As the coronavirus has spread and restaurants have had to transition to a takeout-only model, what are restaurants to do to protect themselves and the customers they serve – and to somehow keep business coming in? Despite the many tech advances that have swept the industry, restaurants – until very recently – have been social places where people are on the front lines. A recent Restaurant Business report, which includes advice from a law firm specializing in employment issues, advises clear communication with employees in several areas: share your plan with them (and make sure it covers employee concerns such as your sick leave policy and your plan of operation during school closures) and provide training to ensure everyone knows what procedures to follow if they develop symptoms of COVID-19 or are diagnosed with it. Day to day, increase your efforts to sanitize door handles and kitchen and bathroom surfaces more often. Some operators are placing hand sanitizer at their building entrances, as well as outside the restroom and at stations in the back of the house. And while delivery was once considered a nice-to-have service, it’s now critical. Even if you don’t currently offer mobile ordering tech, now is the time to adjust your menu and offer a simple takeout menu that can be picked up outside of your establishment or dropped off outside a customer’s door for contactless delivery. Right now food delivery is considered a public service for people who are elderly, vulnerable and isolated, so promote on social media and to neighborhood news groups that you are open and ready to help, and provide your menu and contact information. Finally, encourage people to pick up the phone and call you – it’s old-fashioned but people are missing the social connections that restaurants have long been able to provide. You can provide a valuable way for people maintain those community ties as the industry pulls through this time of uncertainty.
When it comes to restaurant food delivery, the numbers don’t often add up – for the operator, the customer or even the third-party delivery company. A recent New York Times report found in a survey of GrubHub, DoorDash, Postmates and Uber Eats – the four largest third-party delivery apps in the U.S. – that customers were paying as much as 91 percent more for food delivered via these apps. In the meantime, operators are trying to carve out razor-thin profits from delivery orders and delivery companies are struggling to make money in a sea of competition. But since off-premise demand continues to climb and restaurants are adjusting their sales models and even their physical structures to accommodate it, how can operators make the costs easier to swallow for both customers and themselves? Offering delivery by hiring in-house couriers can help, though it isn’t necessarily feasible for everyone. A Restaurant Dive report says industry analysts predict restaurants will adjust prices, use virtual kitchens, adopt their own branded platforms or renegotiate their commission rates with third-party delivery companies in an effort to get ahead. Renegotiation may come in the form of changes in sales structure too: Technomic says a key way that providers are evolving right now is by offering delivery subscriptions – all-inclusive delivery for a monthly fee, as well as delivery discounts for loyal customers – incentives that can come directly from restaurants too.
Amid the rise of restaurant technology, many restaurant industry leaders have held that while robots and other technology would progressively be used to handle repetitive tasks once completed by employees, the employment landscape would also change, not just eliminating jobs but creating new roles that require human skills and allow people to build longer-term careers in the industry. This could be the year when that shift becomes more visible. In a QSR Magazine article predicting 2020 trends, GJ Hart, the CEO of Torchy’s Tacos, predicts this year will bring increased efforts by operators to attract and retain talent, such as providing educational benefits and other programs that help employees climb the corporate ladder. Torchy’s, for one, has a managing partners program that allows restaurant managers to operate their own locations. Taco Bell is also raising the bar when it comes to employee incentives. A recent Bloomberg article reports that the brand will be testing a higher salary – $100,000 – for restaurant managers in select U.S. restaurants in the midwest and northeast. (Current salaries for general managers at company-owned stores fall between $50,000 and $80,000, the report says.) While other brands may not be able to afford to transition to this kind of model, brands that are making such changes stand to alter the competitive landscape when it comes to hiring – and perhaps shift the kind of worker restaurants are able to attract. This year, what actions can you take – large or small – to make your business attractive as a long-term career prospect for the people you hire?
Storytelling is “the new strategic imperative of business,” according to a report in Forbes. A brand with a strong narrative is a powerful brand – and science backs up the power that stories can bring to a business. Studies have found that by telling stories, the brains of the storyteller and listener synchronize, creating a shared experience. The brand consultancy Buffer suggests three ways you can use storytelling to help your business as it relates to employees, vendors and customers: First, instead of offering suggestions to get people on board with your ideas, tell a story that has the outcome you’re hoping the suggestion would have achieved. Use persuasive language – bringing in quotes or stories from outside experts as needed – and simple, heartfelt words to get your message across. Then apply those actions to a challenge you’re facing using the communication vehicles you have at your disposal. Need to get your team to improve its waste management or food safety practices? Weave real-life stories into their training sessions. Want to make sure your guests know about your efforts to buy from local suppliers and support the community? Integrate language into your menu that describes the origins of your ingredients and make sure your marketing materials and social media communications tell stories about your local connections.
