Just when Covid-19 was becoming more manageable for restaurants, the war in Ukraine is intensifying inflationary pressures on everything from wages to food supplies to equipment. No doubt, these are trying times for operators – and economists expect them to continue into next year. But these times can also provide opportunities to fix operational processes that have long needed attention and can no longer be ignored. As Keith Anderkin, chief supply chain officer for the fast-casual chicken chain Zaxby’s, recently said in a podcast for Restaurant Business, “never waste a good crisis.” Imagine how your business will be in a position to thrive in better times if you can get a handle on any weak points now. So what might you do to ensure you’re operating as efficiently as you can? Fine-tune your communication with your marketing team so you’re able to adjust your calendar of promotions in sync with your changing supply. That may mean focusing more on core menu items that are easier to source, then weaving in limited-time offers as needed to ease the pressure when supplies become scarce. Or it could mean strengthening your pipeline of menu items in development so you have a deeper bench to lean on when a key player isn’t available. You might assess your current and future equipment needs and find out where a substitute piece of equipment may be acceptable – and get a jump on ordering something that is critical but comes with a long waiting period. It may mean taking a closer look at your labor and identifying how to ensure you’re using it wisely in both front-of-house and back-of-house tasks. It’s rare to be operating at a time when so many challenges are colliding. Making sure you’re in close connection with all areas of your operation can help you understand any areas where you might find some relief.
Labor attraction and retention isn’t getting any easier for restaurants. According to a Bureau of Labor Statistics report released in January, quit rates for the accommodation and foodservice industry increased from 4.8 percent to 6.9 percent over the previous year, a larger spike than any other sector listed. As the pandemic has amplified restaurants’ labor challenges, businesses across the industry have been taking a range of approaches to attract and retain staff. According to research from Black Box Intelligence, pay increases are only part of the solution. Offers of sick days, paid leave and variable pay are also on the increase in an effort to improve restaurant workers’ quality of life. Dig, the chain of approximately two dozen local, farm-sourced restaurants in the Northeast, has been taking cues from the pandemic-era offerings of corporations and giving their staff the option of a four-day work week. According to a Fast Company report, Dig experimented with the offering while they were running a smaller number of restaurants during Covid lockdowns. Staff were given the option of working one less day than they would normally, but the same number of hours across the week. As Dig offers a 40-hour work week, this has meant that participating staff work 10-hour shifts. While it may not work for every restaurant or every employee, Dig leaders say that the workers who have chosen to stick with the schedule have reported having better work-life balance and more time for responsibilities outside of work. (In fact, in an internal survey of 45 people who have participated in the changed work week so far, 87 percent said they would recommend the new schedule.) Looking at your shift schedule, staff needs and restaurant tasks, what might you adjust to offer better work-life balance to staff without sacrificing business needs? Even on a small scale, could you take any cues from businesses in other sectors that are known for strong attraction and retention of staff?