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We have now well and truly entered what many are considering the endemic COVID-19 period during which the virus becomes a lingering nuisance. And so, too, does the disruption and turbulence that’s been caused as a result. Highlighted by rising food prices, supply chain disturbances, and labor market shortages, the challenges faced by those operating within the foodservice industry are perhaps more significant than they ever have been previously. It’s placing an enormous amount of pressure on restaurateurs to address and overcome these challenges – while still providing an exceptional guest experience. 

Industry expert George Minakakis says that these issues have shaped into a perfect storm, inhibiting the efforts of foodservice establishments to drive loyalty and growth. Despite the current climate, however, he suggests that prioritizing the guest experience will enable restaurants to weather the challenges they face.

“There’s no denying the extraordinary strain that’s currently being placed on foodservice operators when it comes to running a successful business,” he asserts. “And, the pressures are coming from all angles, impacting their ability to stock their establishments with the right product and ingredients and staff their locations with employees who can make sure that service is executed smoothly. But, if foodservice operators can philosophically put all of the challenges and issues aside for just a moment, they might realize that the greatest opportunity that they have to not only survive over the short-term, but to set themselves up for long-term success, is to focus on their people and the amazing, loyalty-driving guest experience that they provide for customers.”

Once operators are focused on developing and enhancing their restaurant experience, Minakakis suggests that there are five critical things that can be done in order to sharpen and support that focus.

1. Engaging staff on menu development

According to Restaurants Canada’s Q1 2022 Restaurant Outlook Survey, restaurant operators are expecting to raise their menu prices by an average of 7.1 per cent over the next 12 months. It’s a move that’s necessary, but one which will pose obvious challenges with respect to explaining these increases to customers. However, one of the simplest ways to ensure that your establishment is prepared to provide an adequate explanation and deliver a guest experience that will resonate with patrons and engender their loyalty is to arm employees with as much information as possible. 

“Empowering your staff is one of the most strategic things a restaurant owner can do in order to overcome the challenges inherent in increased menu prices,” he says. “Sharing this information with frontline employees allows them to properly and confidently inform customers of changes and options. And, it also evokes discretionary effort from staff, empowering them to do their jobs to the best of their ability and deliver a memorable experience to customers.”

2. Creating brand ambassadors

Once frontline staff are properly engaged and involved in the sharing of information, Minakakis suggests that through a number of different means and incentives, foodservice operators can create brand ambassadors amongst their staff, further bolstering the exceptional service that they provide for customers.

“Because your frontline staff are those who are interacting with and servicing the needs of customers most frequently, it makes sense that they feel as positive as possible about themselves and the jobs that they perform,” he says. “Through community-building exercises that enhance the culture at the restaurant, staff recognition initiatives and the development of real-time feedback loops between frontline staff and managers, foodservice operators can engender a heightened sense of pride among their employees – pride that will, in turn, enhance the guest experience.”

3. Providing effective staff training

Before restaurants and food service establishments can rely on a staff of brand ambassadors, however, Minakakis says that a great deal of training and development is required. It’s yet another layer of preparation that enables employees to achieve maximum results. And, he adds, it also allows the restaurant to manage the experience that they offer their customers.

“Running a successful restaurant or food service establishment absolutely demands the right people who are armed with the right skills and knowledge,” he says. “You want your staff to understand the brand, the experience it offers, the customer who seeks out that experience and how to deliver it to them in the most effective way possible. Training and developing skills among your staff also ensures that the same consistently excellent experience is delivered to the customer with each visit.”

4. Ensuring a mix of diverse talent

In addition to staffing your restaurant with skilled, knowledgeable and prepared employees, Minakakis also suggests that ensuring that you’re drawing from a healthy mix of diversity and talent is one of the more meaningful aspects of the business that foodservice professionals can focus on.

“It’s vitally important for any business servicing customers to make sure that they reflect the community that they’re operating in,” he says. “That means the nurturing of an inclusive environment comprising different ethnicities, backgrounds and lived experiences. It also means ensuring that your restaurant is equipped with a staff of many different talents. When a business can draw on all of these ideas, influences and perspectives, the innovation and execution significantly improve.”

5. Enabling staff success through use of technology

As long as the right mix of people and skills has been assembled, says Minakakis, the implementation and use of technology can be explored as a support for staff. In fact, according to Restaurants Canada’s 2022 Outlook Survey, 7 in 10 quick-service restaurants say that automation and increased use of technology would help them overcome labour shortages while 74% of quick-service restaurants and 52% of table-service restaurants said they expect to increase their use of automation technology in the next two years. It’s a trend that Minakakis says could have a profound impact on foodservice purveyors who have got all of their human resources properly equipped.

“One of the biggest drivers within the foodservice industry over the course of the next few years is going to be technology-enabled automation,” he asserts. “By implementing the right technologies, restaurant operators can make their employees’ jobs easier and reduce human error, among other things, creating efficiencies and enhancing the experience for employee and guest. It’s a way that those operating in foodservice can show their staff and customers that they truly care about the experience that they’re creating and will go a long way toward earning repeat visits from patrons.”

During such challenging and unpredictable times, with so many strains and pressures on foodservice organizations, it might seem difficult to understand which challenges to tackle and which areas of the business to focus on. But, as Minakakis points out, keeping the needs of the customer at the heart of everything that you do while preparing and enabling your employees to execute on your desired guest experience is likely the most sensible place to start.

“I don’t know how you run a restaurant or any other foodservice establishment without good staff. They’re integral to everything about the service and experience. And, given the nature of the business, the customer must be central to every single decision that you make. If you can get these two components of the operation right, creating an incredible experience for the customer that’s being delivered by inspired and dedicated staff, none of the other matters impacting the business will seem like such insurmountable challenges anymore.”