It's time to sweeten the pot.

As happy as operators are to see more people returning to bars and restaurants, it’s becoming increasingly difficult to find enough people to staff each shift. The industry is facing a nationwide labor crunch that is making it difficult to meet customer expectations and renewed demand for indoor dining.

The labor shortage is complex with a wide variety of causes, none of which will be solved in the next few months.

  • Many employees left the industry during the pandemic for work that had more available hours or had less exposure to working with the public.
  • Nearly every restaurant is rehiring at the same time, so employees have the ability to choose which offer best fits their schedule or who offered the best pay or benefits.
  • Unemployment insurance has allowed some employees to wait until they are vaccinated and feel comfortable returning to work with the public.
  • Burnout from COVID-19 has led some people to move to a new industry, leading to further shortages in experienced foodservice workers.

Without the ability to control these variables, what can operators do to recruit and retain employees and stay as competitive as possible until labor begins to normalize again? Incentivize referrals, promote your strengths, use easy labor software, and create a culture of wellbeing.

Make Employees Your Advocates

Just like you ask for good reviews on Yelp or Google from your customers, ask for and incentivize hiring referrals from your employees. What they say to their friends and family are like reviews for employment. If they enjoy working there, they will tell people they know. People in the industry talk, and you can use this to your advantage by making employees your best recruitment tool.

You can always sweeten the pot by adding referral bonuses for employees who bring in people to interview, upon hiring, and again after 90 days to incentivize retention. Be open with employees about why you’re doing this. Asking them to refer people shows you value their work and trust their judgment.

Highlight What Makes You Different (and Better)

In a market where prospective employees have a lot of choice, you’ll need to work hard to show off what makes you better than the alternatives. And make sure you can back this up, people are good at seeing when something is lip service or reality. Consider things like:

  • Referral bonuses so they know you treat current employees well.
  • Paid time off and sick leave that shows you value employees staying mentally and physically healthy.
  • Tech tools that make work more efficient show you care about improving your operations and making their jobs better.
  • Good training and opportunities for advancement.

This isn’t a cure all to fulfilling your labor shortages, but it will help you stand out in a crowded sea of potential employers.

Add Tools to Make Work Easier

The printed out calendar stuck on a bulletin board is a classic of restaurants everywhere, but it could also be costing you employees. Many people, especially young people that make up much of the restaurant workforce, are used to running their lives from their phones. There are apps for email, messaging, doctors, school and more. So having to come in or text a manager to take a picture of a paper schedule is frustrating and cumbersome.

Luckily, modern scheduling and labor apps can help you with that. Apps like these make life easier for employees and managers by making their schedules available all the time. Employees can view schedules, request PTO, pick up or swap shifts, and manage availability without having to start five different group texts. And managers don’t have to hope they remembered someone’s PTO because it’s all managed and approved in a single place. Not having these kinds of tools may seem like a minor inconvenience to you, but it’s make or break for employees.

Promote Health and Well Being

Burnout was a topic in the industry long before the pandemic came along, but it’s back with a vengeance. Poor treatment from customers, health risks, and understaffed shifts all combined with COVID-19 has led many to leave or consider leaving the industry.

While margins are tight, giving employees paid sick leave and time off shows employees you continue to work to protect them during a public health crisis. Benefits like these will set you apart in the hiring process, as well as lead to better retention in the long run.

Finding and retaining good employees is something every operator is currently struggling with. With no quick fixes available as the labor market takes time to normalize, operators will have to do what they can to make themselves an attractive employer. Offering wellness benefits, referral bonuses, and tools to improve work show employees you continue to improve not just in guest experience but employee experience as well.

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

Expert Takes, Feature, Labor & Employees