It is no question that the COVID-19 pandemic has had a sustained impact on the hospitality sector, as restaurants have delt with everything from labor and supply chain issues to closures in the past year and a half.

While Jon Sears, owner of SC-based restaurants Hendrix and Gourmet Shop, recognizes that the hospitality sector is still working to return to pre-pandemic levels, he notes that there are quite a few ways that businesses can attack their largest issue- staffing.

Here, Jon explores a few ideas that restauranteurs and management can pull from to outlast issues caused by the current labor shortage and see sustainable success during this tough time for hospitality-based businesses.

Why Are There Labor Shortages During the Pandemic?

Many experts have entered the discussion surrounding the current labor shortage, marked as a phenomenon where there are more job openings than unemployed workers in the labor market.

As of late, many potential reasons have been identified for the labor shortage. For example, a frequently cited reason is that workers are reassessing factors of their work such as compensation, benefits, and working conditions. In a tighter labor market, employees have much more bargaining power when exploring job opportunities.

Some experts argue that the labor shortage- particularly in the restaurant industry- may be linked the fact that workers decided to explore other career paths after the shutdowns and closures spurred by the pandemic. Regardless of the reasons for the shortages, the impact that it has had on businesses and their processes is glaring.

What Can Restaurants Do?

 The question of what to do is somewhat complicated by the multifaceted nature of the labor shortage in America. To best address the concerns of potential employees, it is possible that restaurants struggling with shortages will need to use several tactics to bring in new talent while retaining their best workers.

Jon Sears speaks to a wide variety of ways that restaurants can attack their labor shortage issues head on, but he recognizes that some factors hold more precedence than others.

Compensation and Employee Benefits

During a labor shortage, employees can be much more selective regarding jobs that they take. Opportunities with better pay and/or benefits will naturally be the most attractive choices during the job hunt.

Restaurants that can afford to offer competitive wages should certainly do so- especially if current compensation is not in line with the living wage in their area.

What you can’t offer in wages you should try to make up for with other perks. During the pandemic, some restaurants have gotten creative with incentives such as signing bonuses, training and development opportunities, overtime, etc.

Hiring Process

 There are multiple reasons why restaurants may want to reevaluate their hiring process during the labor shortage. For one, it will help you identify qualified candidates while ensuring that onboarding costs do not skyrocket.

When looking at your hiring process, consider what you are using to attract candidates. Ads that are creative and personalized in their descriptions are the ones that are most likely to secure qualified employees.

According to Jon Sears, it can also be helpful to be as transparent as possible early in the hiring and onboarding process. Employers that have a clear idea of what a job entails have all the tools possible to determine if they are a good fit- and people that are good fits are more likely to contribute to your employee retention.

Implementing Processes That Support Staff

Depending on your restaurant’s situation, it may be necessary to implement changes that can set you up to cope with the labor shortage. For example, restaurants currently working on filling spots at their location may want to consider adjusting hours or limiting their menus to prevent burnout among existing employees.

Other ways to support staff such as working on ways to increase flexibility among employees can also be helpful. Changes that could impact your business’s bottom line should always be treated seriously, but there comes a point where changes need to be made to prevent situations from backsliding.

Employees that feel supported in their roles typically work at their best.


One of the most important steps for any restauranteur looking to outlast the labor shortage is to focus on retention. After all- with the state of the labor market currently- employees have many options should they decide to leave. Recognizing and respecting the value of your existing staff is paramount for keeping them.

A simple, streamlined way to work on retention is to be honest about potential reasons that an employee may have left your business. This can be done by encouraging that staff shares their opinions about happenings at the restaurant and promoting transparency during exit interviews. Feedback from employees is a powerful tool that owners and management can use to empower and support their teams- vastly improving retention along the way.

A consistent contributor to turnover in restaurants is that overqualified employees feel as though there is no path to growth in their current position. As an owner or manager, you want the paths to higher level positions to be clear and attainable. Employers that show an interest in the future of their employees through training and helpful feedback are much more likely to have high retention rates.

Be Honest About What Changes You May Need to Make!

As a business owner or manager, it can be difficult to not take criticisms regarding your restaurant personally. Remember that no work environment is perfect, however, and many steps for outlasting the labor shortage involve a willingness to look at what is working and what is not.

If you are honest about the changes that you may need to make to keep your restaurant operating efficiently, it can only help in the long run. After all, an honest, supportive, and reflective environment is necessary to keep quality staff and uphold high standards for your business!