As the weather cools, you’re likely to experience a shift in guest preferences and expectations when it comes to your available seating, both indoors and out. While many of your guests may have put the pandemic behind them and are happy to eat inside, others may be looking to avoid mixing with others indoors and expecting your outdoor seating area to be open. Now is a good time to give your cool-weather plan a review so you can readily tell guests in advance (on your website, reservations platform, phone line and other places where you provide information about your restaurant) whether your outdoor seating area is open, as well as share any adaptations you have made to make the area more comfortable in chilly weather. After all, in an era of abundant plexiglass and dining bubbles, outdoor dining in cool weather can look very different across restaurants. While you’re at it, consider the comfort and safety of your outdoor furniture – including replacing aluminum chairs that are icy to the touch or using blankets to warm them up, covering or securely storing outdoor furniture overnight to protect it against inclement weather, and clearing away leaves, twigs and other debris that may collect on your walkways and cause a tripping hazard.
Labor needs have been soaring at restaurants, but you wouldn’t know it by looking at enrollment in culinary schools. According to a recent Washington Post report, the Culinary Institute of America now accepts 97 percent of all who apply, up from 36 percent two decades ago. Over the same time frame, the percentage of students who ended up enrolling dropped from 91 percent to 33 percent. To be sure, the low pay in the sector relative to the cost of culinary education, the strains of the pandemic on the industry, and increased prioritization of flexible work schedules, paid sick leave and health insurance haven’t helped those results. The industry’s labor challenges are expected to persist: The Bureau of Labor Statistics projects that the need for chefs will climb 25 percent from 2020 to 2030 as compared to an 8 percent average projected growth rate for all occupations. All that said, there is a silver lining for those looking to enter the industry – and for restaurants looking for motivated staff. The current conditions may provide aspiring chefs with the opportunity to get on a faster track to higher-level positions in the industry. One restaurant manager quoted in the Post report said jobs that once required a person to pay their dues over 10 years or more might now be achievable within three to five years. Candidates for these jobs may not come from the country’s top culinary schools but from high school culinary programs or other alternative programs that give students a taste of restaurant work and may spark some motivation for developing a career in the industry. Restaurant operators may have to mine for talent in new places and develop more in-depth training programs that provide education on the job in exchange for work provided. But at the same time, these efforts may also help transform how restaurant employment is perceived by the workforce, elevating restaurants as places in which a person can build a long-term career.
Limited-time offers are a critical tool for restaurant operators right now. While most restaurant brands won’t be so lucky as to land on the next Pumpkin Spice Latte or Shamrock Shake, LTOs still bring benefits that are especially helpful in uncertain economic times. They can motivate guests to return more often, inspire loyalty by helping your most frequent guests build rewards more quickly, and help you innovate on a shoestring by providing you with a vehicle for testing new ideas. They can also help you stay front-of-mind with guests throughout the year by giving you a regular stream of content to promote. Holidays and changing seasons can provide natural inspiration and launching points for new LTOS. Even the best idea won’t take off without a plan to help it succeed, however, so lean on your marketing and communication tools to generate awareness and interest. Get the word out about each LTO on your email list and provide an exclusive offer around it. Design a contest to generate buzz on social media around your offer, and make sure that all promotions — email, social media and in-store — link back to up-to-date information on your website. Make it easy for guests to get more information about your offer by using a QR code on all materials and linking it to key information on your website. Throughout the process, collect data on the response from guests that you can analyze in an effort to both feed your future plans for LTOs and also course-correct where needed.
Enticing guests to splurge or treat themselves can be a tough sell when consumers are pinching pennies. But people still have to eat, so reinforcing the value you provide — not necessarily the low prices but the quality of the overall experience — can make coming to your restaurant a justifiable expense for guests. A recent report from Modern Restaurant Management shared how a range of different brands have been promoting value to guests, including a $5 off dine-in offer for a limited time this summer in an effort to help guests pay for gas, and an “inflation relief” menu that slashed prices by as much as 75 percent for a limited time. Offering discounts can only happen for so long at a time when restaurants themselves are also straining to eke out profits, so whether you’re cutting prices for a limited time or not, it’s just as important to think beyond the monetary value you provide. As you plan your promotions in the months ahead, think of the value you’re providing from different angles. Maybe you can help your guests solve a problem, like the offer above that helps guests pay for gas. Perhaps you can offer social value by bringing people together at a happy hour or other event. Maybe your brand is one that can offer psychological value because of the care you take in offering healthy options or your commitment to sourcing from sustainable suppliers. Weaving several kinds of value into what you offer can strengthen the offers you provide. Your efforts don’t have to be elaborate: Even a simple thank-you message to guests on your website and social media can help boost the good will that brings people back.
When so many supplies are scarce and restaurant operators are facing mounting pressure to source popular menu ingredients or suitable substitutes, cutting corners on sustainability is understandable. But increasingly, consumers hinge their spending on the degree of trust they have in the ethics of a business. Further, any sustainability risks within your supply chain could damage the value of your brand, impact your ability to adapt to change and make it difficult to remain in business. Being clear about your own mission and values can help you communicate them to suppliers, employees, investors and customers — and help you hold yourself and others accountable. In a recent report from New Food Magazine, Rick Sanderson, founder of the STAR Index ESG Platform, advises brands to focus on four P’s to gauge their starting point in this effort and to actively monitor progress: people, politics, platforms and partners. Do you have people around you who can adapt to ever-changing conditions and who ideally bring some external insights to their work? Are all departments and influencers in your business aligned in their willingness to adapt to changes, or do you have skeptics who need to be persuaded? Do you have the technology platforms needed to monitor and measure your progress, as well as to communicate with customers, suppliers and other parties? Are you aligned with partners who can help support your strategy and objectives — and who are motivated by their own mission to improve sustainability?
During this period of high inflation, some restaurant leaders are noticing a reduction in sales or traffic, though this has been uneven across restaurant brands. A recent CNBC report indicated that at McDonald’s and Chipotle, lower-income guests were spending less and higher-income guests were visiting more often. On the other hand, brands including Starbucks, Bloomin’ Brands and Restaurant Brands International say they aren’t seeing major changes in guest spending. Regardless, it’s a good time for restaurants to focus on nurturing loyalty — particularly fine-dining and other higher-end brands that may experience more of a dip in business during an inflationary period. According to a recent survey of over 2,000 American consumers by LendingTree, half of consumers said retail, food and other loyalty programs are more important to them than ever. You can encourage consumers to make your business one of the ones they continue to visit in a rocky economy if you focus on offering special experiences — members-only dinner promotions, wine cellar tours or sommelier talks for your wine-enthusiast guests, or early access to reservations for a special event. Attract more guests who are similar to your favorite visitors by creating a referral program that offers a free appetizer or drink on their return visit, or some extra loyalty points in both accounts after a new guest signs up — it may help you bring both people back when they are looking for a place to dine together or with a larger group of friends. At a time when technology is replacing some interpersonal connections between your staff and guests, ensure that the ones you do have with guests are high-quality — remembering their names and food preferences, ensuring their payment is especially seamless, and simply welcoming them back like friends can go a long way.