Challenges after the pandemic

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By Amanda Levin | Good news: restaurants across the country are fully reopening after the pandemic. Bad news: some of the challenges they faced during the pandemic are lingering. That’s where consultants like Mark Moeller, owner of The Recipe of Success, are stepping in. Here are some of the various issues restaurateurs face, and ways that design and technology advancements may provide solutions to those challenges.

Issue No. 1: Labor Shortages
This might not come as a surprise, but restaurants across the board are having a hard time bringing back the workforce they let go. “I just asked about a talented sandwich maker who was let go at the beginning of the pandemic and was disappointed to hear that he has left the industry entirely,” Moeller says. “There are also many people who are worried about being so close to others when vaccination rates are not where they need to be in certain areas of the country.”

To get people back, many restaurants have had to increase pay; Moeller says his clients are paying about $2 more for every position and an additional $5 for management positions. Aside from these incentives, technology can help fill in the gaps when it comes to labor shortages. “Online ordering and apps can replace someone answering phones in the restaurant, plus they minimize mistakes,” Moeller says. “I think we will continue to see the adoption of these solutions.”

While Moeller says some full-service restaurants remain still slow to adopt labor-saving equipment, this could change in the future. “I am seeing more country clubs and larger foodservice programs implementing combi ovens because they do so much and cut down on some prep work,” he says. “And while we can’t have robots make everything, we can at least have them flipping burgers or dropping fries to eliminate those jobs in the kitchen.”

Issue No. 2: Reservation Management
This was a challenge for restaurants even pre-pandemic. “People have always had problems with congregating near entrances,” Moeller says.

A combination of technology advancements when it comes to online reservation systems and design changes can help with this issue, he says. “Restaurants, especially fast-casuals, will need to have a better design in the future when it comes to line management, with clear signage and barriers delineating ordering and pickup spaces. I was in a restaurant last week and the ordering and food pickup area was at the same spot, so it wasn’t immediately clear which line I was in. That can’t happen in future designs.”

When it comes to full-service restaurants, flexibility with seating will be the name of the game. Moeller adds: “Future design has to be done in way to be more flexible if we need to reduce capacity; I see the use of a lot more tables and chairs that can be moved around or separated with moveable planters or objects as opposed to permanent banquettes.”

Issue No. 3: Takeout and Delivery Will Task Restaurants Even More
Consumers in the future will only continue to want the ability to preorder and pick up food as they see fit. The execution, packaging and pickup, even in full-service operations, will need to operate as its own station or service.

“The space that needs to be looked at and likely built out in the future will be expediting stations,” Moeller says. Designers need to make sure there is enough room to hold separate ticket printers or screens, packaging products and even hot-holding equipment to hold food properly before pickup or delivery, he adds.

Issue No. 4: Diminished Supply Chain and Inventory Management
Supply chains in many industries were hit hard by the pandemic. The foodservice industry was no different. Even though the industry is past the major meat and other food shortages that occurred earlier during lockdown, product isn’t as readily available as before, Moeller says.

“Inventory minimizing and management to the point where restaurants can turn over product faster will be very important in the future,” he says, not to mention most restaurants can’t afford to tie up cash flow with too much product right now. “Restaurants need to forecast and look at market reports to see if there are shortages and plan ahead better.”

This could also lead to a greater reliance on freezers and even blast chillers than in the past. The same goes for dry storage due to some shortages on packaging and paper products. Operationally, restaurants will have to “train” guests to come in sooner before they run out of certain menu items. “Gone are the days when we have to have excess to meet guest requirements. Now, it’s more acceptable to run out. It also reinforces the idea that the food you are serving is very fresh,” Moeller says.

What Moeller doesn’t see changing is the space devoted to cooking equipment. But those pieces need to be even more closely tied in with the menu. For example, an operator looking to boost grill business might be better off with a larger chargrill and adding more menu items that can be cooked on that kitchen workhorse. “It’s all about making sure the equipment you have will handle a more compact menu,” he says.