Dangers of Understaffing Your Restaurant

Unfortunately, there are many pitfalls that surface from having an understaffed restaurant. Service can suffer, employees can get burned out, and managers can be spread thin trying to put out fires. The fact is that this tends to be a transient industry, and an average-sized restaurant can become understaffed in a bad afternoon. For this reason, and because an understaffed restaurant can completely undermine performance, managers must be prepared to ensure that they are not leaving their staff exposed to becoming suddenly undermanned.

Understaffing the Front-of-the-House

It doesn’t take a genius to recognize a poorly staffed restaurant. The signs are usually everywhere: the dishes piled up on the ends of booths, the drinks waiting at the bar with sweat beads forming on the side of the glass, the guests with eyes scanning the room for their server. The fact is that servers drive the guest experience at most casual and upscale restaurants, and an overextended server can undo all the hard work and good intentions of the back of the house.

There are countless dangers of being understaffed in the dining room, including:

  • Tired Servers: Servers may show up full of energy, but a long shift can take the starch out of any server’s collar.
  • Servers who are Burned Out: Server burnout leads to cutting corners and failing to go the extra mile.
  • Being Vulnerable to an Injury or Call-out: An understaffed restaurant can’t afford to lose a single server.
  • Relying on Substandard Servers: When a restaurant is constantly understaffed, even poor servers can be helpful.
  • Teamwork Goes out the Window: Insufficient staff forces servers to think only of their own sections and tables.

These dangers are difficult to anticipate. For many restaurants – especially smaller ones – the difference between a full staff and one that is less than full can be narrow. Two servers can suddenly quit, forcing management to put out an A.P.B. for interviews.

Anticipating your staffing needs is the answer to these concerns, and the only way to do that is to be aware of future staffing changes, and be intimately familiar with the current staff.

Understaffing the Back-of-the-House

An incomplete line-up in the kitchen can also slow down the entire operation. Just one man down in small- and medium-sized kitchens can lead to slow cook times, unprepared or unportioned ingredients, and overextended employees. It can lead to that biggest danger of all in the kitchen – a lack of preparation.

Most managers have been here before: a busy shift gets off on the wrong foot, because an employee was unprepared, or has to cover two stations on the line. Somehow, the kitchen is able to keep it together, but the entire shift seems as though you’re one hiccup away from getting tripped up. Suddenly, a difficult special order comes in or a mistake goes out, and now everything is backed up.

An undermanned back-of-the-house creates a tightrope scenario during busy shifts, in which the kitchen is able to keep up with orders but imminent doom is always lurking. It can also force a number of avoidable errors, such as:

  • Longer than usual ticket times
  • Unprepped food
  • A dirty workspace
  • Failure to double-check plates before they leave
  • Sloppy plate presentation

Stay on Top of Your Game

Unfortunately, too many managers in too many restaurants get distracted from the essential nature of staffing a restaurant. This is a fact of life in a business – as managers we tend to pay attention to areas of the business that need our attention. It’s human nature to forget the basics when they’re almost always covered. But failure to constantly monitor staffing can create a sudden worst-case scenario – an understaffed restaurant.