What problem do all Restaurateurs have in common?



If I had to pick the number one problem, the most demanding and time consuming challenge that causes the most stress and worry for all Restaurant Owners, it’s staff! I have yet to meet a Restaurateur who doesn’t talk about staffing problems when we meet. Whether its finding the right people, retaining staff or replacing staff, it’s a never ending revolving door of people coming and going.


The difference between restaurants and other small businesses is that we need a lot of staff. We don’t have the luxury of virtual teams or people who work from home. We have bricks and mortar businesses that rely on teams to be in the venue day-in and day-out to deliver our service. On top of that we need them to work when most of the population is not. Nights, weekends, public and school holidays etc.


I currently employ 40 staff over two venues. This increases during our busier months and decreases during our quiet periods. The majority of my team are aged between 18 and 25 with a couple under the age of 18 and a few more who are in their 30’s. My husband and I are the only ones in our forties. We have a transient workforce. Travellers, university students and those who are unsure about what they want to do; but work in hospitality while they figure it out. The minority in our restaurants are the career hospitality folk who are in this for the long haul.


We have high turnover, naturally due to our transient workforce, but this doesn’t mean that we don’t invest time and energy into developing good workforce planning.


After 10 years in the recruitment industry one of the most valuable things I learned was workforce planning. The big corporates do this really well. They also have the resources and budgets to invest in teams to strategise and implement across their businesses, a luxury Restaurant Owners don’t have however, this doesn’t mean that we can’t or shouldn’t develop our own workforce plans. We can plan, relevant to our restaurant environment, and implement processes that will help reduce turnover and retain good people. It’s not going to stop turnover but if it improves, how bad!


When I consider workforce planning for my restaurants I look at the following key areas;

  1. The Recruitment Process. First the basics. An interview form that provides structure so you uncover experience relevant to the role, unearth the persons personality & values and explores examples of how they’ve managed certain situations in the past. A reference check form that validates this experience. If you, or the team member, doing the recruitment doesn’t have this then critical information can be missed and the likelihood of a wrong hire increases. Interview training is also invaluable and all Owners/Managers should invest in this.

  2. Attracting people. First you need to understand your brand in the marketplace and what people think when they consider your restaurant as a potential employer. Do you have a good employer brand? Is your restaurant or cafe appealing? Why are you a better employer than the restaurant next door? Answer these questions, develop an employer brand and communicate it in all your advertising for staff.

  3. Sourcing people. My experience tells me that referrals from your existing staff and networks produces the best results. Followed closely by social media advertising and lastly by job sites/recruitment agencies. I’ve used them all but will always seek referrals or approach good people if they come recommended. The law of attraction states that ‘like attracts like’. If you have superstars on your team, I’d be asking who they hang with, have worked with or would recommend.

  4. Planning. What are the critical positions in your restaurant? I would interpret ‘critical’ as leadership roles or any positions that have always been harder to fill for you in the past. Some might say a Sommelier, a Barista or a Commis Chef for example. Only you can answer this for your restaurant. Identify the critical, hard to fill roles and start developing talent pools of external people (even if you’re not recruiting now, keep looking, seeking and building relationships for when they do come up). Also start training a 2IC within your business that has the potential to step up into that critical role. This person should exist now in your business and should be in training (formally or informally) to step up when needed.

  5. Retention. There are three key things in my view, that keep great people in their roles longer. One is a great culture. A Culture of leadership, accountability and high standards. Two is the opportunity to learn and be developed. Three is incentives to reach goals and targets. If you can develop plans around these three areas then you will keep great people longer and develop a high performing culture. Those who don’t succeed in a high performing culture do not belong in your restaurant, if this is the type of culture you are looking to achieve. It is, in my view, critical if you want a successful restaurant.


There is so much more that can be discussed, explored or debated around staff and will require more blogs! I could discuss this forever as can many Restaurateurs. This is just the tip of the iceberg but hopefully it might help you put more structure and process into attracting, recruiting and retaining your great people. Good luck!

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