At the height of the COVID-19 pandemic, 800,000 Canadian foodservice workers were laid off or had their hours cut down to zero. Across the country, employment in the industry dropped an average of 21 per cent.
As we all climb out of the COVID cellar, resumption of operations presents challenges for restaurant operators. Uncertainty is the only certainty.
How to go about hiring and rehiring staff once restrictions start to ease? How to manage fluctuating workloads and uncertainty about shifting and unpredictable restraints and restrictions on restaurant operations?
“Without knowing what is going to happen a few weeks or a few months from now, the ebbs and flows are challenging,” says Jeff Dover, Principal at fsStrategy Inc. “Scheduling may be difficult for those restaurants that have been closed and those looking at reopening with uncertain and different business levels.”
Dover recommends a labour matrix for scheduling. “It’s a valuable scheduling tool that requires forecasting covers per hour and determining how many cooks you need based on forecasted covers.”
The matrix can help track crucial staffing questions including:
- At what level of covers do you need a second cook, a third, a full team?
- When do you need to bring in a dishwasher?
Once you have worked through the matrix, adjust to allow for prep and meet labour requirements, including provisions to be flexible on shift length. Adjustments must be made to ensure time for prep as well as meeting labour laws (e.g., three-hour minimum shift).
Some operators are hiring contract staff to help through the uncertain times, but Dover advises seeking out salaried staff instead. They will pay better attention and know cook times, portion times, presentation and are more likely to be loyal after the pandemic is over — at long last. Remember also that government tax rules may consider contract staff to be employees, if they appear to be doing the job of full-time employees, so there’s not necessarily a benefit from that.
“A silver lining of COVID is that it should be easier to find good cooks.”Jeff Dover, Principal at fsStrategy Inc.
“A silver lining of COVID is that it should be easier to find good cooks,” he says. “That has been such a challenge forever and, in the short term, you may be able to acquire some good people. If they are treated well and compensated well, they are more likely to stick around.”
Other staffing-related questions to consider as you ramp up to reopen:
- How are you going to handle delivery business once your dining room reopens?
- Are you going to continue focusing, at least in the short term, on takeout & delivery, with menus geared to T&D?
- Do you have production capacity for both eat-in and takeout given delivery volumes might be greater than they were before the pandemic?
- How will you enforce health and safety protocols for all types of staff — indoor and delivery?
Once the operational parts are in place and the doors of the restaurant are allowed to open again for dine-in, don’t forget to make sure your guests know what you’re doing.
“Communicate your cleaning and sanitizing practices clearly. Your guests need to be comfortable coming back.”Jeff Dover, Principal at fsStrategy Inc.
“Communicate your cleaning and sanitization practices clearly,” Dover says. “Your guests need to be comfortable coming back. In the past, we have done this privately. Now people want to know.”