Your restaurant is only as good as your staff – and at a time when labor is a key struggle for many if not most operators, attracting and retaining talent is critical. If you need to improve upon your staff recruitment and retention strategy, check out Upserve’s recent report, “Server Success: The Only Guide You’ll Ever Need on Restaurant Staff.” The report indicates that overall, the best employees tend to be reliable, dedicated, amicable, cooperative and communicative, according to Upserve’s experience working with thousands of restaurants throughout the U.S. But to determine which people are the best fit for your restaurant, it helps to drill down and assess what has already worked well for your business. What traits do your best employees share? What kind of lifestyle do your best employees lead? What is your staff’s average level of experience? Your top performers likely have much in common when it comes to their demographics and career path. Play to those traits when recruiting new employees. There are a plethora of questions you can ask a potential employee during an interview, but Upserve says these three questions can help you glean some of the best insights you need about a potential hire: Can you give me an example of how you offered assistance to someone in need? What is your strategy for bringing back loyal guests? When you learn that a customer is a first-time guest, what do you suggest? Questions like these can provide insight into a person’s demeanor and personality, as well as how well they can strategize when it comes to bringing in business. Being approachable and attentive can encourage loyal guests to return, but what’s even better is knowing which dishes to suggest based on customer preferences, being aware of special events and upselling items that are likely to bring satisfaction to guests.
“We’re only as good as the people we employ and they’re only as good as their quality of life.” That’s what Mike Shaw of Boston-based Broadway Hospitality Group told Restaurant Business about the organization’s ongoing focus on employee health and wellness as it scales up. But unlike many other sectors, the restaurant industry poses a challenge when it comes to implementing employee wellness programs. The industry’s long hours, high stress and easy access to unhealthy food and drink can set the stage for poor physical and mental health. However, investing in employee wellness can have a multifaceted impact on your ability to operate your business effectively – and if you’re looking for ways to promote employee wellness, you don’t necessarily have to make a major investment. Consider Noodles & Company, which offers reimbursement toward health- and fitness-related items as hiking boots, yoga classes and gym memberships, in addition to offering paid time off. At Broadway Hospitality Group, managers organize group fitness classes and partner with local gyms and speciality fitness studios for discounts. Restaurant Business reports that in a similar vein, employees at the New York City seafood restaurant Seamore’s gather for Wednesday morning runs, yoga and bootcamp-style classes in the restaurant. (Employee morale and retention have increased as a result: The owner of Seamore’s reports that 85 percent of the restaurant’s original staff remain.)
For many restaurant operators around the country, 2019 has been the year of the rising wage. As the restaurant consultancy Aaron Allen & Associates reports, 21 states announced increases for 2019, and several states that already had high minimum wage rates saw major rises. California and Massachusetts saw increases above 9 percent and Maine experienced a 10 percent climb. Further increases are coming in 2020. Can your menu prices alone accommodate these sorts of increases in your labor spending? It’s not likely. To help your restaurant thrive amid labor challenges, Aaron Allen suggests operators assemble a plan that involves strategies for menu development, marketing, labor optimization, brand relevance and rejuvenation, technology adoption and even robotics. For instance, crafting a well-developed menu can lift check totals, increase party size and help you identify opportunities for limited-time offers, upsells and new profit lines. Conducting an audit of your brand and what sets it apart, as well as of your past, current and future marketing activity, can help you fine tune your strategy and avoid overspending. Similarly, if you audit how tasks are completed in your restaurant and what you’re spending on the labor required to complete each one, you might identify ways to adjust your service model or uncover tasks that can be eliminated or handled by technology. Speaking of tech, what processes can you make more efficient and guest-friendly through the use of technology? Could a tech-based solution help you minimize ongoing labor challenges? You may not need to take action in every area but knowing where you stand in these aspects of your business can help you pinpoint weaknesses that can lead to financial challenges down the line – and help you identify and build upon your greatest strengths.
As the holidays approach, you and many other restaurant operators are likely holding your collective breath and hoping to avoid staff turnover. After all, if you have stretched your operation to accommodate a higher-than-normal rate of holiday traffic, catering orders and events, having your best staff on hand is all the more critical to delivering great service to your guests. But historically, annual employee turnover rates in the hospitality industry have far outpaced those of the private sector, with turnover in the restaurants and accommodations sector surpassing 66 percent compared to 44 percent in the private sector, according to data from the Bureau of Labor Statistics. If your efforts to retain staff could use some fine tuning, consider recent research from Upserve. The company studied server performance across 3000 restaurants in the U.S. and suggests several tips for retaining staff based on that research. First, measure the average tenure of each position on your staff and design your milestones for incentives around that timeframe and beyond. When staff quit, conduct an exit interview to determine why they are leaving in case it provides insight about how you can keep the employees who remain. On that note, also conduct “stay” interviews with your long-time staff to determine why they stay and how you can keep them. At regular intervals, check in with your staff as a whole to get a realistic sense of the stressors or pain points that make their jobs more difficult and how you can help. Finally, encourage open communication with your staff so they feel comfortable sharing their input about schedules, training and development opportunities.
You may well be using technology that makes it easier for guests to order, or for you to monitor your appliances or inventory. But how about using it to get a reality check from your team? As restaurateur Danny Meyer told attendees of the recent New York City Restaurant Technology Summit, he uses technology to support what he dubs a “trust index,” which checks the morale of staff across his restaurant group. It periodically asks the team a series of questions that help Meyer get an accurate read on whether or not they are happy to come to work. The results offer real-time feedback that Meyer can then use to quickly get to the bottom of problems that may be hurting employee morale.
If you offer delivery, take note of what Postmates is doing to improve the benefits package of gig workers. The company recently announced that it will now be offering such benefits as occupational accident insurance, health care, and free access to online college courses and professional certifications. At a time when employee development has become critical to minimizing the high turnover across the industry, these new benefits are something that may be worth considering if you’re considering a third-party delivery company or, particularly, if you manage your own in-house delivery team.