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How to Harness the Gig Economy, Disrupt the Staffing Industry

To ease staffing burdens and help a limited workforce stretch farther, today we’re seeing new point-of-sales tech, automation and algorithm-based shift matching marketplaces where operators and skilled hospitality freelancers are connected.
male restaurant owner staff with tablet
New implementations, philosophies and even desperations reshaped staffing and employment.
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The restaurant industry remains nearly 500,000 employees short of pre-pandemic levels. And at previous, higher levels, worker dissatisfaction and turnover were among the highest of any industry in the country. Back then, managers and employers stressed to maintain the delicate balance of business and costs. But now, at the same time that the costs of food, labor, and other overhead are all elevated, the hospitality industry has quickly become even more troubled - with staffing as a base cause.

According to the National Restaurant Association’s (NRA), Restaurant Business Conditions Survey in December 2022, 87% of restaurants were actively looking to boost staffing levels. Simultaneously, 57% said they expected to lay off staff if business conditions deteriorated and a recession struck. Hospitality operators are faced with the strange challenge of needing more employees immediately, but also the uncertainty that external conditions could make it impossible to attract demand and revenue to maintain a full roster of employees.

Technology is generally complementary to human labor and primarily intended to enhance rather than replace hospitality workers.

The research also showed that 79% of surveyed businesses had open positions that were difficult to fill. Nearly 50% reduced their hours of operation, 32% closed up on slower days, and 35% stopped full-capacity operations to combat higher costs.

NRA’s 2023 State of the Restaurant Industry Report highlights that the food service industry workforce is expected to grow by 500,000 jobs, a boost of 15.5 million in total industry employment by the end of 2023.

Following the hospitality industry’s severe reduction at the start of the pandemic and then the sudden need to restart, new implementations, philosophies, and even desperations reshaped staffing and employment. Workers suddenly had more control as their services were needed to get businesses back on track. The hospitality workforce largely achieved better pay, working conditions, and work-life balance. But these quickly proved to have been short-term changes as real business costs are obstructing businesses from giving workers all that they now demand. As a result, turnover is as high as ever, and even hiring for traditional employment at restaurants, hotels, and many other venues has been an unusual hindrance to business success. And so hospitality businesses remain understaffed while costs continue to climb.

Fortunately, intrepid business operators are taking advantage of the latest technological advancements that were developed or popularized during this trying time. NRA’s findings also showed that most operators, 58%, believe using tech and automation to alleviate labor shortages will become more common in their segment this year. Technology is generally complementary to human labor and primarily intended to enhance rather than replace hospitality workers. To ease staffing burdens and help a limited workforce stretch farther, today we’re seeing new point-of-sales tech, automation from robots and other machines both front of house and back of house, and algorithm-based shift matching marketplaces where operators and skilled hospitality freelancers are connected.

Technology-driven solutions are offering new levels of flexibility for businesses and improving conditions for workers. Staffing marketplaces use two-way rating systems and algorithms that take into account shift type, location, business preferences, freelancer skills, and more to set each side up for success. Leveraging on-demand or staffing-as-a-service shift matching means businesses can bring in any number of vetted freelancers when they want and need. On the platform’s desktop dashboard and mobile app, managers set clock-in and out times for the shift, assign the hourly wage, and make other important notes that will help determine the best-matched freelancers for the shift.

Harnessing the large and growing body of industry-focused freelancers is allowing operators to adjust their staff numbers up and down as needed according to their strategy during any given brunch rush and vacation week - no overstaffing, no understaffing. Back office hiring and other human resource processes are reduced and worries of future needs for layoffs are eliminated.

The innovation of the hospitality staffing marketplace also offers unprecedented flexibility and freedom for working professionals who, as freelancers through the platform, can make their own schedules and accept jobs only in places and for the pay they agree to. Not only is this new form of work within their profession of hospitality service providing practical benefits like schedule autonomy and the ability to gain experience across multiple hospitality verticals simultaneously, but those who choose to freelance are also reporting improved health and well-being.

In a survey of more than 3,000 active freelancers by Qwick, over 87% of participating freelancers reported that they have experienced improved mental and physical health. Additionally, 79% reported having stronger personal relationships as a result of freelancing.

Also found in the survey, 63% of respondents said they freelance to meet basic needs rather than for supplementary income. This large body of hospitality professionals chooses freelance work as their primary method of income rather than as a gig economy side hustle. 74% of respondents said they expect to take more shifts in 2023 compared to 2022.

Among several technology innovations in the hospitality industry, those that are easing staffing burdens appear to be the ones receiving the heaviest implementation now. As one of the most ready-to-use, low-commitment, and easily tested staffing solutions, thousands of businesses have made staffing marketplaces’ staffing-as-a-service capabilities a part of their workforce strategy. The intuitive platforms provide businesses with flexible and scalable access to on-demand, experienced workers. They enable companies to quickly and easily fill staffing gaps by leveraging a network of pre-vetted, qualified candidates who can be deployed on an as-needed basis.

Hospitality is an industry known for its dynamism in all business operations. Especially in unpredictable moments, staffing a restaurant or hotel can be the most challenging part of the business, but thanks to a variety of newly developed technological solutions, businesses can now maximize the productivity of their limited staff without overusing them. Harnessing the power of the hospitality freelancer community introduces flexibility to hospitality staffing and a higher level of freedom and contentment for our industry’s working professionals. With these results combined, by allowing freelancers to apply their experience in the staffing-as-a-service format, hospitality businesses can worry less about hiring, retention, and turnover and focus more on providing their guests with wonderful dining and entertainment experiences.

About the Author

Gint Grabauskas is the Chief Technology Officer at Qwick, an  on-demand staffing platform for hospitality businesses and freelancers. Bringing three decades of experience, formerly Offerpad CTO and GoDaddy VP of Engineering, Grabauskas is a digital transformation expert who leads the company’s engineering, product strategy, and further optimization of the Qwick apps and proprietary CX platform for the benefit of Qwick’s network of hospitality freelancers and business partners. 

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