues. Good leaders and their staff can face resistance from above, be it corporate or owners that hamper change and adaptation to today's environment. 

Additionally, all of us who are part of the service industry today are impacted by mis-information and just plain ignorance around what our jobs are like, what the demands are, and just how hard it can actually be.

The solutions

Ok, let’s break it down. Let’s look at each employee complaint that we just outlined, and dive into how successful managers are addressing them to make life better for both their current and future employees.

Low pay, no benefits like a “normal job”

In some ways this is the easiest one. Pay more and give your staff benefits. 

This change is coming to the restaurant world, so why not get out ahead of the pack? In Los Angeles there are reports of hiring managers offering $20-$22 starting positions, more than $5 over the current minimum wage, not including tips. Finding the resources for these costs is the hardest part. My suggestion is to make it a priority expense...because it is! Nothing can do more for the success of your restaurant than having a great staff.

If you’re not sure how to address raising wages in your venue, this article from UpServe has some great resources and tips: “The Impact of Minimum Wage Increases on Restaurants and Tipping

Less job security 

Job security is something that comes from the culture and leadership within your venue. If you support your team in every way you can, give them the tools and training to do their job, and actually care about them, then good employees will feel secure. 

Just a note here...keeping employees on when they don’t fit isn’t a way to create security. For more on this check out “3 Reasons To Fire Toxic Restaurant Workers”

Having to be nice to rude customers

I really think it is time to move away from “the customer is always right”. Create an environment that respects and protects the dignity of your staff first. Lead by example when it comes to rude and toxic guests. Be professional but also proactive. Asking a rude, toxic guest or party to leave is not bad business! It is in fact one of the best things you can do for your business.

Showing your staff that you respect them, yourself and your business more than the few dollars that might be lost is highly valuable. This goes a long way to creating a good name for your venue and keeping on staff members that are great as well.

Here is a great article that takes a deeper look at customer grievances being elevated during the pandemic: “The Customer Is Not Always Right

A culture of sexual harassment 

This one is not easy, but is is simple. Don’t allow it, ever! When it comes to your team, have a zero tolerance policy. When it comes to guests, do the same thing! 

Unfortunately, too many managers and owners turn a blind eye, or give warnings when they really should let the person go for the sake of their other employees. More on this in a later article, because it is obviously a hefty topic, but if you’re looking to create a culture of inclusion and safety, sexual harassment cannot have any breathing room in your venue.

Personal and family safety

Take a step back and review how you approach the safety of your staff from a personal perspective, rather than from a traditional “health and safety regulations” view point.  Put yourself in the place of every staff member and ask yourself what you want and need to feel safer while you do your job. 

Then, give them what you think they need and what they ask for. Provide lots of safety gear (gloves, masks, sanitizer) and work to make the venue as healthy of a workplace as possible. Train your staff well and give them easy access to all the info and procedures. Use some technology to communicate these things, showing your team members that giving them the resources they need to do their job, and do it well, is important to you.

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“I love working for you.”

Ahh, music to any restaurateur's ears. Creating a positive workplace culture is no small feat. Especially in restaurants, and especially during a global pandemic.

Nobody is perfect, and there are a thousand elements at play, beyond the few that we covered here today. However, if you’re overwhelmed by the challenges of the pandemic, I think these few problems are a good place to start rebuilding. 

From my experience as a server, I can tell you that few things make a job more attractive than receiving good training, having clear communication, and competitive wages. 

Restaurant managers and leaders  who are adapting and being proactive when it comes to the issues their workers are experiencing are not only facing less effects of the labor shortage, they are also staying ahead of the competition and setting up their venues for life in the current/future climate of the restaurant industry. 

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