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Ana Doaga

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Restaurant 101: Why understaffing is a HUGE faux-pas

Photo: Lars Plougmann. Source: Flickr. License: Creative Commons.

Photo: Lars Plougmann. Source: Flickr. License: Creative Commons. 

If you’re looking for ways to reduce your restaurant costs, cutting down on the number of employees might look like a good idea, but, trust our word, it is hardly a solution for your problems. Understaffing is one of the causes which bring a venue from hero to zero in no time, as it affects both its internal flow and customer satisfaction.

We asked restaurant managers, owners and chefs what the consequences of understaffing really are and made a list, so you know what chances to take:

1. What happens when your front of the house is running low on people?

- What’s easier to notice when you don’t have enough people on the floor is that servers receive a higher workload than they can handle, as they need to wait on more tables. In this case, guests don’t receive the attention they should, and the overall service is slow and sloppy.

- Another thing you should take into account is that, when waiters are too swamped with work, food orders arrive late. So, even though your kitchen might be on time, if a server doesn’t take the food to the table immediately after it was finished, both the plating and taste will be affected. So, if you believe that your delicious food will compensate for bad service, think again!

- A high workload and longer shifts contributes to employee fatigue and burnout, which means that your staff will make less of an impression on your customers and that they will not go that extra mile to solve problems, upsell or just provide a great experience that is worth sharing. People come to restaurants not only for the food, but for the environment that you create. Take that out of the equation and your sales will surely drop!

- The worse your restaurant services are, the smaller your waiters’ tips become. This will affect their morale, their motivation and their service standards.

- Understaffing makes people focus so much on what they need to do, that it usually breaks up teams. This means that your work dynamic will not be the same, servers will help each other less and that work will become a drag for everyone.

- Having too few waiters will usually make a restaurant owner want to help out and wait on tables, which is one of the biggest mistakes you could ever make. Rolling up your sleeves and joining your team out of the blue will only make you look desperate and unprofessional.

- Last, but not least, not having enough people means being exposed and left with no backup plan if anyone quits or calls in sick – which, in this case, will happen sooner rather than later. This means that any average night can turn into a preposterous disaster, which will affect everything from your staff morale, to your online reviews.

2. What happens when your back of the house is understaffed?

- Ticket times increase, which delays everything. This not only means that your guests are dissatisfied, but it also means that the time spent at a table increases, which, of course, affects your restaurant rotation. Think of all the money you are wasting by keeping tables busy for a longer period of time.

- The quality of the food drops both in what taste and plating are concerned. This totally scares off your customers and makes them generate negative word-of-mouth. 

- Orders are forgotten or sent to the table incomplete or unfinished. The higher the pressure, the more chances there are that cooks will put out uncooked food, omit garnishes, sauces etc. Things usually go unnoticed when there’s nobody in the kitchen to double-check each plate. 

- Hygiene issues arise. When your staff is too busy trying to deal with orders, cleanliness becomes less of a priority, which means that any health inspection is a disaster about to happen.

With these is mind, next time you want to cut down on staff, don’t forget to weigh in your apparent wins (paying less salaries) and your potential loses. If this doesn’t make you look for alternatives, nothing will!

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