COVID-19 has transformed the restaurant industry in many ways, from shutdowns to supply chain issues to accelerating the shift to offsite catering. We are now in the midst of the great resignation, which has seen record numbers of Americans leaving their jobs.
These resignations, 4.5 million Americans in November 2021, ultimately saw 3% of the workforce leave their jobs, with that figure estimated to double in hospitality. Hospitality is the lowest-paying industry, and many employees have seen the opportunity in the workforce disruption to move on to better-paying jobs in other industries.
Restaurants may not be facing a labor shortage, but a lack of wages needed to keep employees in times of severe disruption. However, in an industry known for its low margins, how are operators supposed to compete?
Restaurants need to focus on better managing controllable costs, including food and labor, to increase margins and stay competitive with higher wages. Restaurant technology can help operators use data to reduce expenses and find efficiencies to stay profitable in this new normal.
Building actionable insights with data
Many operators do not collect data, relying instead on the instincts of their managers. Of those who collect data, it is often collected manually on clipboards, which is then transcribed into spreadsheets, which is then compiled into regional or brand-level data weeks or even months later. .
Despite all the talk about data-driven decisions in restaurant technology, that data needs to be easy to collect, easy to access, and easy to understand to be actionable. To do this, operators can in particular look into modern and integrated technological tools. Make sure the tech stack talks to each other and data is stored in a centralized data warehouse.
With well-constructed reports, restaurant owners will be able to see real-time data from across their entire technology stack and get the key insights they need to be proactive, catch issues early, and run a profitable restaurant.
Make inventory a best practice, not an afterthought
It’s one thing to know that you should take a daily inventory of your top 10 items and a full weekly inventory, and quite another to actually do it. Far too many stores let their inventory slip in times of crisis, which is a recipe for driving up food prices.
I’ve talked to operators who didn’t realize how much food was coming out the back door until they did a regular inventory. Or a customer who didn’t realize why food prices were low in a store until they looked closer and saw that store employees were significantly overcharging a popular item. It’s only by making inventory a regular practice, rather than looking at the shelves, that you’ll discover things like this.
Reduce your food waste
Nobody wants to waste food, but without consistent and easily accessible inventory data, many operators don’t know how much is going to be wasted. Better inventory ensures each location can more accurately order for their needs.
And restoration technology can help reduce waste in other ways. Predictive prep tools take the guesswork out of how much of each item needs to be prepped and when. This helps prevent food from spoiling, as well as having too much food prepared at the end of the night that will just be thrown away.
Coupled with good reporting, a strong inventory system allows operators to spot discrepancies between restaurants that may indicate training issues or theft.
Set schedules on more than a gut feeling
No matter how good your managers are, there’s still too much guesswork involved in manually creating schedules. Instead, a strong workforce and scheduling system will help the manager automate scheduling by using sales data to forecast staffing needs.
This is not only useful for long-time managers, but also avoids the inevitable increase in labor costs whenever a new manager starts and is not yet familiar with the store. Even with managers who have been in the industry for years, I see stores able to save hundreds of dollars each week on labor once they start making data-driven decisions.
Automate if possible
It’s easy to feel comfortable in what has been done for years. But that’s not always what’s best for your bottom line. Automating processes that were previously done on spreadsheets or with pen and paper not only gives you more accurate data, but makes those processes easier and simpler in the long run.
Operators don’t have to abandon a well-functioning system, but updating those systems and optimizing them with technology will pay off in the long run.
After two years of pandemic disruption, many brands are just rebuilding their tech budgets and may be hesitant to buy anything new. However, effective catering technology should pay off in terms of business information gained and reduced food and labor costs. This will allow operators to maintain their margins while remaining competitive in a tight market.