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Top Strategies to Lessen the Impact of Restaurant Staff Shortages

Optimize the effectiveness of foodservice teams with strategies that can help you do more with less.

Ways to Soften the Effects of Restaurant Staff Shortages

In today’s tight labor market, foodservice operators look for ways to maintain past rates of customer service and turnaround times. Currently, 79% of U.S. restaurant operators report they have job openings that are difficult to fill.1 New and improved strategies make it easier to operate successfully despite having fewer available staff members. Among the biggest issues facing operators today, 49% cite hiring quality staff, 45% mention retaining staff, and 27% say that staff shortages affect service level standards.

Donna Leibold Custom Innovation Group
Donna Leibold, Commercial Development Manager with the Nestlé Professional Custom Innovation Group

As a commercial development manager with the Nestlé Professional Custom Innovation Group, Donna Leibold has seen the big influence that small, positive changes can have on a restaurant’s staff. Strategies such as cross-training, professional development, and implementing smaller menus with the help of off-the-shelf (OTS) items can optimize the effectiveness of foodservice teams.

“Off-the-shelf items are great for cross-training because they’re no fuss,” Leibold says. “They’re proven, quality recipes that have been vetted by other customers and are now part of non-exclusive offerings. OTS products can be used as standalone menu items or supplemented with other ingredients. They help staff feel good about their work because they can execute menu items consistently, and prep goes much faster.”


Cross-Train Your Team

Given the importance of customer service, cross-training and multi-station training make good business sense. For staff members, training provides growth opportunities and can provide them with a means of achieving more schedule flexibility. To get started, engage the interests of staff members. Those who can take on multiple roles—for example, alternately working as servers, bartenders, or kitchen staff—may find it easier to switch to other shifts. When every restaurant staff member has someone who can step in for them if needed, the flexibility can improve their quality of life.2

The goal for operators is higher revenue and less overhead. Cross-trained team members help operators do more with fewer people. When staff are trained to fill in for others more easily, stress is reduced all around. As staff members improve their skill sets, the team strengthens.

 “In some restaurant operations, we’ve seen success with operators cross-training front-of-house staff to step into the back of house when needed,” Leibold says. “Off-the-shelf products make the transition simple because they’re easy to heat and serve or dress up with minimal effort.”

Leibold adds that another way to build staff engagement is to take limited time offer (LTO) or line offer suggestions from staff and involve them in decision-making.

Cross-trained staff not only have an opportunity to individually grow within the organization, they also can help the restaurant grow. Higher revenue with lower overhead paves the way for expanding the operation through ghost kitchens, food trucks, or other opportunities. Dedicated, engaged team members can potentially grow alongside the restaurant’s new endeavors.

Ways to Save Time in the Kitchen with Less Prep Work

In addition to cross-training staff, many enterprising operators design a more efficient prep process and simplify their recipes to offer consistent dishes.2 If supply chain delays occur or operators are unable to obtain the ingredients they need, OTS products offer a viable option. Nestlé Professional OTS products allow foodservice operators to streamline BOH prep without sacrificing food quality, helping to reduce the time it may take already strained personnel to create a winning dish.

Off-the-shelf products, such as the ready-to-use Butter Style Sauce pouch, help make it simple and convenient for back-of-the-house staff to prepare menu favorites. The sauce can be used alone to enhance fresh seasonal vegetables, augmented with a simple +1 pantry item like fresh herbs, or as the base for signature dishes like a creamy seafood medley served over pasta.

Leibold notes that every operator’s kitchen and BOH team is unique, which often calls for custom solutions. This is where the chefs at the Nestlé Professional Custom Innovation Group can support, says Leibold.

“Our team of chefs comes from a variety of backgrounds with decades of experience in different kitchen setups. One of our chefs who’s suited to your setup can come in and evaluate where your staff can streamline their operation and reduce prep work,” Leibold explains.

Leibold says Nestlé Professional chefs often recommend OTS products because they remove certain kinds of prep work. “For example,” she elaborates, “if a sauce calls for garlic cooked in butter, that’s an additional step in the process for staff to take. An OTS sauce could have that garlic already cooked to perfection, shaving off valuable prep time.”

Make Staff Lives Simpler with Smaller Menus

Smaller menus help streamline execution and are easier to manage for both customers and staff. To streamline menus, focus on items that sell well and allow for cross-utilization of ingredients.

“The savviest operators are talking to their employees to understand pain points staff have with their menu,” Leibold says. “They look to them for suggestions, and many times come away with a solution that works for staff, customers, and the operator’s bottom line.”

Even when menus are smaller, there’s still room for variety. Create image-making LTOs that don’t require many extra ingredients. LTOs keep customers excited, and your staff won’t be overwhelmed by a larger menu. That’s a win-win.

To save time in food preparation, OTS products provide maximum opportunity with minimum ingredient lists. The result is executing LTO menu items more efficiently with fewer staff. For example, consider products such as Pizza Tomato Sauce from Nestlé Professional. The sauce can unleash creativity for everything from signature pasta dishes to creative flatbreads that have appeal during different dayparts.

Provide Professional Development to Help Reduce Turnover

Higher-than-average staff turnover continues to impact the foodservice industry. Operators can improve engagement, increase efficiency, and decrease staff turnover by providing professional development opportunities.2

Better communication of growth and promotion opportunities is one of the top four employee engagement initiatives, with 39% of operators saying it has had positive impact on employee retention.2 Consider offering continuing education opportunities or education incentives. Staff who feel valued and invested in a restaurant’s operational success can be its greatest asset.  Online certification programs provide an option for staff development, as does training in restaurant technology topics.

Show appreciation with performance awards or a celebration when the staff hit team goals. Team members value professional growth opportunities where they can explore their own leadership skills through webinars or videos. Participation in events such as menu workshops or local food shows helps immerse staff in the heart of the industry. Partnering with food suppliers such as Nestlé Professional can help increase staff development opportunities. Along the way, operators can communicate their vision and provide a new forum for staff to ask questions or have discussions.

“It’s essential to make your staff feel valued,” Leibold states. “I recently met with an operator who sent their entire staff to Niagara Falls for a food industry convention to learn from other operators and restaurants. While it’s rare to see that many staff attending an event, it’s a great example of investing in staff and placing trust in them.”

Offer Staff Peace of Mind

The industry is adapting to a new foodservice landscape – and it’s important restaurant staff feel they have the tools to adapt with it. When employees feel like a valuable part of the team, they value their contributions to the growth of the business.

Operators can make changes that help proactively address challenges such as employee shortages and supply chain issues by considering restaurant staff hiring practices and continued team engagement. Make sure staff have the tools they need to succeed in back of house and front of house: Versatile OTS products simplify and streamline the task of maintaining high-quality food, consistency, and service. Nestlé Professional Yellow Queso Cheese Sauce, for example, is a versatile ingredient that can be used over baked potatoes, served as a dip, or incorporated into shareable appetizers such as BBQ chicken nachos.

“Off-the-shelf items have been so helpful for our operators because they can maintain throughput with less staff and not have to worry about taste suffering,” Leibold says. “They also maintain consistency of performance or execution if shifts in your staff occur.”

For personalized ingredient suggestions and menu development assistance for your BOH staff, connect with the Nestlé Professional sales team. Their expertise can help support your foodservice vision.


1 Source: National Restaurant Association, Press Release, “New Bill Provides Important Opportunity to Help Address Restaurant Industry Workforce Challenges,” June 8, 2023.              

2 Source: Kinetic 12, Emergence Q4 2022 Report

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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