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How Temporary Restaurant Staffing Can Help Scale Operations

Marcel DeerAuthor

Temporary staff can help you scale up your business quickly, fill in for unexpected openings, or bolster your team during events or your busy season.

Is your business consistent throughout the year? Do you always need the same number of staff in your restaurant every single day?

If your restaurant is like most businesses out there, the answer to both of these questions is likely a resounding “No!”

Finding, onboarding, and managing these temps is exactly what we’re going to go into here, giving you plenty of ideas for utilizing temporary workers to improve your business.

In this article, you will learn how to find and hire temporary restaurant staff, how to effectively integrate them into your team, and strategies for working with restaurant staffing agencies and their referrals. 

How can I be the best restaurant employee?

How do restaurants handle short staffing?

When is temporary restaurant staffing right for your operation? 

This year, unemployment is way down, and so is the quit rate in restaurants (down to 5.2% in July 2023). This can make it difficult to find workers at all, let alone the talented and experienced restaurant workers you need. In fact, 62% of restaurants in 2023 report being understaffed.

Temporary restaurant staffing may be the best option for your business when you need to scale up in a hurry. Imagine you want to double the capacity of your dining hall or quickly move to a whole new premises. Or perhaps you have some big events coming up or your high season where you need far more people than usual. 

Temporary workers can normally be found in a hurry, whereas finding committed, long-term employers can be much more time-intensive. Recruiting temps can also produce far lower labor costs than taking on full-time workers because you save money on expenses like medical/dental insurance and sick days, and having your restaurant fully staffed during boom times can greatly increase your profitability. 

This can make hiring temps a cost-effective strategy.

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What to look for in temporary restaurant staffers

Temps benefit quick-service restaurants with quite variable footfall. If you find you have days or weeks where you need more staff, hiring temporary workers can be a great way to deal with this variability. 

As full-service restaurants often require more training for their employees, temporary workers are a great asset when you have highly seasonal customer numbers that are fairly predictable.

It's important to understand restaurant employee motivations. Toast's research identifies four common restaurant personas and their motivations in the industry.

A “restaurant careerist” (18% of restaurant workers) is the type of person you want to get into a management track position. These people are motivated to develop their skills and stay in the restaurant industry long-term.

Most restaurant staff (46%) are “supporting lifestyle” who are working to make money and support their lifestyles. This group is your bread and butter and can be brought into both front-of-house and back-of-house positions.

“Saving for goals” (22%) are working to save money for unrelated goals like college, a new car, or their own apartment. These workers tend to quit more readily once they’ve reached their saving goals, so it’s best to hire them into positions that are quickly replaceable and easy to train.

Then there are the “Supplementary income” (14%) who are mostly interested in working just to stay busy and keep up cash flow for their leisure activities like skiing or surfing. They have lower levels of commitment to the job and are best matched with temp or part-time positions.

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Finding temporary workers yourself vs. working with a staffing agency

Should you try to find your own temporary staff through self-sourcing, or should you work with a staffing agency?

Staffing agencies charge a fee for their recruitment services, which can cut into your budget. However, it might be worth it to save you time and energy on recruiting. 

Hiring temps, even including the staffing agency’s markup on their hourly rate, can actually cost less than hiring a full-time employee because you pay fewer benefits and taxes. Their staff come vetted and selected for their skill sets. They’ve often worked in numerous jobs in the industry before and know how to parachute into a new restaurant setting for great operational efficiency.

On the other hand, hiring your own temporary staff can take a lot of time and energy you don’t have. You have to advertise, contact, interview, and negotiate with short-term staff and vet them yourself, and this can take time and energy best used elsewhere. While you can save a staffing agency’s average rate of $6.50/hour, you have to weigh this against the costs of doing your own recruiting. 

If you do want to do your own recruiting, it’s important to know some facts about job discovery. 

The majority of restaurant employees find out about jobs from referrals from their friends (55%) and from social media (50%). Only 40% find their jobs on job boards. If you have someone in your organization with great social media skills, this is the best area to focus on to recruit temporary workers.

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Onboarding best practices for temporary restaurant staff

It’s crucial to onboard temporary staff efficiently and effectively to help them integrate with your existing team. 

This starts with doing the necessary paperwork to make sure everything is legal and above board. Don’t be tempted to skip this crucial step or put it off until later, or you can risk your entire business. Setting up their payments and withholding tax makes them ready to get paid and get working.

Even if you’re onboarding short-term staff, it’s still crucial to take time to give them as much training as you can to help them integrate and improve operational efficiency. 

Start by outlining your restaurant and team policies so they know what’s expected of them. This is also the time to instill expectations and brand values so they know what’s specifically needed to work with your team. Orientation should also focus on getting to know the team both personally and through everyone’s role. This helps to keep the danger of a rift between permanent and temporary staff to a minimum.

