Finding Firm Footing in Uncertain Times

During a chaotic time, instinct prompts us to try to control what we can. And for businesses, controlling costs can determine whether a restaurant can navigate choppy seas for smoother waters.  A key lever for driving revenue through uncertainty is labor costs – a challenge as the COVID-19 pandemic has placed us squarely in unchartered territory, especially in the hospitality industry. 

More than 16 million Americans remain out of work, including 2.6 million jobs still yet to return in the leisure and hospitality sector. The margins for revenue, and for error, are razor thin. How can leaders better source staffing and supplies with an uncontrollable virus and wildly varying public health policies across state lines that change seemingly every day?

A few months ago, we had few resources to help us choose a direction; we had never experienced a global pandemic like COVID-19. Now, we have fresh data to help chart our course.

While the picture emerging of the 'new normal' isn’t what we’d all like, predictive engines aid in empowering business owners to wield the data in ways that can provide firm-footing when it feels like none exists.

Data provides context. Despite the turmoil, restaurants continued to be the primary leader in the U.S. job market, with more than half-million people returning or newly hired to hospitality work. But no one can predict whether or not these jobs will be permanent, or what lies beyond the horizon. And good staffing isn’t just about numbers – the value that an experienced server or line-cook or hostess brings to a business cannot be underestimated. Leaders need ways to protect these jobs (and the expertise of those who fill these positions), while also preserving the health of their overall business.

When we speak to owners, we understand this struggle. But just as economists have collected more job data over the last several months, we now also have aggregates of what worked during different time periods with vastly different realities, whether full lockdown orders or soft re-openings with limited capacity. 

And while the picture emerging of the “new normal” isn’t what we’d all like, predictive engines aid in empowering business owners to wield the data in ways that can provide firm-footing when it feels like none exists.

Aggregating data for managers empowers them to isolate certain time frames to see how a staffing plan performed in the past and how it can inform the next best decision.  For example, if public policy reduces restaurant capacity, a manager can examine staffing during a specific timeframe with a similar policy (to see exactly what worked and what didn’t) to anticipate how to staff efficiently over the next period. 

Likewise, for front- or back -of-the-house workers who also feel the stress of uncertainty, the connection gives them a degree of what I like to call “work freedom” – to have instant access to their restaurant’s status, fellow workers and manager communications and, of course, the ability to affect their scheduling needs, which enables them to steer their own course.  Technology also helps streamline communicating about difficult but critical topics. An in-app health survey requires answers to health questions quickly before a shift, immediately giving both managers and employee feedback about their own health and ability to work.

The clearer the data the more enlightened the vision. While we can’t see the future, we can collect the different pieces of the puzzle that help us start considering the possibilities and creating plans (and backup plans).

We look forward to the time when we can look back on these challenges with some distance, but even limited information is better than forging ahead in the dark. While we can’t control the unknown, we can wield the best tools available to equip us during these unprecedented times.  Predictive engines and data aggregators, like HotSchedules remain key to persisting through this historic moment, equipping leaders to set industry standards for the weeks, months and years ahead, even in uncertain times.