Key Takeaways:

  • Why the Great Resignation is driving workers out of the restaurant industry
  • What changes restaurant workers are seeking from their employers to help them stay 
  • How technology — particularly voice AI — is supporting restaurants through the challenges of the Great Resignation

The Great Resignation, the Great Reset, the Great Realization. However you word it, the pandemic has shifted the job market and the way Americans view work. Extreme burnout, overwhelm and uncertainty are causing record numbers of workers to say, “I quit.”

It’s no secret the restaurant industry has a reputation for lack of work-life balance and being demanding on workers. While turnover and retention have always been a concern, food service workers typically leave for a neighboring competitor offering better pay or better hours. 

Now, these workers are joining the Great Resignation and leaving the industry for good. So what changed? In this article, we’ll go over what employees are looking for from employers and how you can best support your workers as the restaurant industry shifts. 

Why the Great Resignation is pulling restaurant workers away from the industry

While the entire labor force has felt the effects of the Great Resignation, restaurants have been one of the hardest hit. In November 2021, the Bureau of Labor Statistics reported 4.5 million people quit their jobs—an all-time high. Hospitality and food service workers topped the list, with quit rates reaching 6.6% in 2021.

The pandemic gave low-wage workers options. Unemployment benefits offered many people a way out. For the first time, service workers saw the opportunity for better pay, better health care and better work-life balance.

As more companies went fully virtual, more job openings for remote and hybrid work became available. The demand for remote customer service, warehouse and transportation jobs promised more autonomy, flexibility and relief from the stress of unsustainable working conditions. Along with a pay increase, workers found remote work better addressed their challenges with child care, mental health and overall work-life balance. 

As many continue to rethink their current employment, restaurants have the opportunity to rethink how they will do business in the new normal.

3 changes workers want from their employers

The Great Resignation has forced the hand of many to provide better pay to workers. The average hourly rate jumped from $16.80 in December 2019 to $19.43 in December 2021. This was a much-needed increase for low-wage workers, but restaurants continue to see a large number of open jobs going unfilled as the quit rate continues to burden already hard-hit industries.

In an industry with razor-thin margins, there is still an opportunity for restaurants to retain employees and attract new ones without driving labor costs through the roof. Here’s what employees want their employers to do for them to stay.

1. Provide personal support

Many food service workers were forced to take on multiple roles as the labor shortage took a toll on restaurants. Overworked and overwhelmed workers were multitasking beyond their capacity without the proper training and tools to complete their tasks. 

Workers will always want to feel seen, heard and validated. The industry standard to leave your personal life at the door has become outdated. Create an environment that welcomes open communication and allows workers to speak about their challenges on the job and the impact it has outside of work.

The labor shortage has meant extra overtime and extra shifts for many workers. Make sure your team has sufficient time to take breaks and rest between busy rush hours. Ensure they are getting enough time off to recover between shifts. 

Have a designated leader available to be hands-on with your team, giving the proper guidance to help them navigate difficult tasks or situations. By providing the real-time support workers need, you can prevent burnout and enhance overall working conditions for your employees. 

2. Allow more scheduling flexibility

Lack of child care and other scheduling conflicts driven by the pandemic make flexibility a top priority. Workers need more adaptable schedules to take care of personal concerns, and employers should be prepared and willing to adjust as necessary. 

Get to know your employees and the demands of their personal life. Do they have kids? Are they struggling to find child care? Are they caring for a sick or elderly parent? Show concern for their overall well-being outside of their hired role. 

Many scheduling conflicts may be avoided once a dialogue is established. Instead of mandating a schedule each week, allow workers to request preferred hours. 

Also, eliminate your no call, no show policy. This is an outdated system that restaurants take pride in, but it must change to get workers to stay. Implement a new attendance policy that gives workers the chance to make last-minute swaps with co-workers without fear of losing hours or their job.

3. Offer a path for growth

The Great Resignation is proving to be about American workers (especially service workers) reevaluating how they work and live. Workers care about more than just collecting a paycheck. They are looking to do work that matches their values and recognizes the skills and contributions they bring to the operation.

Create a culture that fosters growth. Workers are looking for roles that challenge their minds and help them develop people skills. These high-value functions help them grow both personally and professionally, empowering a team with confidence and competence to handle difficult situations. 

Outsource tedious duties, like taking drive-thru orders, to a voice AI platform so workers can prioritize tasks that promote ownership, responsibility and mastery. This way, workers gain a sense of accomplishment that boosts morale, productivity and efficiency. When staff is actively engaged in their work, it directly correlates to employee retention and workplace well-being. 

3 ways technology can support restaurants through the Great Resignation

While the pandemic has accelerated this large number of resignation rates, restaurants will always be the same high-pressure, low-margin business. 

Though some things never change, the expectations from workers and diners certainly have. Embracing advancements in technology can provide restaurants the support they need to get through a difficult time. 

1. Voice AI supports staff and boosts sales

Restaurants are implementing virtual ordering assistance powered by voice AI to help relieve the workload of strained and stressed-out teams.

Voice AI is an automated and personalized ordering system that handles the ordering process through all high-volume channels, including phone, drive-thru, self-serve kiosk and mobile live chat. This type of platform picks up the slack on mundane tasks like answering the phones and inputting orders while allowing employees to focus on prepping food and serving guests.

Conversational AI brings automated speech recognition into the context of your unique menu and uses speech-to-text technology to accurately and efficiently receive orders. 

Like a well-trained server, voice AI is knowledgeable on your specific menu items, combo options and modifiers. It upsells the guest based on their initial order, which increases the average order amount and helps you reach revenue goals. 

A master dialog system easily navigates conversation flows. It results in increased accuracy in the ordering process while minimizing errors and waste that affect the bottom line. 

2. Voice AI makes the job less overwhelming

With the more mundane and time-consuming tasks taken care of, employees are free to develop their skills, helping them advance their careers. 

Staff can focus on the higher-value tasks that boost their productivity and make them feel invested in the business. When workers are actively engaged in their jobs, they promote a warm, happy and friendly environment that enhances the guest experience and helps drive sales. 

Plus, the best voice AI platforms have the capability to assist your staff by bringing up smart suggestions as they speak to customers, personalizing every order.

3. Voice AI reduces wait times 

The pandemic increased the demand for delivery and drive-thru. With more people ordering online, by phone or in the drive-thru, long waits and busy signals have become the norm. As a result, both employees and guests are frustrated, choosing to work and dine elsewhere. 

Voice AI has the capacity to handle multiple orders at once, meaning you’ll never miss a call or lose a guest who can’t stand to be on hold or wait in a long line. This technology provides a more efficient ordering process in the drive-thru and beyond to increase your speed of service. At the same time, workers worry less about the length of the growing line and focus on fulfilling the orders in front of them. 

AI provides the helping hand restaurants need

The current state of the labor market may look grim, but there will always be demand for great restaurants with great service. Digital solutions such as voice AI are here to support restaurants as they rebuild their labor force and meet the new normal. 

Conversational AI helps restaurants enhance the customer experience, decrease employee stress, increase employee retention and foster their staff’s well-being—all without changing the face of the brand. AI technology helps boost the morale of employees and can lead to better work-life balance. 

ConverseNow provides best-in-class, cutting-edge voice AI technology that easily integrates with your business needs and demands. Schedule a demo today and see how voice AI can support your team through the Great Resignation and beyond.