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Four Steps to Navigating the Labor Shortage

Identify and promote the things that set you apart as a good employer, says SynergySuite's CEO.
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COVID-19 threw curveball after curveball at restaurant operators. You’ve had to pivot with each new health and safety recommendation, closure, and restriction but you made it to the other side where vaccinations are rolling out and restrictions are lifting across the country—only to be hit with serious labor shortages.

The labor crunch that was already on the rise pre-pandemic has been exacerbated by the pandemic, making labor hard to find right now for a number of reasons:

  • Restaurant workers left the industry because of pandemic burnout.
  • As the pandemic unfolded, many employees moved to work that had more available hours or was in a field where they would have less interaction with the public.
  • Unemployment insurance is allowing employees to wait until they are vaccinated and feel safe to return to work.
  • As customers come back, every restaurant is rehiring at the same time, making it easy for prospective employees to compare job offers and choose the one with the best benefits, salary, or fit to their schedule.

Without the ability to change any of the factors that are causing the shortage, what can you do to compete in the current labor market? You need to identify and promote the things that set you apart as a good employer, tap into the advocacy of current employees, give employees the tools they need to succeed, and prioritize mental and physical wellbeing.

 1. It’s Time to Talk Yourself Up

What makes you different (and better) as an employer than other restaurants in your area? Do you have hiring or referral bonuses, paid time off, management opportunities, or digital tools to streamline the job? Make sure you talk about that!

If you have a strong company culture and are a good place to work, be clear about that. With many options available to them, employees can be more selective and any one benefit or even the feeling they get during an interview could make or break their acceptance.

2. Turn Employees into Advocates

We all know people in the restaurant industry talk to each other. Turn this to your advantage by asking employees for referrals as you focus on hiring. Talk openly to your employees about why you appreciate them and trust their referrals.

Offer referral and hiring bonuses if possible. This can be upon completing an interview, at hiring, after 60-90 days, or any combination that works for you. This reinforces to employees that you’re not just dangling something shiny to attract new employees, but that you appreciate the loyalty your current employees show you.

3. Show Employees You’re Evolving to Help Them

We’ve all gotten stuck in a “this is how it’s always been done” mindset. Unfortunately, how it’s always been done doesn’t necessarily mean it’s the best way to work. So look at places where you can streamline your operations to make a difference for your employees.

That could be a purchasing and inventory tool that integrates with your POS for real-time theoretical inventory information. It could be a labor and scheduling tool that means your staff and managers don’t have to rely on group texts to remember shift details. Or it could be a reporting suite that lets you managers get info with a couple clicks instead of a couple hours.

Regardless of how you’re looking to evolve into a more modern restaurant, any improvement shows employees you are focused not just on helping guests but helping them too. Most of your employees are used to running their lives from their phones. Giving them digital tools they can access from their phone or a tablet is a way to harness their strengths and improve your business at the same time.


a man wearing a suit and tie smiling at the camera
Greg Staley, CEO of SynergySuite, shares his 4-step plan to combat the labor shortage.


As we’re coming out of a global pandemic that put restaurant employees at risk of serious illness, many are still wary to rejoin the workforce without the ability to take paid time off. Giving employees time to take off to avoid burnout or be sure they’re not spreading COVID-19 or another illness to your other staff, is an important way to show you value your employees.

While it is a cost to your business, it will boost your employee satisfaction and retention. As employees understand your commitment to them, that will strengthen their advocacy for you and help attract prospective employees.

This has been a tumultuous time for the restaurant industry, and recovery from COVID-19 will not be an easy or quick process. The current labor crunch will be with us for a while, so it’s important to focus on the elements you can control by focusing on your differentiators, harnessing the power of current employees, and doing what you can to make them successful.


Greg Staley is the CEO of SynergySuite, a back-of-house restaurant management platform. Greg focuses on facilitating better visibility and increased profitability for restaurant chains through the use of intelligent, integrated back-of-house technology. For more information, please contact Greg at [email protected].

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