HR for Restaurants: Tips and Challenges for 2024

You’re no stranger to fast-paced environments and working with tight profits, so you know all about how important HR for restaurants can be—right? 

As a restaurant owner, your focus is probably on the food—but falling behind on restaurant HR can taste as bad as too much salt. Amid fluctuating food costs and high customer demand, you might prioritize your food, beverage, and staffing needs, and put upgrading your restaurant HR processes at the bottom of your to-do list. 

Even with everything on your plate, neglecting restaurant human resources is never worth the cost. Restaurants need HR to help manage restaurant staffing, scheduling, compensation, payroll, and compliance. 

With a little HR advice, busy restaurateurs will be ready to delight customers and local food and beverage authorities alike. Here’s what you need to know to get started with restaurant HR.

What is HR for restaurants?

Restaurant HR is responsible for all sorts of team-building tasks, including recruiting, hiring, onboarding. They may also train staff, manage benefits, retain talent, and keep your restaurant compliant with health and safety.

When needed, human resources professionals (in-house if you’re large enough, or a consultant for compliance) can also advise restaurant managers on employee-related matters like hiring and firing decisions and disciplinary concerns. They can even educate employers and employees about company policies and local, state, and federal business and employment laws.

Without the right HR policies for restaurants and their staff, your establishment may quickly run into issues with compliance, hefty safety violations, and staff turnover.

What makes restaurant HR different from other industries?

Because of how restaurants are legally required to ‌operate, restaurant HR faces unique challenges that HR in the hospitality industry or retail industry may not.

  • Staffing challenges: In its 2024 State of the Industry report, the National Restaurant Association found that 45% of restaurants don’t have enough labor to meet customer demand. It’s no secret that staff turnover is a constant source of frustration for restaurant owners. 
  • Unpredictable scheduling: Because they’re not like regular, predictable 9–5 businesses, restaurant HR policies have to adapt to constantly changing employee availability and balance part-time and full-time schedules.
  • Interpersonal concerns: Busy restaurants also tend to be fast-paced, high-pressure environments where managers have to solve interpersonal issues between employees. Operators also need to stay ahead of things like harassment, sexual harassment, bullying, and discrimination.
  • Food safety and worker safety: Restaurant owners have a responsibility to train their workers on food safety and handling so customers don’t contract food-borne illnesses. Remember that restaurant work can also pose health and safety hazards for kitchen staff and servers.

HR is important in every industry. But in the wild and wonderful world of restaurants, HR faces unique challenges and plays a uniquely important role.

Do restaurants need HR?

Talented chefs and waitstaff aren’t the only ingredients critical to any restaurant’s success. All restaurants need some form of HR, whether in-house or outsourced.

Human resources support is necessary for restaurants to maintain safe work environments for their employees, create safe and satisfying experiences for their customers, comply with safety regulations, and ultimately grow as a business.

Benefits of HR in the restaurant industry.

While it may not be typical for restaurants to outsource HR support, human resources management for the food industry can meet key restaurant needs. The right restaurant HR services can:

  • Help restaurants stay updated and compliant with minimum wage laws, tipping laws, overtime laws, workplace safety laws, the FLSA (Fair Labor Standards Act), and the FMLA (Family and Medical Leave Act).
  • Educate restaurant owners about regulatory agencies like OSHA (Occupational Safety and Health Administration) and state food and safety agencies. 
  • Train restaurant operators to handle their own HR issues like hiring, onboarding, firing, record keeping, and payroll. 
  • Help restaurants manage interpersonal matters that might arise between employees.

Whether you have an in-house HR team or outsource your restaurant HR needs, these services are invaluable to your business.

5 steps to get started with HR in your restaurant.

Whether you’re new to restaurant operations or new to HR processes in your restaurant, we recommend taking these steps before implementing your restaurant’s HR services.

Step 1: assess your HR needs.

Human resources support for restaurants comes in many sizes. To determine your HR needs, think about:

  • Your current and potential staffing needs.
  • Past, current, and potential compliance challenges.
  • Past, current, and potential safety issues.
  • Whether you need restaurant payroll support.
  • How much time you’re spending on scheduling.
  • Current budget.

The bigger the restaurant, the more HR support you likely need. But even if you’re just starting off, you still might need a significant amount of HR support, as you have payroll, benefits, and training standards to establish. Or you may decide a restaurant HR consultant is enough.

Nobody knows your restaurant like you do. Unique issues like frequent interpersonal challenges should be factored in when determining your HR needs. 

Step 2: determine how you want to manage your payroll system. 

