Back in August, a survey of restaurant operators by the National Restaurant Association found that 65 percent of respondents did not have sufficient staff to meet guest demand. That means there are a lot of restaurants having to streamline tasks, adopt new technology to offset labor loss wherever possible, and make tough decisions about where employees are truly needed most in the business. If you’re struggling to do as much as possible with far fewer staff resources than would be ideal, start with that last point. Considering the people you have available to you, what is the most important function for them to serve? Talk to them about how their skills can best support the business in those places. Then get creative – or even ruthless – about making changes in other places. A recent Reuters report indicated that restaurant brands are taking such steps as introducing new equipment that can accelerate or automate aspects of cooking and cleanup, using more speed-scratch ingredients, and changing preparation procedures so that any time spent waiting for food to cook is time spent completing tasks that previously would have been handled separately at the start of a shift. Scrutinize any wasted labor at each step of a shift. When you look at the preparation of each menu item and your needs to keep your operation clean and safe, where is there room to optimize the staff resources you have on hand? Across a shift and across a restaurant chain, all of those labor efficiencies add up. You may be able to operate with less staff than you had previously thought.
Is your labor pool feeling a bit shallow? You’re far from alone. In the National Restaurant Association’s May 2022 tracking survey, 58 percent of operators said recruiting and retaining employees is the top challenge currently facing their business. Some tactics to improve your ability to attract and retain staff: Weed out dangerous or dirty tasks – try to either automate them or improve them. Incorporate more tools and appliances that don’t require skilled labor to use. Embrace speed-scratch and other ready-to-go ingredients that cut down on labor. Put your training on autopilot so your managers and staff can spend more time with guests or on food preparation. Finally, leave tempers at the door.
Resuming “business as usual” has been impossible for many restaurants in the current economic environment. As brands have increased prices in recent months – typically multiple times – many are needing to take new approaches to close the profitability gap. A recent Restaurant Business report described how Chili’s, which has increased prices six times in the first nine months of its fiscal year, is now overhauling its service model and menu to drive not only better efficiency now, but also better adaptability down the line. Wyman Roberts, CEO of Chili’s parent company Brinker International, said the brand’s new menu, which will be more costly, will reduce operational complexity, restructure their value proposition for better margins and provide pricing flexibility in the future. The company is also aiming to operate more efficiently through a service model that uses handheld devices and more food runners (including robotic food runners in some locations) to help reduce the labor they need. Even if you’re not already planning to overhaul your business in a similar way right now, the efforts restaurants are making to eke out profits will change the competitive landscape for everyone – and could force changes on others. As you look at your operation, it’s more important than ever to address pain points and friction wherever you experience them – and consider approaches that may make your restaurant look a lot different than it has in the past. Your service model, menu, labor strategy, foundational technology and marketing strategy should all be on the table as you consider how to prepare your business to succeed now and adjust as needed in the future.
Restaurant operators are feeling the pinch from all directions right now – double the unemployment of the general economy, widespread supply shortages and inflationary woes. One recent study found that 64 percent of consumers plan to cut back on their restaurant spending. Amid these challenges, many restaurant brands are trying to reconfigure their physical operations to accommodate the new ways in which consumers are demanding restaurant food. Some formerly full-service restaurants are converting to fast-casual or quick-service models. Others are expanding drive-through lanes, adding windows dedicated to third-party delivery pickup or otherwise making off-premise orders a bigger priority. But all of this costs money – and something has to give. In your operation, what might that be? Amid the strains of the times, there are also opportunities, as well as more companies looking to offer them. In a recent webinar, Morgan Petty of the Interactive Customer Experience Association moderated a discussion with representatives from Steritech and Zaxby’s about how restaurant operators might leverage current market disruptions to improve the brand experience they offer guests. Steritech, for one, is now supporting clients in the midst of remodeling by offering up its specialists to visit client restaurant sites around the country, take photos of every item that an onsite real estate team from the restaurant would normally want to inspect, then upload those photos to an online portal for review by the restaurant. The company says across 500 site visits, it has given restaurant clients back more than 500 hours and reduced their labor cost by 70 percent. Everyone is having to find creative ways to reduce spending, do more with less labor, or otherwise be more efficient with resources right now. What priorities are you managing that can be addressed in modified ways?