Transparency, consistency, and creativity might help in the days of doing more with less.

The labor shortage has been a hot topic in retail and hospitality for employers and consumers alike. Lately, I have seen a few frontline team members expressing how difficult it is to work some days given the increased traffic and reduced staff.

I have also noticed a few unique ways that establishments have handled the crisis that I thought might be worth sharing. Read on for a few tips and attention-grabbing ideas that might help you manage the situation in ways that keep your team and your guests happy.

No. 1: Offer transparency.

A gentle message to your guests reminding them that your team is 1) human, 2) working hard to help them make memories, and 3) experiencing difficulties due to the labor shortage could help manage guests’ expectations and reduce customer complaints. In action, I’ve seen these types of reminders on websites before submitting questions or feedback, on sandwich boards in lobbies, on notes taped to the front door, and in conversations with on-duty restaurant managers. Some examples of effective messaging include:

“We are so happy you’re here. Please be patient with our team. We are short-staffed right now and working hard to make your day bright.”

“Help is on the way! Please remember that on the other end of this email is a person, so please be kind. We’re here for you.”

These are unique ways to be transparent with your audience, with the hopes that, in turn, they’ll show empathy to your team during this difficult time.

Why this works: In my opinion, these messages are more likely to be effective because they start and end by telling the reader, “you’re important to us.” It’s always a good idea to show customer-centricity before following up with a message that asks your audience to do something for you.

You might have also seen messaging that looks more like this:

“We are closed today because no one bothered to show up for work.”

“We are short-staffed. If you think you can do better, by all means, ask for an application.”

Why this doesn’t work: Sarcasm and passive-aggressiveness can feel somewhat satisfying in the moment, but negative statements open your business up to ridicule. The first will have people thinking (and likely commenting on social media) that your business must be a pretty crummy place to work if a business is willing to put that on the door. The second one puts your guests on the defensive. Messages like these suggest that you’re neither customer nor employee-oriented and are likely to make matters worse.

No. 2: Encourage a sense of staff urgency.

Transparency is a great start, but it has to be backed up with visible proof that you are working hard. One of the most important actions that your team can take to show they’re doing all they can is to move with purpose and a sense of urgency throughout the facility. If they look like they’re wandering aimlessly or standing around chatting, guests won’t grant them much grace when food takes a little longer than usual.

Work with your team on the most effective ways to manage guest traffic, sales at the point of sale, and the most efficient ways to manage table service when you’re short-staffed. This keeps the experience consistent and helps everyone work as efficiently as possible.

No. 3: Build your team up.

Your team needs to feel appreciated for all their hard work. Take time often to praise and reward team members for their efforts, especially when they’re taking more on during a crisis. Gifts, bonuses, kind words, and genuine appreciation will help keep them from burnout and decreased morale.

No. 4: Stay consistent with kindness.

Everyone in your facility, guests and team members alike, deserves to be treated with respect and kindness. I recently attended a special event where I watched a gifted operations coordinator in action. Throughout the day, she maintained her smile and positivity at the highest level, taking complaints and unsolicited criticism with the same upbeat demeanor and helpfulness as she did every word of praise. That takes serious intention.

As you’re building team members up, encourage them to try and maintain their attitude as best they can, even when stressed or facing complaints or negative feedback. More importantly, though, be prepared to step in and help when they need it.

No. 5: Get into the trenches.

You’re likely performing a lot of extra duties right now as well. But whenever you are able, assist your team on the floor when they need help. They’ll feel supported, and your guests will see that everyone is working together to deliver on your service promises. The other significant benefit is that you’re able to step in with an angry guest when a team member needs backup. You might need to step in to assist any angry guest while also (very gently) reminding them that your facility has also been affected by the US labor shortage and that Jasmine (or Terrance or Michelle) is trying hard to give them a great experience (volunteering to work double shifts to support the team, etc.)

No. 6: Get creative with recruiting.

The labor market is challenging right now; there’s no doubt. But many facilities are getting creative with their recruiting efforts. Some offer bonuses for various milestones, such as employee referral bonuses to get friends to come to auditions, sign-on, end-of-probation, or attendance milestone incentives. Some are also promoting higher pay and incremental pay increases for key behaviors to help keep team members motivated and at their best.

Also, reconsider where you’re looking for candidates. Are you posting on social media? Is your recruiting process outdated? Do your recruiting ads have videos showing how much fun team members have while working? Experience expert Frank Price of Birthday University says, “your recruiting ads need to make candidates see themselves in the ad working with you, and your application must be [submittable] online, or it just won’t work.”

Hopefully, one or more of these tips helps ease some of the strain you and your teams are experiencing.

Do you have other tips or advice to offer operators? Share them in the comments or send them to to be featured in an upcoming blog.


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