STAFFING A SEASONAL RESTAURANT
Seasonal restaurants present a variety of challenges for a manager. None are greater than staffing. Restaurants that have significant down time through the course of a year or close for a substantial length of time frequently require massive re-hires, or staffing-up processes that can be time-consuming and costly. On the other hand, keeping employees on staff when the business isn’t open, or when fannies aren’t in the seats during slow stretches, is typically cost-prohibitive and usually hikes up labor costs. The choice between the two options can make or break a bottom line.
The most frequent answer to staffing in a seasonal environment is to implement massive hiring sprees as the busy season approaches, weeding out employees that don’t work out. However, this can lead to unnecessary training, followed by lay-offs and new hires; something like throwing bad money after bad money. It can also balloon labor costs, as training leads to more training, and new staff members log long hours following other staff members. Massive hiring sprees can also adulterate the culture of success your restaurant depends on, as new people fill your business, bringing diverse work habits and motivations that may not directly align with those of the restaurant.
Clearly, the best answers to the challenge of seasonal staffing are effective hiring and training practices. Too often, managers in a seasonal environment place quality hiring on the backburner. It is an easy trap to fall into, given the massive work that goes into getting a restaurant up to speed after significant down time or closure. The to-do list that a manager creates each day in a seasonal environment should have the various facets of hiring (recruitment, advertisement, interviewing and follow-ups) among the top priorities. Also, effective training and re-training procedures must be in place. A clear and well-stated Employee Handbook, signed by each new hire, is crucial to this process. Effective training is implemented by multiple managers, and followed up on a regular basis. The very best training procedures are also understood and espoused by a group of core employees, perpetuating the culture of excellence and performance that your restaurant needs.
The importance of re-establishing this culture of performance cannot be overlooked. It is not reasonable to assume that a new set of employees will pick where the previous set of employees left off. Retaining a few key employees, and sometimes giving them titular status or extra responsibilities is one way of increasing the chances of this. However, this is not always possible. The best employees are the ones that take ownership of their work environment when management is not present. The easiest way to cultivate this is over the long haul, through loyalty, reward, and effective hiring/training. But when the long haul is not available, management must be resourceful and active. In addition to hiring the right people and training them the properly over time, active presence in the kitchen and in the dining room is essential to creating this culture. Management in a seasonal outfit must demonstrate regularly that he or she cares; that the quality of the product is a necessary component of performance. This takes time and effort, but then again, so does every part of gearing up for the busy season.
Some struggles with staffing up in a seasonal restaurant are inevitable. Gearing up for the high season nearly always involves staffing headaches—too many servers on, too many people on the line, not enough front-of-the-house staff, a huge hole where the sauté pans are. Having the right number of staff on and the right assortment of employees takes time and patience. It also leads to fluctuating labor costs that can damage the bottom line in the short term. Relax. These challenges are inherent to the process of running a seasonal restaurant. The most important skill in gearing up for the busy season is remembering that this is fun. The ups and downs will dissipate in time (maybe after Spring Break?) and everyone will eventually get on the same page. It takes work, effort, and knowledge, but ultimately, if it isn’t fun for management, it won’t be fun for the staff either.