Everyone in the restaurant industry is facing multiple pressures in the post pandemic era. Given the challenges of labor shortages, supply chain disruptions and a more demanding customer, can the average restaurant succeed?
A team of restaurant safety experts and a veteran restaurateur offered insight on the challenges and answers to that question during a one-hour webinar, “Leveraging market disruptions to enhance your brand experience,” hosted by FastCasual.com and sponsored by Steritech.
Morgan Petty, executive director of the Interactive Customer Experience Association, moderated the webinar.
Much of the discussion focused on the importance of management communicating operating standards and procedures to employees.
A new playing field
“We are in a new dynamic here,” said panelist Mike Justo, senior director of operations at Steritech. “The biggest change we have seen is how guests expect to be served.”
Pre-pandemic, 65% of guests went through the drive-thru, with the balance dining in. Now, 80% are coming through the drive thru, and the digital guest has become vitally important.
“You’ve got to reconfigure your operations to more of an off-premise customer friendly concept,” agreed Kimberly Hay, senior director of client experience at Steritech.
A key driver of this trend is the difficulty finding employees.
More people are returning to work, Hay said, but each foodservice outlet is missing two people on average.
The Bureau of Labor Statistics reports unemployment in leisure and hospitality is double that of the general economy, which suffers 8% unemployment.
Michael Brown, senior director of guest experience, Zaxby’s, said the pandemic created more options for people to work remotely, giving restaurant employees more opportunities to find employment.
“No longer is it just about a paycheck,” Brown said. “People can switch jobs on a dime, and I mean zero repercussions because people are so desperate to hire.”
Staffing issues compound the problem
For many restaurants, the worst may be yet to come.
“If you’re short staff, you may be facing a difficulty in running your restaurant effectively,” Hay said. If there is a lot of employee turnover, it can cause managers to leave.
A lack of management, in turn, causes employees to lose sight of their objectives.
Justo said managers have to find the right person to hire quickly. Once they hire, they need to train them fast.
If team members must choose what to focus on in doing their jobs, they will default to making sure they are serving food, but if that is the only priority, there could be quality, accuracy and safety issues, she said.
“They (employees) ultimately impact the image of your brand,” Hay said. “This one challenge of being short staffed just creates a myriad of issues.”
Another issue is inflation. A recent survey found 64% of consumers would cut back on spending if prices continue to rise.
An attendee poll during the webinar found inflation and customer spending accounted for 56% of respondents’ top concerns while hiring and retaining staff were cited by the same number. Supply chain challenges were cited by 33%.
Third-party delivery challenges
Third-party delivery is yet another challenge that has come to the fore since the pandemic.
A Steritech case study offers the following customer insights regarding third-party delivery:
- Delivery temperatures posed safety issues for brands.
- 38% of orders were missing one or more items.
- 29% of orders were received outside the promised window.
What to do
When change is taking place, it’s a good time to review processes, Hay said.
As hard as it is to dedicate the time to make sure you hire the right person, “It’s critical that you bring them up to speed on your standard, your processes and your method because proper training at the outset avoids all of those issues that we talked about previously,” Hay said.
Steritech has developed seven pillars of excellence, a framework for resetting a culture:
- Senior leadership commitment and engagement. Employees must believe the senior leaders consider food safety is of utmost importance, Justo said.
- Communication. Providing people at all levels consistent communication about food safety is necessary.
- Defined standards and procedures. Many brands have standards that employees don’t even know about. The procedures need to be documented and accessible.
- Training. You need a formal food safety training program.
- Key performance indicators/scorecards. Hay said this is to ensure broad visibility of performance. The scorecard brings the performance standards together.
- Oversight program. This tracks, monitors and analyzes performance to inform continuous improvement.
- Positive recognition. Penalizing for poor performance is a hard way to motivate people to be successful.
When asked, most employees say the first day is their worst day on the job, Hay said. Most people surveyed said they would be more likely to stay at a new job if they had a better onboarding experience.
Meeting customer expectations was not cited as one of the key concerns in the webinar listener poll, but according to the panelists, many restaurants are falling short in this area.
Oftentimes, what the brand thinks matters to customers doesn’t align with what customers think, Hay said.
Justo gave examples to expand upon this point. When you go into a bathroom, it’s a mess. This is most likely because the location is focused on serving customers fast. Yet studies have shown that to many customers, bathroom cleanliness is an indicator of total cleanliness.
The shift to off premise has shifted focus to speed of service. “Even though speed is important, order accuracy is more important to customers,” Justo said.
An in-person versus takeout survey found 45% of guests feel they are waiting longer for in-person orders, and 38% feel takeout is prioritized over in-person dining.
New processes are chances to eliminate execution gaps, Hay said.
“Assessment programs and frameworks can really help you flip the challenges that you’re facing today to your advantage,” she said.
To download the free webinar, click here.