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How to Ease the Labor Crunch

Foodservice is feeling the crunch of the current labor market. From smart hiring to better training, improved benefits, technology assists, and operational hacks, discover strategies to stay fully staffed.

Here’s a sobering statistic: Even if every single unemployed person in the country takes a job, there would still be more than 5 million unfilled positions according to the U.S. Bureau of Labor Statistics. The foodservice industry, a bit of a jobs powerhouse with a corps of nearly 15 million workers, has historically high turnover rates, a situation further complicated by the tight, post-pandemic jobs market. At 8.2%, unemployment in the hospitality and leisure industry is roughly double that of the general economy.1 Working around this labor crunch is essential in today’s environment. We’ve got strategies to ease the crunch.

Recruiting + Hiring

Teens outnumber adults in the industry workforce. In fact, 75% of employees are Gen Z or Millennial.2 Reaching this group requires youth-focused strategies that connect to their lifestyle.

“Sell” not just the job but the company. Gen Zs express preference for places that have a positive ethos, inclusive culture, support communities and whose values align with theirs.

Place notices on sites such as TikTok, Instagram and Facebook, emphasizing positive aspects of the jobs—say flexible hours, benefits, higher than minimal wage pay, and other cool perks. Some national chains host virtual hiring events.

Make it a cinch to apply. Unheard of pre-pandemic, many companies now accept applications via social media such as TikTok videos. Texting is increasingly the preferred way to communicate during the process.

For many, restaurant work is their first job so it helps to be less rigid about previous experience. A positive attitude is the best qualification.

Let team members know that the company is hiring. Offer referral bonuses. One chain franchisee offered $50 simply to show up for an interview.

Appropriate pay, benefits packages, perks, and emergency services make a critical difference in hiring and retention. Not every company can offer tuition reimbursement, emergency childcare, and annual bonuses but there are many ways to make jobs more attractive to potential hires.

On the Job Training

Training for each position is essential, ensuring that work is properly executed and that team members feel confident in their abilities.

Pay full rate during training.

Make training fun and relatable by its intended audience. Multilingual modules may be necessary.

Tailor training to the audience. Young workers are digital natives so the most effective lessons will be web-based, media-rich and presented in short modules. Humor and a lightness of tone help.

Understand that training doesn’t have an end point. All workers respond favorably to ongoing learning, mentoring, and pathways for opportunity. Cross-training builds confidence and also creates readiness for operational efficiency.

Working Smart

Staff needs may be less critical at certain times of day. Phase schedules to be in sync with peak hours and workload.

Learn specific needs of each team member. For some, it may be a consistent schedule with the same number of hours while others thrive on flexibility. Working with them can keep them engaged, helping to reduce turnover.

Purchase smart and make the most of food products. Some operations have transitioned from high-labor tasks such as in-house butchering, instead buying pre-cut and portioned meats and seafood.  Likewise, value-added, speed-scratch, and fully prepared products can be boons, greatly reducing kitchen labor needs.

Ask cooks what menu items are overly time-consuming to prepare and then consider whether or not they’re worth keeping. If they’re strong sellers, rethink the prep steps, calling on cooks for input.

Larger chains are acting quickly to adopt technology, using it to ease chronic labor shortages. From pizza- and salad-making robots to voice-activated ordering, automated drive-thrus, and tablets for payment at tables, technical assists are moving fast and furious into the restaurant realm.


Sources: 1. Restaurant Dive, Despite January Job Gains, the Restaurant Industry Continues to Struggle (2022). 2. QSR, Teenagers Surge Back Into the Industry Workforce (2021).

The information provided is based on a general industry overview, and is not specific to your business operation. Each business is unique and decisions related to your business should be made after consultation with appropriate experts.

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