guestXM – by Black Box Intelligence

Staffing through the Crisis: COVID-19 & Restaurant Employees.

The workforce faces increased challenges related to staffing during the COVID pandemic, especially as the restaurant industry was already understaffed.

Hiring has picked back up for the industry, although there is still a long road ahead if the industry is to get back to pre-pandemic levels. At the current rate of jobs added, it could take well over a year to recover over 2 million lost employees. To adjust for decreased dining room capacity, most restaurants are operating with reduced staff, with table-service brands experiencing the largest decreases (Workforce Intelligence clients, log in to your account to see Employees Per Unit metrics broken down by segment).

Exacerbating these challenges, turnover continues to increase for the average company compared to Q4 of 2019. The restaurant industry is dealing with the loss of some employees to unemployment, as there are fewer jobs for those employees to return to or to other industries that are hiring at faster rates.

COVID-19’s Impact on Restaurant Staffing

New Roles, Enhanced Benefits, and a Shift in Priorities

According to our Total Rewards Survey, COVID-19 has given rise to new positions within restaurants. Some brands have added roles such as sanitation managers or off-premise specialists to their lineup. It’s possible many of these roles, such as the off-premise focused positions, will remain long after the pandemic. As consumers become more accustomed to off-premise dining, operators will need to adjust staffing accordingly to handle volume.

Operators focused on finding and keeping quality employees have had to shift their thinking. The majority of restaurant chains have made changes to their benefit offerings directly as a result of COVID-19. These changes include expanding virtual or telemedicine programs, enhanced mental health support, or childcare assistance.

The pandemic has also brought a resurgence in wellness programs offered to employees.
In areas heavily affected by COVID, some brands are now offering hazard pay in addition to expanded benefits, to both hourly and management employees. More than half of companies have added paid sick leave as well.

Expanding Benefits is Good… but Is it Enough?

A Path to Enhanced Restaurant Excellence

The hard truth is that this staffing crisis isn’t new. The restaurant industry was dealing with a staffing crisis long before 2020. Any progress is good progress, but with the increased challenges from this year alone, we now have even further to go.

The good news is that we’ve seen what the restaurant industry is capable of. The industry has adapted quickly to the evolving needs of consumers, so much so that digital innovation is table stakes right now.

Business leaders are faced with a harsh reality that includes a broken workforce model. For the restaurant industry to get back to some modicum of normalcy it will require workforce innovation. And, of course, the goal should be better than normal. We were understaffed before and we are still understaffed now.

Invest in what matters, your employees. Give them a place to be safe, to learn, and to grow. It will improve engagement, overall well-being, and staffing. To quote an adage that has been used by many business leaders in some shape or form, “To take care of your customers, you must first take care of your employees.” To do this, it is time to fix the model. We won’t be able to change or enhance the guest experience without doing so.

Be First In Line To Know When the Total Rewards Survey Results are Released

Our annual Total Rewards Survey highlights employee practices implemented in response to the pandemic and specific changes to employee rewards, including:

    • Positions were created at the restaurant level to adapt to the new environment and their compensation.
    • Hazard pay practices for front-line employees
    • Base pay freezes and changes in bonus plans
    • Practices put in place at the restaurant level to ensure the safety and health of employees and guests
    • Changes in benefits coverage and cost

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