With workforce pools shrinking and legislation seeking to raise minimum hourly wages substantially, labor issues are on every restaurant operator’s mind.
According to the National Restaurant Association, the foodservice industry employs 14 million people, having added 1.8 million jobs since the end of the recession. However, the association’s chief economist, Bruce Grindy, reports that positions are becoming more difficult to fill and, to top this off, the gap between monthly hires and job openings is rapidly shrinking.
Both an increasing minimum wage and a shrinking labor pipeline are putting pressure on labor costs. According to the U.S. Department of Labor, 19 states began the new year with higher minimum wages, while three more are scheduled to raise their respective minimum wages on July 1, 2017 due to previously enacted legislation.
In the FE&S 2017 Operator Forecast study, four out of the top seven business challenges identified by foodservice operators dealt with labor issues. These included minimum wage, finding qualified help, keeping qualified help and cost of health care and other benefits. In fact, 60 percent of operators surveyed as part of the study expect labor to become a larger part of their budget this year.
With the cost of labor taking up as much as one-third of revenues for some operations already, the only solution to combat rising wages and decreasing employee pools is to reduce headcount. The problem with this lies in the challenge of maintaining food quality and customer service with less manpower.
The onus is on operators to plan ahead and optimize their operations to ensure kitchens continue to work as efficiently as possible and take steps to circumvent issues that will be inevitable with fewer staff, all while ensuring customer service is not compromised.
Fortunately, today’s equipment technology can be utilized to effectively fill in the gaps to ensure the back of house remains productive and efficient. Time-savers like holding equipment provide operators with the ability to produce food in bulk during off hours to ensure speed of service and food quality remain at the forefront. Equipment that can be used in self-service environments, like conveyor toasters, help conserve labor. In quick- and limited-service applications, more compact, cleaner technologies, like induction cooking, allow staff to do double duty as order takers and food preparers.
By planning and taking advantage of equipment that not only saves labor, but ensures efficiency, production and customer service will not be compromised. This allows operators to do more with less.