Most restaurant owners wouldn’t be surprised to hear that April to September is the busiest season of the year. The spring and summer months have two of the busiest restaurant days of the year — Mother’s Day and Father’s Day — and the sunshine motivates customers eat out at restaurants.
Of course, the busy season is great for restaurants to turn a profit, but it also comes with challenges. Most notably: staffing. Seasonal changes lead to new customers and finding restaurant employees to meet the boom in customer traffic is essential. Even more importantly, restaurant owners must create strong staff engagement to keep up morale and ensure they don’t lose staff during the summer months.
In this article, you will learn how to hire staff members for busy season to maintain restaurant operations while meeting the demands of peak season.
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What is restaurant seasonality?
While 45% of diners eat out multiple times a week, that number is impacted by seasonal factors. As previously stated, diners are more likely to go out to eat in the summer months when the weather is nice and restaurants offer seasonal perks like patios and rooftops. While some restaurants, especially in vacation towns, choose to close in the off-season, year-round restaurants must find ways to optimize their busy season and stay afloat through slower times.
What are the busiest (and slowest) months for restaurants?
The peak season lasts from April to September in most parts of the country. This season might be longer or shorter depending on the climate. The slowest months are November to January, when many people travel for holidays like Thanksgiving or Christmas and spend time cooking and eating with family.
When you know what kind of business to expect, you can plan ahead for busy or slower times. Whether that’s changing your marketing strategy, lowering operation costs, or changing the menu (as 24% of restaurants do) to maximize your profit margins, planning ahead can make all the difference to your bottom line.
How do seasons affect the restaurant industry?
Seasonal changes often dictate how busy your restaurant will be. Naturally, that changes how your restaurant should operate.
In busy season, you probably have more money coming into the business, but your overhead is also higher as you must invest more in ingredients, staffing, and other operational costs. In slower seasons, you can service with smaller staffs and upfront investment. In busy season, you may also have less cash flow as your costs can increase rapidly depending on demand for your restaurant. With more demand, you might want to invest in more marketing to attract even more new customers.
Ultimately, seasonal factors can make a big difference in restaurant overhead, cash flow, and operational needs.
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How to hire and train your team for busy season
More than half of restaurant owners cite hiring staff as the top challenge faced by their restaurants. Remember that peak season is the same for virtually the entire restaurant industry, so you’re competing with other restaurants for staff members. Between the competition, potential worker shortages, and a surge of customer demand, it’s important to start planning and recruiting early to be prepared for busy season.
Here’s how to approach the summer months from a staffing perspective.
Start finding candidates early
“Early” in this instance means 3-4 months before you expect an increase in customers. In some places, peak season begins in April. In others, it may not be until late May or early June. You know your restaurant best, so it’s up to you to know when to start planning your summer staffing search.
You might not have the available hours on the schedule right away, but the earlier you start recruiting and advertising for open positions, the earlier you can figure out a summer shift schedule. Students make some of the best seasonal workers, so advertise on college job boards, on social media, and with college career centers or high school guidance offices.
Offer competitive compensation and benefits
Seasonal hiring is competitive, especially if you’re relying on traditionally short-term workers like students. You’re not just competing with other restaurants, but with other retail establishments, corporate internships, and other employers. One of the best things restaurant owners can do to stand out is offer fair wages and competitive benefits.
Sure, you can’t guarantee tips, but you can guarantee that employees keep all of their tips and that they get split equitably amongst staff. A tool like Toast Tips Manager makes that simple. You can also offer an employee benefits program that makes working at your restaurant more attractive than working at a competitor.
Compensation isn’t important only for attracting quality candidates, it’s a key factor in retaining top talent.
Lean on technology
You’d expect to use technology for your recruiting and marketing, of course, but you can lean on technology for many more of your operational needs, too. Technology can help you with everything from budgeting, accounting, training restaurant employees, and retaining them.
Tools like Toast POS system offer Payroll and Team Management to help you with onboarding new staff and ensuring your employees get paid on time during the stressful peak season. You can also use the system to manage scheduling, takeout orders, and more to simplify restaurant operations.
Cross-train your team
Having too many employees working at once is a waste of money. Having not enough could be disastrous for your restaurant’s reputation. In the busiest times of year, it’s important to find the right balance to maximize your profit margin without understaffing shifts.
Things happen and people will miss shifts from time to time. One of the best ways to mitigate fallout from short-staffed shifts is to cross-train employees to be able to handle multiple roles. That way, if a waiter calls in sick at the last minute, you can bring in a host to handle the shift, or vice versa. Cross-training team members makes the entire team more efficient and productive.
Whether you’re hiring for back of house or front of house, look for people who will be comfortable working in both areas.
Create blended teams
In addition to cross-training teams, it’s important to have a mix of both new and experienced staff. That might be easier said than done, as restaurant turnover is at an all-time high of 75%, but chances are you have at least a few staff members who have worked multiple peak seasons.
Mixing and matching veterans with new staff is a good way to create teams that are evenly balanced so newbies can learn on the job without things going array.
Use data to make decisions
Every industry, including the restaurant industry, is moving towards using data to make decisions. Data is especially useful when planning around restaurant seasonality. Not only will data inform you of overall restaurant trends like an increase in healthy eating, but it can give you better insight into your staff and restaurant operations.
Data will help you understand table turn times, what upsells are working, and more, so you can see who on staff needs more training and who may be on promotion track. All of this will help you reduce employee turnover and keep your best employees on staff through busy season and beyond.
Celebrate your staff
The restaurant industry is hard work. Seasonal changes make it even harder in the summer months as more people go out to eat. When doing seasonal hiring, make sure candidates understand how difficult the job is upfront, but make sure they know how much you appreciate and celebrate your staff.
It’s important to thank your staff and make them feel appreciated throughout peak season. They’re your biggest asset, so investing in staff engagement is crucial for success in busy season.
For restaurant owners, it’s imperative to plan for restaurant seasonality. Seasonal factors may make a big difference in restaurant operations, especially when it comes to staffing. This guide will help you plan for seasonal changes by finding the best restaurant employees and employing the right tools to succeed.
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DISCLAIMER: This content is provided for informational purposes only and is not intended as legal, accounting, tax, HR, or other professional advice. You are responsible for your own compliance with laws and regulations. You should contact your attorney or other relevant advisor for advice specific to your circumstances.