You’ll want to include a system for calculating and syncing worker hours to your timesheets, as well as calculating overtime, giving PTO, and withholding taxes.

The right restaurant payroll software or support can help you streamline this entire process. Finding a payroll system that fits your needs and budget can save you time and headaches. 

Step 3: figure out how you’ll organize employee information. 

Where will you store your employee tax forms, emergency contacts, certifications, and specific payroll details? Will it be a digital or paper-based system? Whichever route you choose, make sure you’re following local, state, and national laws around storing employee information.

Step 4: create a system for onboarding and training new hires.

New hires need to be trained on policies, food safety and food handling, worker safety, and anti-discrimination. Creating an employee handbook with everything in one place can help you streamline that process.

Step 5: create a system for ongoing training and feedback. 

A system for ongoing staff training and feedback means information has to move in both directions. Continuous training and feedback helps create a positive work environment, builds trust amongst your team members, and gives you insight into your employees’ mindsets. 

After you’ve gotten a better understanding of your restaurant’s HR needs, we suggest using HR management software with the dedicated features you need to take the manual work of HR off your plate. 

For example, if you have an efficient system for running payroll, you may find you only need a tool that automatically updates your timesheets when employees clock in and out. (That’s one reason Homebase customers love our time clock tool.)

What features to look for in an HR service.

There’s an array of software offering HR services out there, and you may find that some of them make more sense for your restaurant operations than others. Here are some of the major features to look out for:

  • Recruitment features should let you easily create and distribute job postings, as well as track, communicate with, and hire applicants. For instance, Homebase makes it easy to quickly create job postings, review screening questions, and communicate with applicants.
  • Onboarding features should help you streamline onboarding by letting you distribute and store tax forms, direct deposit forms, employee handbooks, and employee welcome packets in one place.
  • Time tracking features should help you stay ahead of overtime and labor costs by letting you track employee hours as they’re updated and sync with time cards for payroll.
  • Payroll management features should let you convert time cards into wages and hours for payday, and automate your tax withholding and filing procedures.

The right HR help can empower you to take control of your restaurant and focus on feeding your community. By finding a solution that checks the above boxes, you’re setting yourself up for a future of full bellies—and a little less salt.

See what we mean: Watch to see how Homebase has helped Brooklyn Tea take control of scheduling, deliver stability to their team, and ultimately enjoy what they do even more.

Best HR software for restaurants.

HR software can run the gamut from all-in-one services to one or two features designed specifically for restaurants. Here’s our short list of the best HR software for restaurants.

All-in-one software for small businesses with hourly workers

Homebase lets you hire, onboard, schedule, time track, communicate with your team, run payroll for your restaurant, and sync everything together—all in one place. A certified HR advisor can even answer your questions and give you HR guidance.

Recruitment software

Fountain specializes in high-volume hiring for the food and beverage, logistics, retail, manufacturing, hospitality, and medical industries. They provide specific hiring tools that help food and delivery companies source their candidates.

Onboarding software

Workstream is great for restaurant owners looking for a text-based, digital solution to hire and onboard new employees.

Time-tracking software

7shifts is a restaurant scheduling software that works with independent restaurants, national chains, and fast-food franchises to help them manage their team’s schedules, timesheets, tasks, tips, and communication.

Payroll management

If payroll is your only need, Gusto and Paychex offer payroll management services made for small businesses.

Restaurant HR: mistakes to avoid.

HR practices in the food industry can differ from other businesses. No matter your restaurant’s unique flavor, there are some human resources mistakes every restaurant should look out for.

Poor training.

Poor training can negatively impact more than just one member of your staff. Someone who’s poorly trained can cause issues for your entire team—and for your loyal customers.

If you want to attract and retain top restaurant talent, you need to offer thorough training that goes beyond one-day onboarding. It’s also a great idea to cross-train your team so they can cover for one another during sick days or planned vacations.

Offer continuous training to engage your team. Attending restaurant conferences can show you how other professionals are doing it. Train your team on the latest methods for a smooth kitchen and to keep your customers in culinary paradise.

Neglected safety protocols.

You may think an initial training for your team is all that’s needed for safety protocols, but food safety is no joke. In fact, foodborne illnesses can cost a restaurant up to 101% of their annual revenue.

Food safety is paramount to any dining experience whether you’re a greasy spoon or a fine dining establishment. Make sure your team is always up to the latest on safety. 

Don’t wait for the specter of an inspector. Instead, make safety training part of your training rotation quarterly or every six months.

Confronting dine-and-dashers.

