Companies with 'Undue Hardship' Can Deny Religious Exemptions from Vaccine Mandates

Restaurant Management - Tue, 10/26/2021 - 13:31
Companies with 'Undue Hardship' Can Deny Religious Exemptions from Vaccine Mandates ben Tue, 10/26/2021 - 13:31

Employers can also make a 'limited factual inquiry' if there's questions surrounding the sincerity of the religious request. 

October 26, 2021

Employers that display “undue hardship” will not have to accommodate employees’ religious exemption from vaccine mandates, the U.S. Equal Employment Opportunity Commission (EEOC) announced Monday.

To prove "undue hardship," employers must consider all reasonable accommodations, including telework and reassignment. However, if the company shows that it is unable to accommodate the workers' religious belief without an "undue hardship" on operations—i.e. impairing workplace safety, diminishing efficiency, coworkers carrying an inordinate workload—then an employer is not required to provide an accommodation. 

"An employer will need to assess undue hardship by considering the particular facts of each situation and will need to demonstrate how much cost or disruption the employee’s proposed accommodation would involve," the EEOC said. "An employer cannot rely on speculative hardships when faced with an employee’s religious objection but, rather, should rely on objective information."

The EEOC said that under Title VII of the Civil Rights Act of 1964, absent “undue hardship,” all employers must accommodate employees’ religious objections to the vaccine. An employee must tell their company if they are requesting exemption, but do not need to use any specific verbiage like "religious accommodation" or "Title VII." The worker simply must notify the employer that there's a conflict between their sincerely held religious beliefs and the employer's vaccination requirement. For best practice, a company should give employees information about whom to contact, and the procedures to make the request, the EEOC said. 

For the most part, an employer should assume the request is legitimate, but if there's an objective basis for questioning the sincerity, a company would be allowed to make a "limited factual inquiry" to gather more information. If a worker doesn't cooperate with said inquiry, they'd risk losing any claim that that the employer improperly denied the request. Social, political, economic views, or personal preferences are not protected as reasons for employees to seek exemption to vaccine requirements.

If a company grants religious exemption for one employee, it doesn't mean it has to do it for all workers. Also, an employer has the right to discontinue a previously granted accommodation if it's no longer used for religious purposes, or if the accommodation poses an "undue hardship" later on due to changed circumstances. 

"As a best practice, an employer should discuss with the employee any concerns it has about continuing a religious accommodation before revoking it and consider whether there are alternative accommodations that would not impose an undue hardship," the EEOC said. 

The guidance may be crucial to operators as restaurants have become the scene of increasing vaccine mandates over the past few months. New York City, San Francisco, New Orleans and Los Angeles require customers and employees to show vaccine identification before entering restaurants. New Orleans and New York mandate at least one dose of the vaccine, while San Francisco and Los Angeles require both.

Federally, the Occupational Safety and Health Administration (OSHA) COVID-19 plan under President Joe Biden rules that companies, including restaurants, with more than 100 employees will have to mandate vaccines or test employees weekly. If restaurants incur the responsibility of paying for testing, restaurants could pay between $30 to $130 per employee. 

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Categories: Restaurants

How to Fix Mistakes at your Restaurant Startup

Restaurant Management - Mon, 10/25/2021 - 12:09
How to Fix Mistakes at your Restaurant Startup ben Mon, 10/25/2021 - 12:09

Your job is to lead your team, not to work a line job.

October 25, 2021

Owning and running a restaurant is not for the faint of heart. It's really hard work. You put a lot of hours in and the profit margin… well, it's slim to none if you're not careful, especially when you start out. I’ve coached thousands of restaurant owners over the last 20-plus years, and I’ve seen all kinds of startup mistakes. If you made these mistakes when you opened your restaurant, the good news is you can fix them now.

Number one, not knowing your numbers.

