We recently had the privilege of speaking over the phone with some very innovative restaurant professionals and asked them questions businesses are still seeking the answers to. How are they navigating through these times? What’s the winning strategy for emerging stronger beyond this time of uncertainty?  

Through some great conversations, we learned that restaurants are both adapting to the new norm in the short term as well as making changes to their businesses that will help position them for future success. The business model is also constantly changing and restaurants looking forward need to create a completely new model to follow and move away from their current processes.  

What have you learned about your staff and team members these past few weeks and how is this affecting their health and well-being? 

During these unprecedented times, restaurant leaders find that their staff are rising to the challenges set in front of them. Their staff show great resilience, adaptability, accountability and the desire to be their best. Staff members are showing that hard work, along with compassion, are vital to keeping everyone positive. Conversations that are typically work-based have shifted into questions of personal well-being, employees genuinely care how one another are doing, and they’ve created a family-like atmosphere where everyone feels comfortable. When things are difficult, employees are there for each other; they listen and are eager to fix any problems at hand. 

In this challenging time, it is understood and accepted that there may be some negative feelings as well. Daily, staff members experience feelings of fear and anxiety. One restaurant owner explained how he can’t diminish the feeling of fear directly, and instead is focusing on how he can make sure his staff feels protected. Not surprisingly, his staff feels anxious mainly because they’re doubled up on shifts and exposed to more patrons. To accommodate everyone’s worries and safety, this operator figured out a way to have less people in-house by cross training his staff so the they can learn the skills for more than one position. These new skills will set employees up for success and bring current and future value to their restaurant.  By keeping employees in mind and having their safety and best interests at heart, this restaurant owner is hopeful that he and his staff will come up with viable solutions for any future problems.  

Employees in other restaurants worry about losing their jobs. Managers are finding ways to incentivize their employees and make sure they have a job to come back to once businesses reopen. One restaurant manager specifically talked about how they are creating breakeven situations to sustain their employees until this situation rectifies itself. They are bringing back furloughed employees to deliver food to elderly people as opposed to working in the restaurant. Providing staff this option of new work gives them hope for the future.  

How is this affecting your business and labor model now? 

In the last couple weeks, the labor model has already shifted drastically. One dine-in restaurant manager we talked with had to make the complete shift to delivery, carryout, and curbside options, practically overnight. Prior to the recent pandemic, these sales models were completely foreign to them. Employees needed to be trained on a completely new side of the business and adapt to a new way of working. He told us their employees are stepping up to the task and taking advantage of opportunities to learn new skills and grow into new positions.  

Cross-training came up in another conversation too – by training individual employees on both front of house operations and back of house operations, managers can lower the amount of staff needed in the restaurant because employees can take on both jobs. With these changes in place, less staff will be in house, and hopefully feel safer and more protected while they work.  

What does this mean for future business and how are you going to emerge stronger through these times? 

The main goal for most of the establishments we spoke with is to improve online ordering and adopt new technology to help with the change in business models. Restaurants want to make sure their systems integrate with Uber Eats or Door Dash, for example, as they continue to work on contactless delivery and pickup.  

When places start to reopen and we navigate to find our footing, one restaurant operator believes a major change we could see in the food service industry is a decrease in dine-in capacity space. Restaurant managers and operators will have to adapt and plan their dine-in labor schedules and restaurant layout around these new changes.  Along with decreasing their dine-in space, other restaurants plan on increasing the size of their take-out and curbside pick-up spaces. By following social distancing guidelines, this transition will be different - yet essential for restaurants to be successful in the future.    

Although online delivery and adjusting to new changes is crucial during these times, one restaurant owner had an answer that spoke volumes. He talked about how important it is to re-craft the compelling vision of what a great restaurant leader looks like, and how you can cast a vision for people that will create value for yourself, your employees, and your restaurant.  

Restaurant leaders are taking on every challenge placed in front of them to keep their heads above water. By adapting to change, staying positive, and continuing to look out for one another and their needs, restaurants have the recipe for emerging stronger out of this ongoing pandemic.  

I personally want to thank and applaud restaurant employees, from ownership to part-time employees, both for their ability to adapt to our current new normal and their willingness to do so. Because of them, the rest of us can continue to enjoy great food. Sometimes getting takeout or delivery is the highlight of my day.  

Click here for more information on how to manage through these times of uncertainty

Published: Tuesday, April 28, 2020