How to successfully run your restaurant with reduced staff

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Restaurants across England are currently in their first few weeks of reopening since being given the all clear from the government at the beginning of July.

Many diners have been stepping out to enjoy a feast in their favourite local restaurants, however some people do not feel reassured that they aren’t jeopardising their health by doing so.

From seating arrangements to cutlery, to the way they receive their food, all of these minor details will come under great scrutiny if they are being ignored.

So, what can your restaurant do to operate with first class customer service, and reassure your potential diners that you are doing all you can to keep them safe even with a reduced number of staff members?

Give staff frequent training

With all of the recent changes to the standard of service in restaurants, it is vital that your staff are up to date with their training, especially if fewer people are taking on more duties.

Employees will need clear guidance and leadership from employers to help them adapt to strict social distancing. While it hasn’t been clear what the official guidelines are, restaurant owners should create standards that align with all the government guidelines.

Additionally, owners should have created bespoke situational training specific to their premises and their new ways of working. For example, fire procedures/drills and assembly points should have been reassessed, and frequent training should be provided on these to ensure the safety of both staff and customers.

What can you do to help your staff feel more confident once open?

Training refreshers

It’s likely that staff who have been furloughed for a few months will need time to familiarise themselves with existing procedures and operations, as well as being introduced to the new implementations for COVID-19.

Training refreshers are essential in ensuring the quality of the service provided as well as ensuring the safety of your staff and customers.

Training refreshers should include:

  • Food health and hygiene procedures
  • Fire exits and first aid
  • Using technology such as the EPOS or card machines

New training

No amount of training or hospitality experience could have prepared us for these unexpected circumstances. This means that regardless of seniority or position, there will be new training needed for everyone.

All employees should be trained on how to operate in a one way system, how your establishment is taking customer’s personal details safely for test and trace, as well as how to safely oversee food collection and cleaning stations. These things should have been in place and practised ahead of opening but it is important to maintain these expectations and to update them to coincide with any new requirements from the government.

Observe the way your restaurant is running and provide any new training based on situations that occur after opening to ensure there is no situation your staff are not prepared for.

Cross training

It is important while operating with a reduced team that your front of house hosts are also confident in taking food orders and serving diners. As well as ensuring your servers are able to help with certain kitchen operations such as processing stock and managing inventory.

With less staff and more to do, your employees will need to take on new roles that may be outside of their comfort zone or job-description. This should be communicated to them prior to taking on any new responsibility, so you can gain their consent and assess their willingness to complete tasks that they were previously not expected to do.

Once your employees have been briefed and have agreed to their changes in roles, it is up to the managers and owners to arrange cross-training so staff have a well-rounded knowledge of all the roles they are expected to take on and feel comfortable to take over when other staff members are not present.

Utilise technology

Minimal contact between customers and employees is the safest and most desirable option to ensure everyone’s health remains protected.

Not only will an increased use of the technology limit the risk of spread of COVID-19, but it will also help your restaurant run efficiently in this time.

Use technology to your advantage

If you haven’t already, upgrade to a modern EPOS. Three out of four brits feel that the coronavirus outbreak will affect their use of cash in the future and are opting for contactless payments to reduce contact, therefore it is vital that your business offers the safest ways for your customers to pay.

Investing in an order and pay app, over the phone payments or the latest contactless card machine is critical to ensure you offer your customers the service they expect in these unprecedented circumstances.

Instead of seeing your POS or EPOS as a means to take orders and payments, see it as the ecosystem for your restaurant’s operations. Whether that’s checking inventory, managing staff rotas, processing digital customer orders or billing, it’s a powerful tool worth investing in.

Here are some benefits of EPOS when used to its full potential:

  • Save time by reducing administrative jobs and manually keying in
  • Allow serving staff to manage payments seamlessly, at the table or counter
  • Reduce waste with an accurate inventory management system integration
  • Unlock better communications between your front of house and back of house staff

Self-serve stands or table-top tablets

Consider introducing self-serve stands or table-top tablets – these are usually seen more commonly in fast food chains. Self-serve stands or table-top tablets that allow customers to place orders are now being considered across more traditional restaurants to help limit contact between staff and customers.

The software on the tablets or stands processes orders and sends them to the EPOS and then to the kitchen where the food can be prepared by chefs.

Digital reservation software

Using technology that allows customers to book their own reservation lifts a lot of administrative work from front of house staff who will now be busy giving customers extra guidance and overseeing safe social distancing.

Whether it’s app based or desktop, your online booking systems should allow your customer to do the following, alleviating the pressure from serving staff:

  • Book a time slot (including an end time to help you manage capacity)
  • Select the number of people attending
  • Select specific seats/tables (to help manage 1m distance between diners)
  • Give with consent any specific information about their health in relation to COVID-19 (e.g. any symptoms in the last 7 days)
  • Give with consent their personal details, should they be needed for test and trace
  • Collect customer feedback

Collect customer feedback

The best way for you to access how the new processes are working in your restaurant is to get information from the people who are experiencing it first-hand, your customers.

Customers are likely to be sympathetic to your learning curves, by identifying where customers’ main concerns lie and focusing your efforts of remedying these, you will create reassurance and trust. In order to better understand customers’ worries you can send out online surveys after they have dined with questions such as the following:

About social distancing:

Which statement best reflects your feeling on the seating arrangements inside the restaurant?

  1. I was happy with the distance between myself and other diners
  2. I feel the distance between the diners could be increased
  3. I would like the distance between diners to be increased and also to not be facing other diners 

About your menu:

How do you feel about us offering a limited menu while we work with a reduced team?

  1. I was happy with the choice we were offered and will return
  2. I will be waiting until your full menu is offered before dining here again
  3. Other (please specify)

About your hygiene levels:

How did you find using standard cutlery, glassware and crockery?

  1. It did not bother me as I am confident that they are being washed to a high standard
  2. This worried me slightly but would not affect my thoughts on dining again
  3. This worried me significantly and will affect my thoughts on dining again

By focusing on the above, you’ll have an idea of how you can channel your efforts to make your customers feel confident to dine with you, and your staff feel like they are not overworked over minor details that aren’t major concerns of your customers in the current climate.

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