Seasonal Hiring

Labour shortages in the hospitality industry have been a fact of life for over a generation. Complicating this situation is the significant business upturn restaurants experience in the weeks leading up to, and then throughout, the holiday season.

After people return to work and school in early January, most restaurants experience relatively low demand – save Valentine’s Day – through the winter months. Thus, the challenge of finding the restaurant staff required to service the busy holiday period is real, especially knowing this period will be followed by months of reduced labour needs.

Create a hiring plan

Review last year’s staffing needs and build a roster based on your past requirements. Do a forecast of covers to try to determine how busy you’ll be over the holidays. A hiring plan will help you do a better job of forecasting how much staffing you’ll need any given day or evening and how many more bodies you may need to hire.

So how do you plan your staffing for the holiday season?

Begin at recruitment

Prospective employees at any time of year should be told when the restaurant is busy over the holiday season and what days will require “all hands on deck.” The busiest period for most restaurants is the weeks leading up to the holiday break, really until the majority of people are off work. Expectations about when staff must be available should be communicated during the recruitment and hiring phase. Those hired to assist with the incremental demand leading up to the holidays should know upfront when they’ll need to be on deck. Exceptions to the “all hands on deck” requirement during this period should be limited.

Determine your needs early

I recommend forecasting three or four months in advance. That way you can give employees as much notice as possible and determine who might need to swap days or weeks off so that the schedule works as well as it can for everybody. If you are fair about giving people time off when they need it, they'll usually help you on the days you really need them.

Work with employees to accommodate as many requests as possible while ensuring sufficient staff are available to provide proper service during the period of peak demand. Longer holidays should be scheduled, if possible, in the low demand winter months. Advanced planning and scheduling make it easier for everyone. Working to schedule vacations throughout the year and ensuring that each staff member has as many time-off requests approved as possible are important for staff morale.

Use staffing strategies

Most of those working in foodservice work long hours up to and including Christmas Eve, receive Christmas off, and then are busy again Boxing Day and the days following. Restaurants typically close early Christmas Eve and reopen Boxing Day or later, providing a break for staff to celebrate with friends and family. If possible, extend this break by having half the staff take extra time before the shutdown and others take it after the shutdown. Your restaurant staff will really appreciate your thoughtfulness and reward you with their loyalty.

Schedule vacations throughout the year

Employees are often more accepting of demands during the restaurant’s peak period leading up to the holidays if their time-off requests are accommodated throughout the year. Management should constantly work with staff to plan vacation schedules in such a way that everyone gets holidays. While in foodservice we expect to work when others play, accommodating a reasonable number of time-off requests so staff members can attend events and functions important to them builds loyalty and willingness to put in the extra time when required.

Don’t forget to say thanks!

The busy period leading up to the holiday season is probably the most stressful time in restaurants. You can alleviate this stress by consistently expressing gratitude for the extra effort and ensuring morale remains high. A post-holiday appreciation event for staff can be a great benefit, providing something to look forward to during the peak period, and, for longer-term staff an important annual event.

Jeff Dover is a principal with fsSTRATEGY Inc., a niche consulting firm based in Toronto focused on assisting foodservice operators to enhance customer satisfaction, revenues and return on investment. For more information visit

Quick tips to staff for the holidays

  • Start early so you’re not caught scrambling as the holidays approach.
  • Create a matrix to plot your staffing needs and revisit it seasonally.
  • Work with your existing staff to manage their schedules and ask for their support if you need to hire seasonal employees.
  • Be flexible in your demands.
  • Reward your staff for easing the holiday crunch.