While shoplifting isn’t as common in the restaurant industry as it is in retail, there’s always someone who thinks they can eat and run. The worst thing you can do is encourage your staff to confront dine-and-dashers.

Confronting thieves can lead to legal issues depending on the state you’re in. Instead of putting your employees in an unnecessary and tense situation, create a policy for what to do if someone tries to leave without paying. 

Dismissing feedback.

It doesn’t always take a flambé to fire people up. Restaurants are fast-paced environments, and dismissing feedback from your staff can cause tension and alienation in a high-pressure context.

Proper restaurant communication can empower your team to share helpful feedback and feel heard. Fostering an environment of open communication can result in a more engaged, level-headed, and hard-working team.

Understaffing.

Restaurant HR is faced with the difficult task of making sure there are enough people on-hand, from the kitchen to the front to the dining room. While overstaffing can cut into profits, understaffing can lead to overworked employees, a poor dining experience, and a damaged reputation for your restaurant.

With the right restaurant scheduling software, you can streamline scheduling and ensure your restaurant is set up for one scrumptious night after another. For example, with Homebase you can automate schedules, optimize labor costs and utilization, and send everyone an automatic notification with their new schedule.

Unfair discipline.

Keep dishes hot and tempers cool with fair discipline guidelines and practices.

Everybody makes mistakes. Instead of doling unfair punishments out to your staff, look for learning opportunities. If someone messed up a dish or accidentally broke a food safety protocol, re-upping training and giving staff room to improve will go a lot farther than docked wages.

Missing compliance.

Few places move faster than a restaurant. HR solutions can be one way you stop things from falling through the cracks.

One of the biggest tasks of human resource management in the food industry is making sure you’re up to speed on compliance. Following all local, state, and national compliance and labor laws is what keeps your doors open. HR consulting for the restaurant industry can help keep you compliant—and keep you bringing home the bacon.

Best practices for managing HR at a restaurant.

To keep fluctuating staff and safety regulations in hand, successful restaurant managers should prioritize these best practices for HR.

Be honest with restaurant employees.

Honesty is key to creating effective HR policies, and a lack of it can make or break a restaurant culture. But what does honesty between management and employees actually look like?

Putting transparency first in the hiring, onboarding, and training of restaurant employees means being upfront about wages and how your payroll system works. It also means acknowledging that workplace conflicts and harassment can happen in a restaurant—and showing you have a procedure in place to address them.

Continue training beyond onboarding.

The restaurant business experiences constant changes, from updates to wage laws, safety laws, and food regulations to increasing customer demand. Weather the changes with scheduled, ongoing regular training. 

Let employees know that you may hold occasional impromptu training sessions to address unexpected situations. Far from burdening employees, this lets them know that you’re attentive to the challenges they may face on the job.

Understand local restaurant laws.

US-based restaurants are generally subject to federal laws around compensation, worker safety, and anti-discrimination. But it’s important to learn and stay updated on laws about things like minimum wage, overtime, and alcohol, which can vary at state and even county level.

For example, the FLSA requires non-tipped employees to be paid a minimum wage of $7.25, and tipped employees have to be paid a minimum of $2.13 across the country. But Alaska requires employers to pay workers the minimum state wage of $11.73, and in California minimum wage can be as much as $16.00.

Offer good benefits to employees.

If recruitment and retention matter to your restaurant, offer excellent benefits to your employees. A competitive health insurance plan is a great place to start, but here are some other ways to get creative with employee benefits:

  • Paid time off
  • Health reimbursement arrangements
  • Tuition reimbursement
  • Childcare reimbursement
  • Holidays off
  • Free meals at work
  • A channel for performance recognition

Upgrade your restaurant HR with Homebase.

When you opened a restaurant, you dreamed of tantalizing taste buds and feeding loved ones—not stressing about the latest compliance violations or how to streamline scheduling for your team. 

With the right help, you don’t have to. Homebase HR Pro gives you access to a full HR library that includes templates, guides, and training to get your HR needs in order. You can even talk to a real human HR-certified advisor who can review your policies and answer your questions.

Don’t stay in the dark about restaurant HR solutions. Give your dishes that special sauce and partner with Homebase today.

HR Restaurant FAQs

What does HR do for a restaurant?

HR support for restaurants can help manage safety, compliance, hiring and onboarding, training, payroll, and benefits. Doing all this helps your business find stability.

What does HR mean in the food industry?

Human resources in the food industry is similar to HR for other industries on the surface level. Unlike HR for other industries, HR in the food industry means navigating particularly difficult staffing challenges, defusing interpersonal challenges between employees, a fast-paced and tense work environment, and managing food and worker safety concerns.

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