A year in review and looking to the future
2021, from a foodservice perspective, was a crapshoot. Emphasis on the crap. An industry that already functions on paper thin margins was torn into pieces, yet again. Complete shutdowns, reduced capacities, changing consumer behaviours and price increases have taken their toll - on bottom lines, last nerves (physical and mental) and livelihoods of many Canadian foodservice operators, their staff and their families.
Although we thought we were moving in the right direction and could possibly see the light at the end of this COVID tunnel, we have already seen even this early into 2022 that there is no guarantee about the future – there never is, especially in the foodservice business.
For the time being, as they have all throughout 2020 and 2021, foodservice businesses have had to adapt and will continue to adapt. A necessity in this ever-changing industry. Let’s take a look at what’s been going on over the last year and what will continue into 2022.
The Labour Shortage
The struggle to find enough people to fill available positions goes beyond the foodservice industry.
Time starved kitchens are nothing new. There is never enough time, even in the best of circumstances, to get everything done. But when things like people off sick or needing to look after sick family members, unavailable childcare, staff just not showing up and nobody responding to job ads all pile up on top of one another – it's a serious problem.
A significant decrease in the number of hands (and feet) available in your kitchen or dining room to help with service on a day-to-day basis is forcing operators to change how they prepare food for their customers.
Ghost kitchens were already on the radar of foodservice operators before the pandemic due to increased demand for takeout and delivery. This increased demand maxed out the capabilities of existing restaurant kitchens. Others wanted to grab the opportunity to meet the growing market.
Called other names – cloud kitchen, dark kitchen, virtual kitchen, commissary and even shadow kitchen – they all mean the same thing, a restaurant with no dining area. When the number of seats or the number of turns are not limiting factors, sales can increase.
Although there are many benefits of a ghost kitchen - lower start up costs, reduced risk, flexibility and increased opportunity for creativity – there are also challenges. Realistically, the business model for a ghost kitchen isn’t for everyone.
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An interesting change, fuelled by necessity during the last 18 months are smaller menus. Gone are the menu “books”, they just don’t make good business sense (or cents) anymore.
Streamlining menus is a smart move in the right direction. In fact, some Canadian foodservice operators were already simplifying their menus before COVID-19.
Cost and labour are key factors in this down shift of menu size. With fewer menu choices, operators can more cost effectively control their food inventory and the amount of labour required naturally decreases.
An added benefit of smaller menus is happier customers. Smaller menus more effectively portray what your kitchen is all about – who and what you are. It’s easier for your customers to read your menu, both online and in print. It’s easier to decide if they aren’t overwhelmed by choices which leads to the perception of quality over quantity.
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Alternate Revenue Streams
Due to the creativity and ingenuity of foodservice operators, chefs and dining room staff, many innovative revenue streams have been added to restaurants, bars, cafes and catering businesses in the last 18 months. It’s unlikely these alternate revenue streams are going to fade. Think of them as a kitchen’s way of diversifying their portfolio.
Frozen meals, virtual cooking classes, meal kits, menu subscriptions, retail and grocery additions, cocktail kits and online dinner parties were all delicious options operators added to their business models.
When customers stopped walking through their doors or sitting at tables, something had to change to stay afloat. Sure, it was for the sake of the bottom line and to keep staff employed but also offered a way to continually connect and fill the needs of their customers - beyond takeout and delivery. All with the hope that customers would come back, open the door and pull up a chair.
With challenge comes opportunity. The opportunity to reflect, change and adapt. The opportunity to try something new. Many added or enhanced their patio areas. For some foodservice businesses that meant adding takeout. For others it meant jumping into the third-party delivery game.
Reducing hours of operation is one change many businesses thought would be temporary but have stuck. Focusing their service(s) in a limited amount of hours has been a positive change. Giving staff and owners the flexibility in their personal lives to deal with, well, life.
Foodservice kitchens have dealt with a multitude of challenges in a relatively short period of time. Surprisingly, many have finally found out what they want to be when they grow up. These difficult times have shone a light on what works – in the kitchen, on the menu, in the dining room or at the takeout door. For some, it’s been so enlightening they won’t go back to their old ways.
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Trends can be fleeting. However, trends can also become the new normal. For Canadian foodservice operators, adapting any (or all) of these industry trends could be the difference between getting ahead versus falling behind. It may even be the foundation to build their future.