What do I mean by that? Well, you start a restaurant based on an idea written on a cocktail napkin and a general idea of what you think it's going to cost to start up your business. You submit the startup budget that outlines the capital you're going to need and what you can afford to finance. That’s where most restaurant owners stop. They don’t take the next step to develop an operating budget. But it’s so important because it’s your plan for success. You can use the operating budget to run scenarios of best case and worst case. You can evaluate the location based on its lease, what it takes to open it up, your price point, the neighborhood, all these variables. Then use it to decide what the high and the low points are. If you can't make it work on the low points, you must really think hard about the location for you.  

Number two, not understanding your main job as a restaurant owner.

See, most people think, hey, I'm going to open this restaurant, and I'm going to be a great chef, and people are going to come in and I'm going to wow them or comfort them with my food. Maybe you are a server, a bartender, some position in the restaurant industry and you said, man, I can't wait to open my own place, and I'm going to show people how hard I work. I will teach my team to do as I do, not as I say. Or maybe you're one of those people who said, hey, I don't know anything about the restaurant business, but I think it sounds fun to retire and open a restaurant.

What happens is you get into your business, and especially if you are a restaurant person, you tend to do all the jobs yourself. You’ll flip a burger to save $15 an hour. You’ll bus a table to make sure you get the guests seated. You’ll work the front and all the jobs as if you were a line employee.

The truth of matter is you're losing thousands upon thousands of dollars when you open your business that way because you're not paying attention to your expenses, your labor, your cost of goods sold. You're not doing what an owner is supposed to do as a restaurant owner. Yes, when you open up, the first six months to a year requires a lot of work from you. But as soon as you have your act together and you’re a bit established, your job is to be the leader of that business. Your job is to train your managers and let them run the day to day. Your job is budgets, to have your plan for success, to move everyone forward. Your job is to lead your team. It is not to work a line job.

Number three, not understanding the usefulness and importance of a strong management team.

This is critical. And all too often restaurant owners try and manage, work the line, do all the things at the same time. In fact, while I said you don't work the line, I don't want you to manage it either. In fact, I want to fire you. I want you working on the business, not in it.

The most frequent argument I hear in response to this is you don’t have the right people. It’s true if you haven’t been building that team. You need to identify, train, cultivate, and develop the right people. The most successful restaurateurs I've ever worked with know they not only have to learn the systems, lead the systems, but they have to have others manage those systems. Managers are critical to your success.

If you truly want to open a restaurant and make it successful, maybe you've already had some level of success, but you're not making the money you deserve and you're a prisoner to your business, then you need managers.


If you've made these mistakes starting a restaurant, you can fix them. You just need some help. When you fix these three mistakes, you can leave your restaurant because you have built a team of people who know how you want the restaurant to run. With these trained and responsible people in place, you can give yourself time away. What would you do if you had time away from your restaurant? Would you sleep better? Would your relationships improve? Would you feel more relaxed? We own our own businesses so we can experience these things, and you deserve it!


David Scott Peters is a restaurant expert who teaches restaurant operators how to cut costs and increase profits with his trademark Restaurant Prosperity Formula. He’s taught thousands of restaurants how to use operational systems and create a hospitality-based company culture to skyrocket their profits.

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Categories: Restaurants

BJ’s Restaurants Looks to Bring Back Staffing Levels By November

Restaurant Management - Fri, 10/22/2021 - 16:11
BJ’s Restaurants Looks to Bring Back Staffing Levels By November danny Fri, 10/22/2021 - 16:11

The brand lost 25,000 operating hours across the system compared to 2019.

October 22, 2021

The No. 1 thing standing in BJ’s Restaurants’ way on the path to restoring sales remains the staffing crisis, CEO Greg Levin said during Thursday’s earnings call.

The casual chain intended to be fully staffed by the end of Q3, but in light of growing concerns around the Delta variant, hiring didn’t pick up as much as predicted in August and September.

During the four weeks of July, BJ’s weekly sales average surpassed $107,000, 1.4 percent higher than levels in 2019. But in August, casual-dining comparable sales took a step backward, declining 370 basis points, according to Black Box Intelligence. BJ’s outperformed that metric but still saw sales decline 260 basis points over the same weeks.

