4 ways to solve staffing shortages

4 ways to solve staffing shortages

By Jamie Izaks, presidentof All Points Public Relations and co-founder of the Northern Illinois Franchise Association

Talk to any restaurant owner or chef these days, and you'll hear a common complaint — it's getting increasingly difficult to attract and retain quality back-of-house staff. It's not hard to diagnose this problem — it's clear that there's a perfect storm of circumstances that are dissuading people from entering the workforce in kitchens. 

The rising cost of culinary school tuition is approaching the same cost as a private, four-year university (on average, $28,000 a year according to the National Center for Education Statistics) combines with the high cost of living in metro areas where the best restaurants tend to be. Factor in the ongoing reality that restaurant wages for back-of-house staff are low with incredibly long hours and few opportunities for advancement, and you can see why people are looking elsewhere for employment.

But just because staffing is difficult doesn't mean that the demand for restaurants is going away — if anything, new restaurants are opening that are also facing staffing shortages.

So what can restaurant owners and chefs do to encourage employee loyalty and attract/retain quality cooks? 

1. Create value-driven relationships
Your staff is a precious commodity — but beyond that, they're human beings who want to be respected and valued. Instead of considering employees to be expendable and easily replaceable, show them that they are an important part of your business. Take small steps to foster team unity and make an effort to get to know your employees  —  something as small as buying a round of after-service drinks or organizing a themed family meal can go a long way.
2. Dedicate time and resources to developing talent from within
The National Restaurant Association estimates that 8 of 10 executive chefs worked their way up from an entry-level position to where they are now. That means that it's clearly worth your time to nurture members of the lower ranks with more education and opportunities. Got an especially driven prep cook, or a line cook looking to take on more responsibility? Involve them in the recipe development process, show them a new skill or ask them to accompany you to an off-site food event to demonstrate that you're committed to their ongoing growth. 

3. Adjust your attitude
No one likes a jerk — and the trope of angry, emotionally unstable chef is played out. Mutual respect fosters loyalty. If something isn't being done up to your standards, be clear about what you don't like and be direct about how it should be done in the future. Transparency in communication is extremely important in high-stress environments like a professional kitchen. 

4. Look for creative staffing solutions in your community
There are hundreds of nonprofit organizations out there that assist people with barriers to find and keep employment. These individuals may be veterans, formerly homeless, from low-income homes or even nonviolent offenders — and many of them are looking for employment that will provide them with opportunities. Look for these organizations — not only are they great, untapped resources, they are also a wonderful PR opportunity.

The bottom line: Pour loyalty and respect into your employees, and you'll get it in return. Look for creative staffing solutions and opportunities to give employees a leg up with additional education and training. Restaurants need good staff, and if you've got it, yours will have a better shot at withstanding the test of time. 

Cover photo: iStock

Topics: Staffing & Training

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