Rare, difficult-to-source ingredients are so 2019. At a time of high inflation, supply-chain strain and increased awareness of carbon footprints, it has become far more fashionable – and yes, far more necessary – for restaurants to take a pantry-to-plate approach. That means creating mindful menus that make the best use of ingredients you have in plentiful supply each season. Most items you order should be workhorse ingredients with a range of applications – as the star of one dish and a supporting player in another, for example, or as a reliable contributor of depth, texture or nutritional content in a variety of dishes. As an extension of that, now is a good time to review your portion sizes, find creative ways to use every part of an ingredient, and repurpose any leftovers into interesting specials. Food waste costs the hospitality industry over $100 billion a year, and more than 70 percent of that waste occurs before it even reaches a guest’s plate. Adopting tools that automate your inventory management, ensure you’re spending money on the best-value ingredients available, and precisely measure the size of a portion can help you ensure you’re not leaving money on the table.
Supply challenges could persist for the remainder of 2022 and into next year, according to the prevailing commentary from restaurant industry analysts. Consumers are well aware of the shortages and are experiencing them at grocery stores themselves, along with higher prices as compared to restaurants. But with a little planning, you can entice guests to order from you and avoid reminding them of the inventory (and staff) you may lack week to week. Now is a good time to develop a contingency plan for the year, to cover recipes, ingredients, promotions and equipment. First, scrutinize your recipes and look for ways to flex them with a range of ingredients – swapping in different vegetables, grains, sauces and spices, for example. For each dish, have a roster of back-up ingredient options that you can turn to if a key ingredient isn’t available. Be able to make quick adjustments to your physical and online menus based on your supply so guests aren’t in the position of ordering an advertised dish only to be told it’s unavailable. This is yet another year when operators will have to do more with less, so consider how you can serve guests in a way that is as resource-efficient as possible (and then incentivize guests to support you in that way). If you want to elevate your takeout business to ease the burden on your staff or manage better with a skeleton crew, for example, you could offer a discount when guests submit an order for collection before 5:30pm – or whenever your dining room normally begins to get busy. Finally, look at your cooking equipment and try to forecast what is likely to need a replacement or repair. Then, look to simplify your preparation and menu so you aren’t so heavily reliant on individual pieces of equipment that could let you down and take extra time to be repaired or replaced.
Restaurants and consumers alike have experienced the effects of the current supply-chain crisis, whether in the form of product shortages, delayed shipments, or changes in store hours due to reduced labor availability. (According to a recent National Restaurant Association survey, 75 percent of restaurants have been forced to change menu items due to supply chain issues.) While the challenges are widespread, many of them can be minimized. Consider these actions: Where possible, shrink the number of links in your supply chain between a food item and your guest: Pre-pandemic, this was about helping the climate and cutting waste, whereas now it’s also become a necessity for any restaurant that wants to be more certain of the items it will be able to offer on its menu. Plan farther down the line. According to FSR Magazine the casual dining brand Twin Peaks now places orders 12 weeks in advance when four to six weeks used to provide ample time. Focus on your relationships. In addition to communicating effectively with suppliers and paying bills on time, lean into existing and new collective agreements that enhance your purchasing power. Consider your branding. As operators focusing on chicken wings have learned in the past 18 months, it’s important to give yourself some leeway to broaden your offerings – perhaps to include new cuts of meat, or plant-based alternatives, or different presentations. FSR Magazine also suggests restaurants might consider building up a just-in-case inventory buffer – depending on the perishability and size of items that must be stored.
While surviving the pandemic was one challenge for the restaurant industry, coming out of it is another: Stress on the food supply could make it more likely that restaurants will offer promotions of foods that end up being inadequate in supply, inflated in price, or unavailable altogether. Strains on labor are contributing to the challenges in food distribution as well. As Mark Allen, chief executive of the International Foodservice Distributors Association, told the Wall Street Journal recently, “Over the last six weeks, we have seen the market come roaring back faster than anybody would have anticipated. The start-up has been, in many ways, as difficult as the shutdown…Everybody is trying to turn it on immediately and the capacity might not be there.” However, having a multi-tiered back-up plan can help you manage when you’re caught short on key supplies. As you consider your menu in the coming months, lean on the systems you have on hand to track pricing fluctuations and supply. If you have a dish you want to keep intact with no substitutions, you should be aware of multiple routes you might take to recreate it using different suppliers in case there is a food supply or safety problem in a particular country or region. If you’re open to changing up a dish with substitutions, identify first- and second-runner-up ingredients and brands that could help you recreate the dish if your first-choice options suddenly became scarce.