How the Restaurant Industry Can Come Out of The Pandemic Stronger Than It Was

What other industry do you know that has a workforce fighting to get out of it, rather than in it? So, if we have an opportunity to improve, what steps do we take?

Photo Courtesy of NRN.

COVID-19 is a tragic and devastating pandemic. The number of lives lost, economies devastated and businesses shattered is matched only by the suddenness of its arrival and the deadliness of its impact. And as far as we know we may only be in the bottom of the second inning relative to its staying power. I don’t have to tell you how much it has impacted the restaurant industry. And yet, these circumstances beyond our control may prove to be a long overdue and welcome disruption to a foodservice industry that has been adrift in a sea of sameness for more than a decade. Truth be told, our industry was bloated with units, loaded with debt and losing its way. It had a transactional relationship with its workforce when other industries had transformational ones. What steps do we take to improve?

There are four distinct steps for doing so.

Reset. COVID-19 forced a hard reset on every restaurant, and operators either embraced it and energetically transformed their business model or defaulted to paralysis by analysis, and froze in place. Question everything: your menu, your processes (ordering, hiring, training, software, loyalty programs, packaging, partnerships) and your team. Ask “Why do we do it that way? What if we did it a different way? Do we need to do it at all? What do my customers want now? Is this the right menu for the new times? Who’s doing it better than us and why?”


Photo Courtesy of NRN.

Redesign. The restaurant business is the only industry I know that manufactures and assembles their product in the back of the building and then sells it in the front. We have an unusual opportunity right now to redesign our processes for greater efficiency, effectiveness and eco-friendliness. As much of the industry pivoted to a wholly curbside/takeout/to-go model, opportunities for redesign became self-evident. Operators began to question long-standing challenges like menu complexity, drive-thru bottlenecks, and through-put processes. Companies like Chipotle have since reinvented the takeaway/to-go model, full-service restaurants have begun offering four-week curbside food pickup subscriptions, and Chick-fil-A’s new drive-thru process is so efficient, effective and fast that it could be used as a model for future rapid coronavirus testing.

Realign. Once your concept reset and system redesign is complete, the next step is to realign your managers and teams to the new thought process and systems. This means a new training approach based on how adults actually learn instead of memorizing a linear list of tasks that tell us what to do instead of teaching us how to think. Start here: explain the “why” before you emphasize the “what” to do and “how” to do it parts.

Refine. Formulating a solid future strategy in the middle stages of coronavirus is challenging because we’re trying to predict a future with no prior experience from which to navigate. Don’t presume you’re ever reached peak performance. Ask: “How can we become the kind of company that would put us out of business?”

The restaurant businesses I’ve seen stumble or fail in the age of coronavirus are the ones that either had little cash reserves or those who’ve invested all their time, energies and resources in trying to maintain the status quo. That position is deadly because you’ll view change as an enemy and staying the same as your only strategy.


2020 NRN.

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