Get Ready for the Great Restaurant Resurgence

One advantage to my job is I get to personally see the state of the industry up close every week. In the past few weeks, I have been to Florida, Texas, Oklahoma, Arkansas, California, Minnesota, Wisconsin, Indiana, Michigan, Georgia and Arizona. Based on my first-hand knowledge of the industry nationally, here is my advice: Hold on tight! You are about to be busier than you have ever been.

Business Will Substantially Increase Over 2019

In 2020, inside sales dropped as the pandemic locked down indoor dining. However, pickup orders, carryout orders and curbside service increased markedly. We now have all of the elements for a perfect storm.  Operations are reopening to 100-percent capacity, more and more people are getting vaccinated, mask requirements are going away, and the entire country is ready to go out to eat!

Lines are forming outside of restaurants with customers waiting to dine inside. Patios are likewise full and have waiting lines. All of this will bring your sales back slightly above 2019, but your big increase (20% plus) will be in pickup, carryout and curbside services. All of my clients’ in-restaurant sales are increasing, while the carryout/pickup/curbside business is remaining at the 2020 levels. Two of the properties that I work with are so busy that we are redesigning their kitchens so that carryout sales don’t affect the efficiency of the inside and patio service.

Plan For Success

Pay attention to these three critical areas to reap the benefits of the Great Restaurant Resurgence.

  1. Create a highly organized carryout program. Whatever you have been doing for the past year needs to be even more organized because you will be serving guests inside and out. I visited one client last week who had the staff doing a lot of the carryout work (packaging, bagging, etc.) on interior tables. Now that it’s busy inside, they are still taking up space on those tables, and those seats aren’t available to guests. By the end of this week, a new carryout station will be set up and we will get those guest tables back. 
  2. Hire 20 percent more staff than you need. Staffing is almost impossible these days. My recommendation is to hire at least 20% to 25% more staff than you need. In the past 5 months, here are the issues that we are seeing:
    • We set up interviews for as many as 10 people in a day and then only one out of the 10 shows up. 
    • An interview goes very well, we get the new hire paperwork done, schedule the new employee and then they do not show up and don’t call. 
    • The interview goes well, new hire paperwork is done, the employee shows up for the first shift and then we never hear from them again. 
    • In a previous column, I provided tips for overcoming these challenges. It can be done.
  3. Revise the menu … again. In March of this year, I talked about the advantages of shrinking the menu. If you took that advice, then I am asking you to take another look and see what else can be removed. The goal now is to have a menu that you can produce with less staff, get the food to the customer quickly, and, of course, maintain the food quality that the guest expects. 

Retain Your Best Employees and Managers

What is worse than not having enough staff? Losing your best staff! Why do employees quit their jobs? In every study that I have read it has little to do with wages. As a matter of fact, wages are typically at the very bottom of the list. If I were to put together my top two reasons for losing staff in the past three months it would be this:

  1. Overwork – My very best manager at a large account, who has been with us for four years, gave us notice. We offered more money and he still did not want to stay. We sat down and had a heart-to-heart and we discovered that he was working too many hours, not getting enough support and, most importantly, not spending enough time at home. Our offer to him was a five-day work week, extra staff and management support during his shifts, and an immediate (unasked for) two-week paid vacation. Result: We kept our promises and we kept our best manager, no raise needed or wanted. 
  2. Lack of recognition – As my mother used to say, “It never hurts to say thank you.” We are all under an incredible amount of stress, all being asked to do more and more and feeling like we are appreciated less and less. If you want to keep staff, then you are going to have to put in some real effort every single day and every single shift to show how much you appreciate and respect your team. 

As we are coming out of COVID and getting back to “normal,” there is a good news/bad news scenario for all of us. The good news is that there is a light at the end of the tunnel. The bad news is that it’s a train coming our way. Don’t try to get out of the way, but instead try to build a station that can handle the train and all of the passengers.