As consumers begin to return to post-pandemic routines, foodservice operations of all types face both opportunities and challenges.
A recent report by industry research firm Technomic found that operators are seeing same-store sales that are meeting, or even exceeding, the levels they saw before lockdowns took hold. Consumers are flocking back to restaurant dining rooms, and demand for off-premises orders remains strong.
But as the foodservice industry comes roaring back to life, operators are being confronted with an issue that could potentially derail that demand: how to handle surging demand with limited restaurant staff?
The Restaurant Labor Shortage: What’s Going On?
It’s no secret that businesses of all types are experiencing unprecedented staffing shortages. The U.S. Bureau of Labor Statistics pegged the number of job openings across the country at 9.2 million, roughly the same as the previous month, even as hiring was on the rise. That’s a significant increase compared with the 6.4 million job openings at the end of December 2019.
At the same time, though, the BLS reports that 9.5 million people remain unemployed.
The reason for the high number of job openings while so many people remain out of work are varied and complex. The answer likely is a combination of factors. Still, the fact remains: foodservice operators ranging from convenience stores to supermarkets to QSRs and fine dining restaurants are in a situation where they need to operate their businesses with fewer workers than they had before the pandemic.
Tips on How to Handle Reduced Staff
Unfortunately, the restaurant labor shortage is likely to remain for months, if not years. With that in mind, here are steps operators can take to serve their customers while coping with a staff shortage:
Cross-train your employees
Forget the notion that cashiers only work the front counter and cooks stay in the kitchen. Training that cashier so they’re able to fill a spot in the kitchen or teaching cooks how to work the POS system can be a lifesaver if one of your workers calls out.
Scale down your menu
In the years before the pandemic, many fast food operations expanded their menu beyond the basic burgers and fries, adding everything from chicken tenders to Caesar salads. Unfortunately, those expanded menus brought with them the need to add additional staff, not to mention the need for additional training. If it’s not a big seller or part of your core concept, consider dropping it.
Consider incorporating “speed scratch” products
Operators often want to incorporate “made-from-scratch” dishes on their menu, but doing so with limited staff can be difficult if not impossible. What is possible, though, is to combine ready-made products with a few fresh ingredients for that made-from-scratch taste. For example, utilizing a quality pre-baked pizza crust or prepackaged smoked sausage with fresh mozzarella and vegetables for an authentic pizza program menu.
Automate some restaurant processes
Many of today’s commercial ovens and other kitchen equipment include features that allow them to be pre-programmed for certain menu items, cook via several different methods, and cook a variety of items at the same time. Alto-Shaam’s Combitherm® Combi Ovens, for example, do the work of a convection oven, kettle, steamer, fryer, smoker, and more.
Alto-Shaam’s Vector® Multi-Cook Oven combines the power of four ovens into one, allowing the simultaneous, high-quality preparation of a wide variety of food. Thanks to Structured Air Technology®, there’s no need to rotate product, freeing up staff for other tasks. Vector also features ChefLinc™ remote oven management for seamless multi-step recipe programming that reduces training time and further simplifies the cooking process.
Our Cook & Hold Oven, along with the others mentioned here, also feature remote oven management and multi-step programmable recipes that automate. As an added bonus, this low-temperature solution enables operators to reclaim 12-18 hours of unused time with overnight cooking and holding. There’s no need to spend hours training staff on how to cook food; the oven does the work for them.
And to help save labor costs, Alto-Shaam also provides ovens with self-cleaning capabilities and automatic grease collection to reduce the number of manual closing duties in the evening.
Prepare items in advance
Having items ready to go in advance of the lunch or dinner rush can greatly speed up service while at the same time reducing stress on workers. Just consider the case of Milwaukee fast-casual HIYA Taco, which opened during the height of the pandemic, facing increased dining restrictions and a nationwide restaurant staffing shortage. With shifting consumer preferences for quality food at quick-service times, the restaurant needed an equipment solution that could help fulfill orders in under 3 minutes while guaranteeing consistent, fresh tacos every time.
The solution was Alto-Shaam’s Cook-Chill System. HIYA Taco can cook steak, pork loin, beans, and more using two stacked Combitherm combi ovens. The food is then rapidly chilled down with their QuickChiller blast chiller and stored in their walk-in coolers. It’s heated to order on a flat top grill, significantly speeding up service and providing a front-of-the-house presentation. Other items can be held at the highest quality with Alto-Shaam’s gentle, radiant Halo Heat holding solutions.
Reduce Labor and Costs with Alto-Shaam
If you’ve spent any time at all running a foodservice business, you’ve likely found yourself working with employees who’ve been on the job a week or less. Maintaining standards while at the same time coping with staffing shortages and rising labor costs can be a challenge for even the savviest operators.
To learn more about Alto-Shaam’s labor-saving products, attend an upcoming webinar or register for A Taste of Alto-Shaam demonstration near you. Once you've seen the power of our commercial foodservice equipment, you'll know why operations around the world rely on Alto-Shaam to help serve their customers.