Six Dangers Of Restaurant Server Understaffing

understaffed restaurant

“We are going to need you to take the entire patio tonight”

I recently wrote of the mindset changes that restaurant managers needed to make in regards to hiring restaurant servers in a strong economyIn this post I explained how vital it was that managers understand the urgency of hiring qualified candidates quickly.  Failing to hire top quality restaurant servers when they apply will often result in being understaffed.  This is can be devastating to restaurants and create a self-perpetuating chain of events that are difficult to recover from.  Many restaurants that have seen a rapid decline in service failed to see the domino effect caused by understaffing.

Here are six dangers that come as a result of not having a large enough staff of restaurant servers.

1) Floor Coverage:  This one is the easiest to see.  When a restaurant does not have a large enough staff to cover all of the sections, servers are asked to take on extra tables.  While servers may respond positively to this at first, the guests seldom will.  Your floor coverage should be based on the minimum number of servers needed to provide exceptional service.  If the number of restaurant servers falls below this minimum, the service will suffer.

2) Server Fatigue:  As servers are asked to work harder as a result of understaffing, they are more likely to get worn thin.  Working more shifts and pulling more weight on those shifts, takes a toll on a server.  While this can be overcome on the occasional shift, the effects of this long term will be a loss of morale that will spread throughout the staff.

3) Server Burnout:  Servers who are asked to work more shifts than they prefer, and work harder on those shifts, will inevitably burnout if there is no end in sight.  As this extra work provides them with more of a financial cushion their need to work dwindles.  This also reduces their desire to work.  A restaurant server, who does not need the money from a shift, will put less effort into their service.  This is the inevitable result of server burnout.

4) Server Resentment: Whether true or not, restaurant servers see being understaffed as beneficial to your labor costs.  They see the restaurant benefiting from the situation while they are asked to carry more of the burden.  This is true of most any industry where employees were asked to take on the duties of positions that were downsized.  Servers who put in the extra work and then find that they cannot take shifts off, get shifts covered, or take a vacation will become increasingly resentful.

5) Service Suffers:  If the lack of floor coverage did not ruin service standards enough, now imagine those remaining servers being fatigued, burned out, and resentful.  At this point most of your staff is simply trying to survive another shift.  The focus has been taken off of providing exceptional service and placed on pulling a shift.  There is no way for this change in mentality to not be noticed by the guest.

6) Self-Perpetuation:  A server is now fatigued, burned out, resentful, and reasonably wealthy from non-stop string of 12% tips they haven’t had time to spend.  This is the perfect recipe to land a top performing server at one location: Craigslist.  When you are not hiring servers quickly enough, you can trust that someone else is.  If you struggle to hire a server that is up to your standards to train, how are you going to replace one of your highly trained servers?  When you lose another server, you become even more understaffed and the problems listed above become even worse.

Running an understaffed restaurant for any period of time is a recipe for disaster.  If you are having difficulty fully staffing your restaurant, you must change your mentality about hiring restaurant servers.  Understand that the problem will become worse with inaction.  In the next post of this series, I will address steps you can take to drive qualified applicants into your restaurants and hire them before the competition does.  This will give you a game plan to enact before the problem of being understaffed becomes self-prepetuating.

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About David Hayden

David Hayden is a restaurant marketing and training consultant based in Kansas City, MO. He writes a series of 9 blogs collectively known as The Hospitality Formula Network and is the author of “Tips2: Tips For Improving Your Tips” and “Building Your Brand With Facebook”

  • bwilliams2016

    I am a general manager at a casual dining Mexican restaurant. I have found in my 20 plus years in the industry that understaffing causes all those issues as well as the staff has the mentality of control. They fell like you need them more than they need you, some get entitlement attitudes and work suffers. It is hard and costly to train but I have found that new staff energizes the old staff and they become a team. The new staff is eager and it rejuvenates the veterans. Plus every staff has a top 10% a bottom 10% and about 80% in the middle. Why not try and move some up and lose the lower 10%.