Seasonal Staffing: 8 Ways to Survive Ups & Downs

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Surf’s up! Summer months may create a wave of customers who are traveling on vacation and enjoying leisure time. Finding temporary staff can be easier now as older students and graduates look for work. But if you’re in a place that becomes a ghost town, how do you keep your great employees around until business picks up again?

Scheduling around ups and downs is both an art and a science. Here are 8 ways to ensure your business doesn’t suffer and your valued team members stay motivated as the tide of business ebbs and flows. You don’t want to lose your top staff to your competitors because they aren’t making enough money or are working too many shifts. Be sensitive to both your own business needs and your staff’s priorities and schedules.


1. Be seasonally smart. Our industry is unpredictable, but you can still look at past seasons and days and nights of the week to get a sense of trends. Be sure you track daily and day-part business volume using your POS system. Add weather information to the day-part or daily data to see how storms or great weather impact volumes. If you’re a new owner or manager, ask your team and other similar local businesses about traffic patterns. Be aware of events that could have an impact on visitors to your venue. Above all, build a bench! Identify new potential hires before you need to staff up. When you are desperate to hire, you are likely to make mistakes.


2. Invest in a scheduling app like Hot Schedules, Deputy, or People Matter and use it to start (or engage in) insightful conversations with your staff about how and when they want to work. You may find that some people have more hours available and others have personal obligations that limit their time. Use the swings in shifts to everyone’s advantage. Your team members will be happier in the long run if you’re creating schedules around your business needs and their preferences.


3. Become a talent magnet. Hiring apps are plentiful these days. Of course, word-of-mouth (asking your best current employees to recommend others) can be the most reliable way to hire, but you can quickly and easily build a network using tools like Snagajob, JobPose, Industry, and many others.


4. Build loyalty by treating your workers like customers. “Repeat workers” are like repeat customers in that they are the most profitable, and the success of your business depends on them. For those solid summer or holiday workers who come back to you each heavy season or time, make the most of the training (and cross-training) investment you made and product knowledge they have. Give seasonal workers a healthy raise in the off-season to incent them to return. Be in contact with them and tell them they have a job waiting; this will stabilize your peaks and add flexibility to each shift.


5. Keep an open mind about new hires and roles. Find unconventional talent like companies such as Lyft has done. A recently-retired Boomer will likely have more schedule flexibility than an actor or student. Parents who need extra income may be free during lunch hours when their kids are in school. Just as schools have “on-call” substitute teachers, you can have a fleet of well-trained on-call servers, hosts, and others. Plus, these non-traditional hires may even help build traffic by telling their friends about your establishment; non-traditional employees can bring in non-traditional customers.


6. Create a buddy system with other non-competitive local businesses. Perhaps your greeter can fill in at a local retailer or service business if you don’t need him or her during lunchtime. Retailers which are busy in August and December have extra workers when you may be busy other months. A “buddy system” for good workers just makes sense for all. Working out “job-sharing” with other local businesses ensures that your employee makes money and both you and your “buddy” get reliable help when you need it.


7. Don’t let the down times get you down. Keep a list of marketing and business projects that you never seem to get to, and match your staff skills to your needs. You may find that your bartender is a great photographer and can take pictures for your social media or set up your Instagram page. Use slow times to plan for upcoming busy seasons (like the holidays), brainstorm ideas, and create new menu items and specials. Be sure you know, in advance, which workers want more shifts and who wants an evening or afternoon off if times are slow. It will help cut or add staff quickly and happily on the fly.


8. Breaking-up is hard to do. Sometimes you simply need to cut staff to survive – we get that. Prevent panic by communicating honestly and compassionately. Make sure you give as much notice as possible to people you need to dismiss, and make sure they understand that the decision is not personal. Offer to provide references.


The waves of change in our industry are constant.  But you and your team can surf through the summer and holiday season with less stress if you stay calm, follow these tips, keep your balance, go with the flow, and don’t let rough currents sweep you away!

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