Of all the industries affected by the pandemic, restaurants have been one of the hardest hit. As FSR Magazine points out, “This coming year promises to bear even more disruption and confront restaurants in ways no playbook ever prepared for.” One disruption on the horizon is staffing problems.
COVID-19 forced many restaurants to scale back to minimal staff or even close altogether. For restaurant owners, one of the most excruciating aspects has been furloughing their workers to survive.
For those businesses that have managed to weather the storm, hope is on the horizon with the distribution of a vaccine. What can owners do to tempt back their workforce in 2021?
Unfortunately, there may not be much they can do.
Looking for some insight into how the pandemic affects workers to understand what the 2021 landscape will be, we interviewed Brooke Burton, a restaurant training and operations consultant.
The hospitality industry has been hit hard by the global pandemic. Many hourly workers have left restaurants all together during this time in order to find reliable, full-time work.
The people I have interviewed in the past few weeks [for a new restaurant opening] are just barely hanging on. They are working as delivery drivers, personal shoppers, and anything else that can pay the bills. These candidates are hopeful that restaurants will return, but they are wary that another shutdown will eliminate access to the shifts (and tips) they were used to working and earning.
Those former employees have likely moved on to different industries, which means the future of restaurants won’t be about coaxing former workers to return. It’ll be about training new staff from scratch. A younger, less-experienced staff who might not have any work experience whatsoever.
This idea might be daunting to owners, but imagine how frightening it will be to consumers. After a year of lockdown, eager patrons will be flooding restaurants, desperate for their favorite items served quickly and cooked as perfectly as they remember. They can’t suspect that every employee, from the chef to the busboy, is a restaurant novice. Choosing quality candidates and training them will be crucial from day one.
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In FSR Magazine, Dan Sines, CEO of talent acquisition company Traitify, says, “Hiring now and into 2021, HR teams will need to find solutions that can help them manage and sort out quality candidates for each position, seeking out those who have the ability to learn, change and adjust.” It’s not just new hires that will have to learn and adapt to a changing landscape.
Restaurant owners need to be thinking along these same lines. If it’s doubtful that their potential workforce will have restaurant experience, they need to look for other skills and traits that speak to a candidate’s potential to learn, grow, and adapt.
During interviews, candidates could be presented with problems (not necessarily restaurant-related) that they must find creative solutions to, or candidates can be tested together on their willingness to cooperate and learn from one another. And those people charged with hiring them will have to look beyond resumes listing experience and focus more on potential.
It’s clear that for restaurants to succeed in a world that sees changes in every level of commerce, they’re going to have to be as adaptable as they want their future employees to be from the very start of the hiring process.
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This adaptation doesn’t stop once an employee has been hired but should continue well into the training process. Over the past year, many restaurants changed their business models as in-person dining shifted to take-out options. In some cases, restaurants that had never offered to-go options had to overhaul their models entirely. The employees who have remained have had to shift their tasks and focus, with servers learning how to process online orders and facilitate communication with kitchen staff. Others had to rethink take-out packaging to keep food safer and warmer. In essence, employees had to learn how to take on many different roles and be ready to learn new tasks.
Next year, we face a workforce that must learn the basics and new processes such as no-contact order fulfillment and multiple delivery apps.
Future employees will need to be ready to take on many different positions in the same restaurant, playing to whatever the evolving landscape requires. New hires could be tried out in shifts for various roles during and even after training, both as a precaution and as a way to keep employees engaged in their work.
If the past year has taught us anything, it’s that the future is never set. Predictions based on historical data can be wrong, and the best-laid plans can often fail. As we all continue to adapt, we should consider new solutions that will address ever-changing operational needs and available talent.