Food service operators have faced numerous obstacles during the COVID-19 pandemic, not the least of which is an ongoing labor shortage.
“I went to a local restaurant recently,” said Patrick O’Reilly, principal at Marcum LLP. “There was a sign on the front door that said ‘Be kind to our employees; they show up for work today.
“It’s really, really hard to keep these employees,” he added.
O’Reilly joined R.J. Hottovy, head of analytical research at Placer.ai, in a recent Food Institute webinar, noting the trends among restaurants that will thrive throughout 2022.
According to industry experts, successful food service operators are taking the following steps to get out of the pandemic on solid ground:
Taco Bell uses menu innovation to bring customers back. Recent years have featured a lack of product innovation, Hottovy noted, as many quick-service restaurants have opted to keep inventory lean, with simplified menus, for operational purposes.
In May, however, Taco Bell bucked that trend with a limited-time relaunch of the Mexican Pizza, which immediately resulted in a spike in traffic. The chain recently announced that Mexican Pizza will be returning to its menu for good starting on September 15th.
“I think we’re really starting to see hard proof of the idea that innovation can drive visit trends,” said Hottovy, who also noted that KFC recently received a boost in visits with the release of new peppers of chicken
Hottovy noted that many fast-casual chains have had success this summer with an entrée price point of $12 to $15, serving price-sensitive customers during a period of rising inflation.
“We’ve seen a couple in the last couple of months when we’ve gotten to this point where consumers have been more cautious,” said the Placer.ai executive. “There are still some stores that are doing very well, especially those that have adjusted the price point to really accommodate what consumers are looking for.”
This year, Starbucks has shown an increased focus on what it considers its “community stores,” which are designed to allow employees the ability to connect with local communities through specific initiatives or causes. The coffee chain currently has 150 community store locations, Restaurant Business reported.
The strategy is working, Hottovy said.
“If we map the performance of community stores compared to the rest of the nearby Starbucks locations,” he said, “we’ve seen exceptional performance here, really underlining this idea of a community that’s very important. I think that’s been an emerging trend through COVID”.
Restaurants are increasingly using relatively new technology to overcome problems such as labor shortages. The Charleys Philly Steaks chain in Columbus, Ohio, for example, uses self-ordering kiosks that help the chain dedicate employees to fewer tasks.
“Embracing technology has been huge for these QSRs,” O’Reilly said. “It has to be convenient or you won’t attract customers.
“Convenience is absolutely king right now,” he added.