You’ll also need to assess their skill sets and make sure they drop into the best-fit position possible. The longer you can take with training, the better, though it’s of course relative to how long the temporary workers will be needed. 

Almost 75% of restaurant employees spend less than two weeks training when they first start — though QSR employees are given slightly more time.

Toast’s data shows restaurant staff perception of their training broken down by the extent of it. Turns out that restaurant staff who trained for longer periods of time have more positive perceptions of their training.

Over 80% of restaurant staff that got at least three weeks of training listed their training as good or very good. That’s compared to 45% for staff that got less than a week of training — and 69% that got one to two weeks of training.

These first few weeks of onboarding and training can be crucial for setting the tone and showing off your restaurant mission and team in action. Hiring managers can start with introductions across the team. 

A buddy system can be a great way to usher new team members through their onboarding period — even for temporary restaurant staffers.

Great restaurant managers can round out their onboarding by setting up times to sit down with new staff over the first few months. This can be a great way to keep track of how they’re doing and feeling in the new role.

As it applies to on-the-job skills, it is important to keep in mind that most restaurant workers have prior experience in the industry.

Differences in managing full-time vs. part-time vs. short-term restaurant employees

While a lot of techniques for managing full-time and part-time staff cross over to temporary workers, you might also need some new tricks

Our research identified four categories of restaurant workers based on how long they plan to work in the industry — highlighting that 30% of restaurant workers plan to leave the industry in less than two years.

This cohort leaving the industry in the next two years may likely encompass most of your temporary workers — so let's dive into what turns off this cohort and causes them to look for new restaurant jobs.

What turns temporary staff off most is low pay (47% of short-term workers), lack of recognition (44%), and difficult managers (37%). While increased pay may not be an option, recognition of their hard work can be key to motivating temporary staff.

For kitchen staff and other back-of-house workers, there are no tips or friendly interactions with customers to motivate them. Therefore, having the kitchen management give direct encouragement is key. Workers shouldn’t always be given the worst jobs just because they’re temporary. Keeping a fair distribution of tasks helps them feel like part of the team and not the lowest rung on the ladder.

Front-of-house staff may need more training to ensure they’re keeping up the restaurant’s brand with your customers. Taking extra time with them will help align them with the rest of the service team and enable them to get the same level of rewards, i.e., tips, as their coworkers, which is a hugely successful motivation.

How to bring temporary staff into full-time positions

When you absolutely love one of your temporary staff members, it only makes staff to recruit them into a permanent staff position. But how do you convince them to take one of your full-time positions and transition into it effectively?

There’s little point in putting lots of resources into pulling a temporary worker into a full-time position if they won’t stay long-term. 

Retention is about understanding what the staff want from their jobs, whether that means good pay, flexible hours, great management, or good benefits, and making sure they’re moving into a position where they can attain those things. They need to feel recognized, respected, and welcome on the staff team and be convinced that moving to full-time will help them reach their career and/or financial goals.

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Training Manual Template

Use this restaurant training manual template, a customizable Word Doc, to provide your staff with the rules, guidelines, and clarity they need to do their jobs efficiently.

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Payroll and team management software built for restaurants

Critical automations can simplify employee management of temporary as well as full-time and part-time staff. Easy-to-use payroll and management software can be infinitely useful when you need to scale up and take on temporary staff because it does all the hard work for you.

Likewise, scheduling tools can improve team communication and help make quick and effective changes to your schedule. This ensures you always have the staff you need on shift, enabling you to maintain your restaurant’s profitability.

Many owners and managers see the benefits of using temporary staff for their restaurants. They can allow you to scale your business quickly or serve more customers during high seasons and boom periods without the need to take staff on permanently. However, you might just find that some of these temps will end up making excellent additions to your staff team.

And along with boosting your team with restaurant staffing agency, you may consider whether if your POS system is helping you maximize efficiencies and capitalize on your sales. 

Toast POS system is built for restaurants, for their busy season, and for all their staff to easily pick it up and start working.


This information is provided for general informational purposes only. Toast does not warrant the completeness of any information, text, graphics, links, or other items contained within this content.  Toast does not guarantee you will achieve any specific results if you follow any advice herein. It may be advisable for you to consult with a professional such as a lawyer, accountant, or business advisor for advice specific to your situation.

Methodology

Toast conducted a blind online survey of 1,011 U.S. restaurant employees not operating at a manager or owner level ages 18 and older between February 27 - March 19, 2023. Respondents were not made aware that Toast was fielding the study. Using a standard margin of error calculation, at a confidence interval of 95%, the margin of error on average is +/- 3%.

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DISCLAIMER: This information is provided for general informational purposes only, and publication does not constitute an endorsement. Toast does not warrant the accuracy or completeness of any information, text, graphics, links, or other items contained within this content. Toast does not guarantee you will achieve any specific results if you follow any advice herein. It may be advisable for you to consult with a professional such as a lawyer, accountant, or business advisor for advice specific to your situation.