One thing that differentiates the restaurant industry from others is that employee absence can have a detrimental impact on your business, particularly when you have to deal with unexpected absences due to illness. You don’t want sick employees around, but their absence can feel like a betrayal, particularly on a busy day. So how do you deal with being short staffed? Here are some ideas.

Make the call – but strategically.

The first thing you want to do is start calling your employees who aren’t working and find someone to come in last minute. But don’t just go down the list. Hopefully by now you have identified which employees like getting extra shifts so you can prioritize them. If that isn’t the case, then by all means, grab your phone list and start calling. In the future, pay attention to which employees like getting extra shifts to make it simpler for you to get somebody in on short notice.

Step in where needed.

As the manager or owner, you’ll likely need to fill in for a sick employee every now and then, which makes it absolutely critical that you know how to do everyone’s job. When you’re under pressure, step in where you can to make things run as smoothly as possible. When you have more time (and a full staff), take a few minutes (or even a day if you need to) to reflect on areas where you are lacking in either skill set or knowledge so you are ready to step in to any position at any time. This might mean you spend some extra time in the kitchen one week to catch up on their process in case you ever find yourself filling in for a back of house employee last minute.

Don’t stress out your staff.

We’ve all been on the receiving end of a wait staff that’s clearly understaffed. When they’re stressed out because of a no-show or last minute call-in, their ability to serve suffers. It’s like they have suddenly forgotten how to do their job, from being polite to customers to getting orders written down correctly.

It’s your job as manager and/or owner to ensure staff does not get stressed to the point that they can no longer provide good service. Make sure everyone is still taking breaks, and step in as needed to refill waters, greet customers, bus tables or do anything else to keep the place running smoothly and customers happy.

Re-think your call-in process.

Call-ins are going to happen, so it’s unrealistic to try to eliminate sick days from your business. People wake up unexpectedly sick and legitimately can’t do their job. (And, to be clear, your customers do not want sick employees anywhere near their food). But you can minimize the scramble by instilling a 3-hour policy, in which employees must call in no less than 3 hours before their shift to eliminate the need to frantically call around and find a replacement. You can adjust the policy based on your restaurant’s hours, but having some sort of maximum time frame in which employees must call in can help eliminate much of the stress associated with unexpected absences.

Invest in scheduling software.

Many restaurants have turned to scheduling software to help with this type of situation. Employees can even find their own replacements using the software, which makes your life as a manager and/or owner simpler. All you need to know is that the shift is covered, which gives you back all that time you would have otherwise spent frantically trying to find another employee to fill in last minute.

Unexpected illnesses and absences are going to happen. It’s just a part of life. Take some time when you have it (i.e. when it’s a slow day and you have a full staff) to think through what you can do to simplify the process of call-ins to make it easier on your staff and your customers.

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