It’s Saturday night and the place is hopping. The only people who aren’t moving are two servers who never showed up. Dishes are piling up and guests are looking around for someone to help them. What can you do to keep guests happy when your restaurant is understaffed?

  • Be honest. It’s a normal reaction to pretend like there’s no problem, but when you hide some problems from guests, they jump to their own conclusions. Instead of letting them think the service is bad, let them know instead that you’re sorry about the wait and you’re doing everything you can.
  • Be available. Sure, you’re a manager, but you know how to take an order, wash a dish and bus a table. Now is not the time to watch. Now is the time to help. Your guests – and your team – will notice and appreciate it.
  • Be flexible. If you’ve got enough dishes, then you need to make the dishwasher a busboy. Do what you need to do and remember during downtime that cross training not only creates empathy between co-workers (and builds stronger teams), it also prepares workers to help out in times of need.
  • Be generous. Your apology is important, but when customers have been truly inconvenienced, a personal appearance to each table is critical. During that visit, offer free dessert. If they decline, then take something off the bill… drinks, appetizers, even one of the entrees. If you don’t “make it better,” the bad publicity you’ll receive from negative word of mouth will far outweigh any costs you may incur with complimentary items.

Don’t forget your internal customers during busy, understaffed shifts. Being short on people will take its toll on your employees who are still with you. Let your team members know you recognize the challenges they’re facing and appreciate their extra efforts.

For ideas on how to keep your restaurant fully staffed, click here to check out Turn the Tables on Turnover: 52 Ways To Find, Hire and Keep the Best Hospitality Employees.