Managing Diner Expectations this Holiday Season

Over the last 18 months, restaurants have managed incredibly difficult challenges, primarily driven by having to operate with new, constantly evolving safety guidelines. As the restaurant industry begins to rebuild itself, restaurants are now confronted with supply chain shortages as well as a labor shortage. These challenges are impacting menu availability, raising the prices of menu items, leading to short staffs, increasing wait times for diners, and changing operating hours and offerings. 

Restaurants that spent much of the last year trying to win back customers, are now struggling to win back employees. The industry has looked to hiring incentives, such as and other rewards, as they compete to fill open roles. Some brands like Applebee’s have gotten creative with National Hiring Day campaigns, offering free appetizers for job applications.

Proactive communication and transparency is essential to managing the diner experience. 

Staffing has always been a challenge for the restaurant industry but it worsened during the pandemic as restaurateurs balanced staff considerations and costs against all other aspects of the business to maintain profitability. 

As diners headed back to restaurants this past summer, and new restaurant and food businesses opened at near pre-pandemic levels, customers have noticed these struggles, referencing their pain points in reviews and acknowledging the tough time restaurants are going through. 

On Yelp, mentions of staffing (understaffed, short-handed, etc) increased 340 percent this year, averaging a 27 percent increase each month during this time period. Reviewers also praised restaurants for being upfront about staffing issues and communicating these challenges to proactively manage their experience. 

At Arepitas in Round Rock, TX, Yelp user Emely T. wrote, “As soon as we sat down we were greeted and advised that they were short staff and asked for patience. That didn't hinder the service.”

Proactive communication and transparency is essential to managing the diner experience. 

While restaurants attempt to staff up, we’ve also seen restaurateurs lean into technology as a stop-gap.  Yelp Kiosk, which was originally introduced in 2018 for restaurants that didn’t have the budget to hire a dedicated host, has seen a spike in adoption this year as restaurants around the country leveraged the solution as a defacto host. With Yelp Kiosk, restaurateurs are now able to automate check-in, manage waitlists and contact diners when their table is ready. 

As we head into the holiday season, we expect consumers to return to in-restaurant dining with enthusiasm. Searches on Yelp for restaurant reservations are up 134 percent,  and searches for online waitlists, like the waitlist feature in Yelp Guest Manager, are up 82 percent, in October 2021 compared to the same period a year prior, suggesting that consumers are once again making plans to dine out and don’t want to sacrifice convenience. Digital waitlists and reservations help consumers minimize wait times at restaurants to get seated sooner upon arrival. 

Restaurants that have been empty or at limited capacity for over a year are experiencing wait times that exceed pre-pandemic levels. This surge of diners and an unprecedented labor shortage has created a new problem for restaurateurs: a busy dining room and not enough people to take care of them. In order to ensure the best diner experience for your customers, it's never been more important to manage their expectations by being transparent about issues your restaurant might be facing that may impact service.