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QSR staffing during COVID-19: Lessons from our clients

QSR owners are used to making a thousand decisions a day. Quick-service has by design been built to move fast. Regrettably, the COVID-19 pandemic is outside our control and forcing us to make major changes quickly to ensure public safety as well as the longevity of our businesses.

Now is one of those times where the industry, its leaders, and our staff are truly being tested. With that in mind, our team spoke with some of our clients about how they are handling staffing during this trying time. Our hope is these insights help owners, managers, and everyone front and back-of-house regain control of staffing during uncontrollable times.

**These insights have come from conversations with owners of Taco Bell, Chick-fil-A, and other QSR brands nationwide.**

A sign that reads "NOW HIRING"


“People still need to eat, so we have to be prepared to keep serving!”

QSR Operator in Texas.




Be prepared to over-staff
Just about every owner I spoke with is increasing their hiring in preparation for some subset of their staff getting sick or needing to be out of work. With kids staying home from school, many of their staff members are looking to reduce or rearrange shifts in order to accommodate the new normal.

Our clients are taking a page from other industries that ramp staffing during the holidays and bringing on applicants under the agreement that they are temporary for the foreseeable future. One tactic they are using is messaging all previous applicants and asking them to reapply. Previously, our team has found that 32% of previous applicants will reapply through the Sprockets platform when prompted.


Handling an influx of applicants
As other sectors within foodservice, in particular casual and fine dining, and the hourly workforce scale down their staff, QSR locations are seeing an influx of applicants. Not all of our clients need this many staff members, but don’t want to miss out on what they are calling “an unfortunate opportunity”. When asked to explain, they helped me understand that they don’t want to miss out on quality applicants. Sourcing is not always easy in QSR, so they want to make sure they don’t pass on an applicant that could be a great hire in the future.

What we found is these locations are still sending applicants through the Sprockets system to be scored and archived for future hiring needs. The prevailing thought is that when they need to potentially over-staff, or a staff member gets sick, they will have a group of pre-qualified applicants to call.


A man in a pizza shopCross-training employees
As dining areas close, drive-thru and delivery sales are on the rise. Many of our clients are focusing on cross-training staff members to take on new roles. An owner of a pizza chain is using Sprockets to identify which staff members compare well to their top-performing employees in other job roles. Doing so has made it easy to know which employees to shift into various roles based on their personality as opposed to previous experience, which many don’t have. This cross-training has allowed them to keep from reducing staff hours as well as handle the influx in delivery and drive-thru sales.


Displaying staff preparedness to clients
QSR’s focus on customer service and thoroughness is putting the industry in a unique position to cater to our customers’ concerns. What I mean by this is we naturally take safe serve precautions in our daily routines at a restaurant and put the needs of our customers first. Now it’s crucial to communicate what we’ve always done (i.e. wash our hands, wear gloves, etc.) as a way to show the patrons that they can trust ordering from our location.

Owners are taking steps to train staff members to almost “make a show” of these routines in order to boost consumer confidence and patronage. What has always been the issue with these routines, is selecting staff members mature enough to take them seriously. The owners I spoke with are being hypervigilant in watching how staff members react and dismissing those not taking things seriously.


Who’s your “Hurricane Crew”?
Growing up in the restaurant industry in Charleston, SC I became very familiar with the “Hurricane Crew”. These are your staff members that have a strong sense of community and want to serve others in trying times. Taking shifts during major storms was a bit of a “badge of honor” and staff members truly felt pride in feeding the community during a recovery.

While COVID-19 will be with us much longer than a hurricane, our local clients are still taking the time to identify which staff members are willing to be part of the crew if they are forced to be short-staffed. The advice we received is to not only identify the individuals for those types of long hour grinds, but to also have an “emergency shift schedule” preplanned for a two-week period.


Making the difficult choice
While most of the owners I spoke with are positive about how to handle staffing, some are worried about how to keep their best staff members should a location need to shut down. Responses ranged from making choices based on past performance to simply instituting a last-one-in, first-one-out policy.

Of course, the advice our customer service team provided was to add objective data to the mix. By knowing who your top performers are, regardless of tenure, you have a better understanding of who is working well for your location. In addition, we recommended looking at how team members compared from one location to another. Our platform can identify if a middle-range performer may actually be a top performer at a different location under another GM. Our clients already use this process when routing new applicants to specific job roles or locations based on their match score.


Filling orders and hiring will continue…
Our clients feel prepared to handle the trying times that COVID-19 has brought. They know they will continue to need a quality staff and that hiring will remain as constant in their business as the food they serve. Again, our hope is the lessons our clients have taught us will be helpful to you and your business.


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