3 ways to recession-proof your restaurant

During a recession, some chains seem to still do well. The combination of convenience and lower prices resonate well with financially stressed consumers.

Did you have “recession” on your 2022 bingo card? You’ll probably find it right alongside ongoing labor shortages, wages, supply chain disruptions and higher food costs. Just as you cleared “pandemic” from your card, another challenge has come to claim your free space. But regardless of when exactly the next recession emerges — whether weeks, months, or years — now is the time for restaurant operators to prepare.

Here’s why: 2008’s “Great Recession” showed us that when consumer pockets are tighter in economically unstable times, they gravitate toward value-based options. QSR chains like Wendys, Papa John’s, and McDonald’s thrived from a revenue standpoint, according to Seeking Alpha.

The combination of convenience and lower prices resonate well with financially stressed consumers. As a result, QSR restaurants can expect an increase in customers and order volumes. Increased volumes also bring more operational complexities — especially in an already tight labor market.

So, as you figure out how to recession-proof your restaurant, ask yourself how you’ll meet the increased demand when dealing with a higher volume of orders and less staff and ensure consistency and quality with fewer hands-on deck.

Here are three key answers to those questions:

Breakaway from the “old way” of getting work done

Does any of this sound familiar:

  • Stacks of paperwork, piles of binders, too few pens.

  • Field managers driving back and forth to stores to identify and rectify issues.

  • Pencil-whipped checklists and hours of time spent on mundane tasks.

  • Missing documentation, lack of compliance, and make-shift processes.

  • Unseen emails, and games of telephone between stores and HQ.

If so, you risk falling further behind as competitors, and the broader industry, keep moving forward. A big step in the right direction is to stop doing things the way they’ve always been done just because they’ve always been done that way. The old world of rolling out changes over time is no longer an option.

The restaurant technology landscape has expanded rapidly over the past decade to help operators improve operations, customer experience, and more. Being in a position to quickly and effectively adapt to a changing environment will allow you to find ways to deliver a satisfying dining experience.

Higher prices, longer wait times, fewer options and subpar service are a recipe for disaster — especially in an industry with the word ‘service’ in the title. Higher prices may be unavoidable, but poor service is not an option. To streamline operations and meet increased consumer demand, it’s time to focus on technology that helps where the work is actually happening in stores and leave old habits behind.

Minimize wasted effort and increase consistency

In spite of everything happening outside the walls of each restaurant, you can still drive employee productivity in your stores and in the field, and improve the consistency of work happening throughout the business. To better prepare your restaurant for increased volume, take a look at your operation and determine which tedious tasks can be automated.

Here’s what that looks like:

  • In your stores: Automated food labeling shaves as much as 30 minutes off food prep time and reduces the likelihood of preparing and serving past-date products to customers.

  • In the field: Even when they’re not on-site, field teams can monitor store performance and perform audits more efficiently.

  • Throughout your business: Everyone in the organization, from HQ down to the stores, always knows the status of the work being done with visibility into potential issues before they impact the business.

Automating processes and speeding the flow of information drives efficiency and improves response times. Alerting the right people at the right time switches everyone’s focus from reactive to proactive; from putting out proverbial fires to prevent them altogether.

Whether digitizing paper checklists or automating food temperature monitoring, minimizing wasted effort allows your team to put weight behind the big initiatives and more meaningful tasks, like improving customer satisfaction and interacting with guests.

Create a more desirable workplace

It’s imperative to encourage employee satisfaction in any economy, but this is especially true in today’s particularly tight workforce, to Business Insider. Cutting down on mundane, repetitive tasks makes work less stressful, and more enjoyable, and increases job satisfaction. It also lets employees know that they’re valued, which is a good way to not only retain the talent you have, but also foster a work environment that attracts a new generation of talent.

Millennial and Gen-Z workers comprise an larger share of the eligible labor pool — and they are all tech-savvy. Today’s teens and young adults are the world’s first “digital natives,” meaning they’ve never known a world without technology. They were practically born with a mobile device in hand.

To attract and retain members of this younger workforce, you’ll need to meet them where they are with tools and apps that are as user-friendly and engaging as the ones they rely on for everything else. That means investing in digital tools and automation that boost productivity and help everyone work safer, smarter, and more efficiency.

Operators that roll out next-gen tools differentiate themselves from other “old-school” employers by showing that they are forward-thinking and innovative. By investing in the latest technology, you can create a more secure and attractive workplace environment — one in which employees can see themselves establishing roots and even building a career.

As we learned in 2008 and 2020, unexpected events can lead to opportunities of growth.

In moments of great crisis: you pivot to survive, and then reimagine what’s possible to thrive. It’s exactly what restaurants everywhere did when lockdowns and physical-distancing requirements forced them to adopt new ways of doing business. And it’s exactly what restaurants can do now, if and when another recession hits.

Restaurant operators can no longer put off having the processes and infrastructure needed to meet consumer demands. No matter what state the economy is in, consumers want food that tastes good and is safely prepared in a clean environment with quality service. Teams that are enabled to operate with agility will win.

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