Why You’re Having Staffing Problems and What to Do About It

Chris Rumpf

Founder and CEO, 15+ Years of Restaurant Technology Innovation

Why You're Having Restaurant Staffing Problems And What To Do About It

Adjusting your restaurant’s business model to suit the new normal is pretty widely accepted by now, but one thing many owners and managers didn’t anticipate was having staffing issues when dining returned. In fact, for those who were able to adapt and are having success, it’s been the most limiting factor: They have the sales to expand, but not the staff.

Even with limited capacity, many are confused as to why hiring has become such a struggleWe reached out to current and former restaurant employees to figure out what motivated some to return, why some didn’t, and what you can do as an owner or manager to bring staff in.

5 Reasons Why Your Staff Isn't Coming Back

In March, when most restaurants were forced to all-but close (and actually close, in many cases), over 80% of the industry was laid off. Laid off restaurant and bar employees made up about 60% of the total jobs lost that month.

With so many people out of work, you’d think they’d be clamoring to come back when things opened, but that hasn’t been the case. We spoke with former restaurant employees about why they didn’t return, and the same 5 themes kept coming up:

They have already moved into another field.

Upon being laid off, many decided to switch fields in order to make ends meet. Since they’re making money and likely at less risk of getting infected, they’ve decided to stay there.

They went back to school. 

Many decided to use their new-found “free” time to go back to school to start or finish a degree they’d been thinking about pre-COVID.

The financial upside no longer exists. 

For many, the allure of waiting tables or bartending is the money. Between added responsibilities and decreased dining capacity, the money just isn’t what it used to be and therefore, isn’t worth it anymore.

Scheduling conflicts. 

People’s lives have changed as a result of the pandemic. Many simply can’t make a restaurant schedule work anymore.

Fear of COVID. 

This one was actually a pretty small concern, which makes me happy. This tells me that you’re taking care of your employees and they know it.

Why Some Staff Is Coming Back

They needed the money after the federal unemployment bonus ended. 

This one isn’t surprising. Most were making more on unemployment than they were working, but without the federal unemployment bonus, that isn’t the case.

They feel like their work-family is family. 

Loyalty runs deep in restaurants and many employees felt an obligation to the owner and other staff members to not leave them hanging.

They’re social creatures and missed the interaction. 

Whether it’s interacting with other staff or guests, there’s a huge social component to the foodservice industry, and the people who work in the industry thrive on it.

Assessing The Current Employment Situation

When it comes to money:

Servers and bartenders we spoke to are making ~75-100% of their usual tips. In places where tips are lower, it is attributed to a reduction in operating hours and capacity. In places where tips are higher, it is attributed to smaller staffing levels (servers taking more tables) and customers being more generous.

Employees who don’t receive tips reported that reduced hours and scheduling difficulties are their top reasons for discontent.

When it comes to morale:

A common theme is that customers are more difficult now than they were before. Employees feel like they are ‘babysitting’ guests: “Please put your mask on,” “Please sit down to order,” etc. Partially out of pre-pandemic habit, customers keep sitting at dirty tables, which makes proper sanitization difficult.

Proper cleaning and sanitization are time-consuming as it is, and it’s difficult to remember to do everything that’s necessary. With dining restrictions and fewer employees, the pay is still low and many people are working harder than they were before.

When it comes to how they see the world now:

Restaurant owners may not be happy about the loss in revenue, but 10 pm curfews (like the one in Ohio) actually make staff’s lives better and easier. Not only are they able to get home at a decent hour for a change, but they also don’t have to deal with the late-night rowdy crowd.

It’s important for owners and managers to understand that staffing shortages mean that poor treatment is more of a deal-breaker than it used to be. Most current employees feel as though their employers are treating them well, but have left jobs where they were not treated well.

When it comes to expectations for the future:

Most employees believe the normal today will be the norm throughout 2021. They expect that restaurants with outdoor seating will be more successful and that carryout and curbside will continue to increase

Most employees believe that restaurants with outdoor seating will be more successful and carryout and curbside will continue to increase.

One thing they all seem confused by is why restaurants aren’t leaning into the new liquor to-go options more. This is an easy add-on to a check; encourage your guests to take a cocktail to-go as they’re cashing out.

Morale and culture will continue to be a key motivator to stay or leave a hospitality job, so it’s more important than ever to put your focus there.

How To Keep Your Employees During COVID-19

Raise Your Prices! Pay Your Employees More!

For the first time in decades, guests don’t care about pricing. In fact, we encourage you to increase pricing in order to increase wages. This will go a long way to assist existing employees or woo new ones. This could be offered as a bonus incentive, which would be temporary until the business hits a certain level of sales.

Keep Your Restaurant Clean

Many employees feel overwhelmed by the extra cleaning responsibilities. Add or re-appropriate staff to a primary role of sanitization/cleaning. This will reduce the workload on other employees, allowing them to increase sales. Hire or use a specific employee or service to deep clean the restaurant before working hours. Many of the people we spoke with expressed that spending the extra time cleaning pre-shift is an incredible energy suck.

Clearly Communicate Expectations With Guests

Have hosts or greeters communicate expectations clearly to each guest as they enter:

  • Use a canned greeting that includes when to wear masks, where to sit, etc.
  • Make sure you have signage in line and on tables to show where clean seating is available, remind customers to keep masks on, etc.
  • Increase digital and line/table signage to include your processes.


If you’ve been successful in keeping your restaurant profitable but are having a hard time hiring and keeping staff, it may be time to look at new ways you can support and encourage your employees. If you’re stumped on ideas, you know you can always schedule time with us. We’ll help you brainstorm some fresh ideas and share what we’ve seen working at other establishments.