Restaurants need to pay attention to employee needs and wants in today's labor environment.

Is the following happening to you?

You are often short staffed, costing you lost income and/or creating a risk of sub-par service and unhappy customers. You spend far too much time scrambling to fill and train “rotating door” employees than you would like.

Sound about right?

Three self-inflicted labor issues

The tight labor market is, of course, part of the problem. But, your labor shortage issues are also likely self-inflicted. Below is a deep dive on cause and solutions that you need to hear:

1. You probably offer too few opportunities for career development

Therefore, your staff sees you as a mere stepping stone or transition to something else, and not a career. Until you can get on a sustained growth track in order to create more career opportunity, you will continue to face this challenge. And, it’s going to get worse overtime. Why?

  • Because chains are moving into smaller and smaller towns.
  • New players (i.e., supermarkets and gas stations) are increasing investment into the prepared foods and retail food business in larger markets; and
  • Most of these businesses offer genuine career advancement (structured training, career planning, organized bonus plans and growth that creates opportunity), which means they have the tools to tempt your team members who feel stuck in place.

2. You offer little or no safety net

There is a population (particularly single parents and pre-retirees) in desperate need of health insurance and benefits, and who will commit to a job long term just to earn a safety net (even when that job offers no career Development as per the above). If you do not offer this safety net, this market is not available to you. Again, increasingly chains and larger companies moving into your market will offer partial or total health insurance contributions on policies with attractive coverage, making those who don’t far less competitive as an employer over time.

3. Your restaurant is not a resumé builder

Upwardly mobile younger folks sign on for restaurant work all of the time. Graduate students from the Cornell School of Hospitality practically beg to work even as servers for restaurants like The French Laundry. Why? Because getting a strong reference from such a business is a genuine resumé builder. Are you a valuable resumé builder for people or a dead-end reference? The most likely response is the latter, and this will not change until you build an aspirational place to work, which starts with gaining momentum in your marketplace.

Growth is your deep-down fix

Employees across all industries want to know how they might advance in life in terms of learning, status, earning and security.

Until you fill these needs, only a recession will fix your labor shortage problem (though ironically, it will probably impact revenue and make hiring less necessary).

The real way to fix labor shortages on a permanent basis is of course to find a way to grow, grow, grow and grow.


Because “growth” is the best answer to career development, to offering a competitive safety net and to being viewed by the labor market as an aspirational business with momentum that will help build resumés.

So, the big question for you should not be: “How do I solve my labor shortage?”

Rather, it should be:  “How do I grow so that my labor shortage problem goes away on its own?”

Now, here is the terrible irony most restaurant owners face.

They don’t know how to grow. In a recent informal online survey, over 60 percent of owners listed learning growth skills as their No. 1 business challenge.

So, learn to grow as your means to fixing your labor problem. Then grow and use your higher levels of income to advance employees’ lives in terms of learning, status, earning and security.

If you do that, your labor shortage issue will ease and life will be good.

Expert Takes, Feature, Labor & Employees