Waiter holding food.
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With restaurant staff in high demand, restaurant owners and managers can no longer retain and hire easily without good incentives.

Avoiding Labor Shortages in Restaurants this Cold and Flu Season

It’s doubly important to keep staff members happy, so they stick with your restaurant throughout the season.

It's no secret restaurants are continuing to struggle to find adequate help. With the cold and flu season looming on the horizon, things are not expected to get much better. However, restaurant owners and managers who prepare now can be well-equipped to avoid labor shortages in the future (and handle them if they do occur).

Making it through this season without major gaps in staffing requires you to focus on keeping your employees healthy and happy. Here are four actionable strategies that professionals in the restaurant industry can implement to keep their operations running smoothly for customers.

Implement More Safety Precautions

Health anxiety can be a significant reason for labor shortages during the cold and flu season, especially with the added threat of COVID-19 in recent years. Following the many shutdowns and public health announcements at the height of the pandemic, most of the public is highly aware of how quickly illnesses can spread. While some employees may simply check their symptoms a little more regularly, others may experience significant health anxiety that causes them to withdraw from work.

To keep employees happy and healthy—both physically and mentally—it’s important for restaurant owners and managers to put extra safety precautions into place during cold and flu season. For example, while enhanced sanitization may require a little more cleaning, this effort can prevent a lot of illnesses that lead to long-term shortages.

You can also require extra hand washing from employees throughout the cold and flu season. Efforts like this can help staff members with health anxiety feel comfortable with returning to the workplace. However, it’s important to make changes that aren’t alarming to guests. Suddenly requiring masks or gloves for front-of-house team members could indicate to diners that there are germs and illnesses to worry about when eating at your restaurant.

Encourage Vaccination

Getting vaccines is an easy step that restaurant workers can take to protect themselves from getting sick ahead of this cold and flu season. When your team members are vaccinated against the flu (and COVID-19), you can greatly reduce the risk of illnesses affecting your restaurant's staffing situation.

In many states, employers can even require COVID-19 vaccination from employees. Those who refuse without eligible exemptions—like religious freedom or medical issues—don’t qualify for unemployment compensation if they refuse. With a mandate, you can prevent your workforce from being out sick for extended periods of time from this potentially severe illness.

Even if your state doesn’t allow vaccine mandates, you can encourage vaccination by sharing its benefits before the cold and flu season begins. Consider setting up an onsite vaccination clinic to make vaccines easily accessible to your employees.

Embrace Automation

Whether or not your staff members call out sick this season, automation can help your restaurant pick up any slack on your team. Using technology to automate often time-consuming tasks—like taking online food orders, payments, and reservations—can help you reduce your reliance on team members. This way, you’re not rushing to fill gaps when someone calls out sick or quits.

Many restaurants are even replacing some front of house positions with interactive technology, like self-service kiosks and roving robots that bring customers food. In addition to supporting your staffing during the cold and flu season, these technologies can actually improve customer satisfaction by speeding up service and reducing human error.

Improve Compensation

Low wages have been a common reason for shortages at restaurants in recent years. With restaurant staff in high demand, restaurant owners and managers can no longer retain and hire easily without good incentives. If you want to encourage staff members to stay on your team during the cold and flu season—and take care of their health—consider offering perks like extra seasonal pay, shift meals, or more paid time off for later months.

Consider how much other restaurants in your area are currently paying their restaurant staff and make sure you’re staying competitive. Don’t be afraid to accept requests for raises, as this can be more affordable than losing guests due to slow service or paying for the training of new team members.

However, if you do experience turnover during the cold and flu season, good sign-on bonuses can help you fill those positions fast.

Make the Most of Cold and Flu Season

The restaurant labor shortages we’ve seen in recent years may worsen once again as cold and flu season hits. However, you prevent illnesses by adding safety precautions (like extra sanitation) during this trying time and encouraging vaccination for your entire team.

It’s equally as important to keep staff members happy, so they stick with your restaurant throughout the season. Consider offering extra pay or perks like more paid time off for later months to make staff members feel appreciated—especially if they’re covering for sick coworkers. Additionally, you can take a lot of responsibility (and stress) off their shoulders by implementing automation solutions and robots to cover certain tasks.

Jori Hamilton is an experienced writer from the Northwestern U.S. She covers a wide range of topics and, because she spent over six years in the restaurant business before writing full-time, takes a particular interest in covering topics related to the food and beverage industry. To learn more about Jori, you can follow her on Twitter.