How to Manage a Restaurant When You’re Short-Staffed

Running a restaurant is feast or famine. There are high times when no one can find a place to sit and the place is hopping. There are low times when the chairs are empty and the staff is mopping. It’s an industry that’s impossible to predict: crowds come out of nowhere on occasion. In other words, you’ll find yourself short-handed eventually.

So, what happens then? What happens when you have too many patrons and not enough workers? Do you close your doors and rock back and forth in the meat freezer? Perhaps, but these options are better:

Tell your customers what’s going on

Explaining the situation to your customers will work to a point – most people understand that there are things you can’t control. But people can be unreasonable, especially when they’re hungry…and getting hangry. You should still attempt to elicit empathy, yet be prepared for some resistance. This is okay. When you’re low on workers, your goal is to keep most people happy, not all.

Cross-train your staff

You shouldn’t cross-train your employees when you’re short-staffed; times of stress are not ideal for training sessions. However, cross-training proactively helps things run smoothly in the event an employee calls in sick or doesn’t show. You don’t need to cross-train everyone to do everything, but make sure some employees know how to do things that don’t fall under their job description.

Implement on-call staffing

Creating an on-call schedule that you can use during busy times is a great way to make sure your restaurant has the employees they need when they need them. This is extremely useful if you own a restaurant whose popularity is dictated by the weather (it has a patio, for instance) or the success of the local sport’s team.

Know that more is more

The old adage “it’s better to be safe than sorry” applies to restaurants with a little adlibbing – “it’s better to have too many workers than too few.” If you assume your night’s going to be busy, put enough people on the schedule to meet the demand. If it falls short, you can always send a worker home.

Encourage a Take My Shift policy

The restaurant industry is one where shift-sharing is common: people change schedules like they change aprons. If you want to avoid being short-staffed, encourage this sort of trade. It prevents no-shows and lets your workers take time off when they need it. And that encourages them to put forth more effort when they’re on the clock.

Most employees seek a balance between their jobs and their lives; help them find this with a take my shift attendance policy. And don’t forget to sign up for our mailing list. We’ll provide ideas that keep your employees happy on and off the jobsite.