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The Implications of Worker Behavior for Staffing Decisions: Empirical Evidence and Best Practices


Cornell Hospitality Quarterly

Published online on


Restaurant employees adjust their sales efforts and service speed as more tables are filled and the workload increases. A study of five casual-dining restaurants finds that when the overall workload is low, as guest traffic begins to pick up and the restaurant becomes busy, the servers step up their game by redoubling their sales efforts through suggestive selling and upselling. Once the workload hits a certain level, however, the servers dial back on selling, take steps to shorten meal duration, and focus primarily on service speed. This inverted-U relationship between employee workload and performance holds both in terms of the number of tables and diners that a server concurrently handles. One implication of this analysis is that restaurants may be overstaffed because the employees’ extra effort meant their workload threshold was not reached in the restaurants being studied. Because of the phenomenon of increased employee effort, this chain could reduce its staffing level on average of one worker per shift while still achieving higher sales. An estimated 3 percent increase in sales would result from servers’ increased sales efforts, which occur until the trigger point is reached and employees focus only on speedy service. This article is based on a paper presented at the 2013 Quality in Service Conference (QUIS).