Restaurant labour Shortage and the Power of Technology

5 minutes read

Restaurants are struggling to find enough staff to operate. According to Statistics Canada, the food service industry employment levels are currently 30 percent below pre COVID levels and accounted for 66 percent of the total employment decline during the pandemic. As operators start calling their staff back, they’re finding that over half of former employees have moved onto other industries…permanently. Much like the stages of grief, the industry has shifted from denial to acceptance as it’s become evident that government subsidies like CERB are not the reason for the exodus of restaurant talent. Restaurant workers have left the building and it appears as though they’re not coming back.


Once we examine the reasons for the restaurant labour crisis, a path forward can be identified and embraced. First — we must consider the future of work.

Restaurants have traditionally been the most common first job for many young workers, but the pandemic and demographics have restricted that labour pool. Generation Z is a smaller cohort than their millennial predecessors and with the ongoing pandemic, they’ve not been entering the workforce at traditionally high levels.

The Globe and Mail reports that many seasoned restaurant workers took advantage off the lock down to dust of their dreams, acquire new skills and make the leap to new industries. Technomics in the US reports that 33 percent of retreating restaurant workers have moved to office jobs, 17 percent have shifted to teaching positions and many have gone to the booming warehousing industry. Restaurant workers cite higher pay (28 percent), a more consistent schedule / income (23 percent), and professional development (17 percent) for seeking jobs in other industries.

For restaurants to recover, there are 3 key goals operators must address: mitigate the labour and skill gaps in the team, operate more efficiently, and become employer of choice.

Technology can help — let’s look at each of these 3 objectives and evaluate how technology might offer the vital support towards recovery.


Restaurant Labour Shortage / Gaps in Talent:

The future of work is an HR term predicting that work will now be done by humans and bots working alongside one another. Restaurants can operate with fewer team members if those employees are focused only on highly engaged paying customers. “Top of sales funnel” questions from people seeking information about hours of operation or menu items can be easily handled by chatbots “trained” with a restaurant’s operational insight. Artificial Intelligence helps the technology get better and better at fielding different questions as more “data” in the form of questions and interactions are presented to the chatbot.

Restaurants Need to Operate More Efficiently:

Chatbots can help with workflow and keep back of house automatically informed as orders are placed. Reservations, order taking can now be digitized and chatbots can speed up the process allowing operators to increase their output smoothly and efficiently. Chatbots eliminate the multiple steps required to take an order manually. Customers no longer need to speak to a cashier or server, that employee no longer enters the order into the POS which is then transferred to the kitchen. The customer can speak right to the chatbot which then transfers the information to the kitchen. Three steps are now down to two steps and the accuracy of the order will improve as one less intermediary means fewer chances of miscommunication. The payment process is also streamlined as chatbots can take digital payment at the time of the order removing the time spent for your team to manually process payment.

Restaurant Employer of Choice / War for Talent:


Restaurant workers are absorbing a lot of the anger and frustration the public is expressing around various COVID-19 regulations. Research by One Fair Wage in the US from late 2020 reported that there had been a massive uptick in sexual comments to workers from patrons during the pandemic.

Tips have declined as well with 65 percent of workers reporting that customers were punishing staff by withholding tips, for enforcing COVID protocols. Technology can be that first line of defense where a chatbot can converse with a customer to communicate COVID protocols and get documented approval that the customer agrees to adhere to the standards. The chatbot can gather the necessary information around vaccine status and contact tracing and this could ensure that the only customers your team interacts with are customers the chatbot has vetted for health and safety compliance. Chatbots don’t cry when somebody pops off on them and they automatically keep great records of what was said should it be necessary to have documentation. A workplace with less aggression is a good place to have a job and chatbots can help you become a safer workplace. 7 shifts reports that operators who leveraged restaurant technology saw a reduced staff turnover by 13 percent, equated to more than $6,000 new hire costs — assuming a team of 10. On-demand pay apps have shown to increase staff retention, as these apps give staff more flexibility on pay schedules replacing the bi-weekly pay day cycle. Technology can streamline the application process and increase applicant numbers.

Chatbots can be built to align with your operational and service standards and the cost to implement and maintain this technology is actually a fraction of what a human resource costs (Check This technology can be more than an order taker. Fueled by artificial intelligence, a chatbot can offer a high level of customer service, train your human team members and chatbots never call in sick, quit for a better job, or have an angry day.

If the future of work is humans and bots — the restaurant industry would appear to be a great sector to begin to embrace that future.