It's been a challenging time for restaurant operators. Ever since the beginning of the COVID-19 pandemic, they've had to contend with guest and employee safety, lockdowns, labor shortages, supply chain issues, and the problems inherent in pivoting to a takeout or outdoor dining model. While the lockdowns are over and some of the pandemic's impacts are easing, 2022 looks like it's going to be just as tough as the past few years. Here's what to look out for, and how to face it:
1. LABOR SHORTAGES ARE ONGOING.
Former restaurant workers have cited multiple reasons for why they've chosen to leave the industry. The biggest two reasons for this restaurant labor shortage are low wages and lack of safety. It's an established fact that restaurant work is physically and emotionally demanding, and profit margins are often very thin. Owners and managers can help keep their current employees by offering new incentives and emphasizing the measures they're taking to keep their workers safe, and court new ones with incentives like sign-on bonuses, flexible schedules, and benefits, among others.
2. GUEST DEMANDS ARE CHANGING.
Even though people are returning to restaurants in droves, research shows that takeout and delivery orders have experienced a significant increase. Some guests don't yet feel confident about indoor dining, while others just prefer the convenience of getting their favorite meals delivered. Restaurant operators need to adjust their sales targets and expectations to reflect these changes -- it might be a long time before people shift from delivery to dining in again. Implementing new touchless technology (like menu QR codes, touchless sanitation, and contactless payment options) can also help guests feel safer.
3. DELIVERY AND PROFIT STILL REQUIRE A CAREFUL BALANCE.
When restaurants were forced to close during lockdowns, many pivoted to delivery. There're two ways to go about this: Either pay delivery drivers, and potentially invest in work shirts, insulated bags, and magnetic car logos, or partner with cellphone apps like Grubhub and Uber Eats. Both of these cost money, which means that restaurant operators needed to figure out how to price their menu items to adjust for this. Since it looks like guests still prefer delivery, restaurants are going to need to continue to figure out a profitable way to provide it. For some, this might mean continuing to work with a delivery app. Others might want to invest in their own delivery fleet.
4. SUPPLY CHAIN PROBLEMS CONTINUE.
The pandemic caused a whole cascade of issues for supply chains. These have manifested as shortages and shipping bottlenecks. Even big chains, like KFC and White Castle, have been affected by them. The best thing to do right now is to source ingredients locally whenever possible, pivot to menu items that don't rely on currently hard-to-find ingredients and run promotions on items that are still in abundance. Robust, local supply chains are a useful workaround for the shipping delays caused by labor and ingredient shortages.
5. INFLATION IS DRIVING UP PRICES.
Partially as a consequence of the supply chain problems mentioned above, prices are increasing across the board. Restaurants are seeing an uptick in the cost of ingredients and supplies, and inflation is rising much faster than anticipated. Prices are likely to be high for a while — there's no simple solution to the factors driving their increase right now. Everyone's break-even point is higher than it was three years ago, and they're probably going to keep going up for the near future. Restaurants need to adjust their pricing and budgeting to reflect this if they're going to stay in business.
6. HEALTH AND SAFETY PRACTICES ARE STILL VITALLY IMPORTANT.
When the pandemic hit, the world scrambled to respond. This was no small feat -- since the virus was new, we were still learning about it even as we tried to find ways to fight it. When the virus mutated into the delta variant, it felt like the process threatened to start over again. This resulted in what seemed like a tangle of ever-shifting guidelines. Now that guests and employees are more vigilant about health and safety than ever before, restaurant operators need to be, too. Stay up-to-date with recommendations and best practices, and make sure you communicate this to your guests and staff, too.
7. INCREASED SUSTAINABILITY IS STILL A GOAL.
Just because guests are concerned about health and cleanliness doesn't mean that they've forgotten about sustainability. Many restaurants — especially cafes and brewpubs — had to change their policies about refillable containers. Others had to find ways to keep their venues stocked with items like hand sanitizer and napkins, all while battling supply shortages. It's not an easy line to walk, but it's important. Automation, like automated napkin dispensers and bathroom occupancy sensors, can help restaurants reduce waste, improve sustainability, and even enhance employee efficiency. Working with other local restaurants to trade surplus ingredients can also reduce food waste while easing some of the burdens on already-strained supply chains.
Operating a restaurant has always been a balancing act, and it doesn't look like it's going to get any easier in 2022. By paying attention to employees' needs, guests' desires, and ongoing adjustments to health and safety best practices, as well as developing strategies to remain profitable while offering delivery, improving sustainability, and battling rising prices, restaurant owners can tackle the majority of the worst that 2022 is going to offer.