In all, while sales increased 41.9 percent versus 2020, same-store sales finished down 0.5 percent compared to the same period in 2019. Specifically, comps were up 1.4 percent in July, down 1 percent in August, and fell 1.7 percent in September compared to 2019. The same quarter in 2019 also saw numerous promotions, which likely drove sales upward. Total sales were $282.2 million in the third quarter of this year.

Lunch and late-night dayparts remain the most challenged, a fact that weighed on BJ’s same-store sales by more than 3 percentage points.

But based on encouraging trends, Levin said BJ’s goal now is to be fully staffed by early November. Staffing at stores today sits around 90 percent of pre-pandemic levels.

About half of all units had higher staffing levels similar to 2019 by the end of the quarter, a 10-percentage improvement since Q2. And the difference is stark between restaurants that have navigated the labor shortage and those that haven’t. Restaurants with comparable staffing levels to 2019 saw an increase in same-store sales of more than 5 percent versus 2019. Excluding restaurants that were 20 percent or more behind 2019 staffing levels, comps would be positive low single digits, Levin said.

“I think everybody in the industry continues to figure out how to deal with the employee challenges out there,” Levin said. “And I'm not sure anybody has come up with the magic pill yet. And we hear all the different initiatives out there. And believe me, we do them as well from that standpoint. Maybe we don't celebrate them publicly as much as other companies do in that regard.”

These seldom-spoken about initiatives include team member appreciation events, raffles, referral bonuses, and more. One feature that Levin believes will be vital to attracting and keeping employees is predictive scheduling.

“A lot of team members would like to have more predictability and be able to work around certain parts of their schedule,” Levin said. “I've always been a believer of this. It's about the culture within the four walls of those restaurants. And we spend a lot of time with our general managers, teaching them to take care of the team members from a culture standpoint.”

Levin says employees aren’t running from one job to another because of a minimal pay increase. It’s about the balance in restaurants, within kitchens and within dining rooms. Predictive scheduling can ensure employees feel better taken care of.

When it comes to inflation, BJ’s margins have left the brand waiting for the better days of supply chains to arrive, especially because of the types of products BJ’s customers are drawn to. Restaurant-level operating margins were 11.2 percent in Q3, 170 basis points better than 2020 but 230 basis points worse than 2019.

Levin is hopeful the supply chain will start to flatten out moving into next year as BJ’s has already seen some fresh meat costs tick down.

“Guests are really gravitating much more toward the comfort foods, more in the red meat,” Levin said. “That had an outsized impact on us and the fact that we use fresh makes it a little bit more challenging to contract.”

Any rise in commodities can shake a brand’s accessibility from a price point angle, he adds. BJ’s has been purposeful in keeping price increases low.

“Once you've taken pricing and you've lost that price point affordability with your guests, you don't get it back,” Levin said.

BJ’s will roll out its next general menu in February, which is when the brand expects to evaluate prices again. It would rather see supply chains begin to normalize, gain a better understanding of where labor is tracking, and then take the appropriate pricing in order to maintain leverage, Levin said.

In July, BJ’s jumped 2.5 percent in pricing, marking the higher end of the brand’s rounds but still below inflationary levels. The brand plans to take 1.4 percent more in the coming weeks amid increased food costs.

Off-premises sales continue to be an integral aspect of BJ’s recovery. With an additional boost outside the four walls along with staffing improvements, Levin feels confident BJ’s has the ability and opportunity to get back to more historic margins.

“I think as our country works through some of these supply chain bottlenecks and we get back to a more even business, so to speak, or more settled footing on the economy, I have no doubt that we can continue to leverage our business and move it forward to historic margins,” Levin said.

His confidence stems from a few factors. During a project that spanned several interviews with BJ’s best guests, Levin said customers raved about BJ’s “gold standard level of service” and its “value and breadth”

“Our most valuable guests view BJ's as an escape from their ordinary day, and they come to BJ's for all types of social dining occasions,” Levin said. “Armed with a deeper appreciation of our best guests and our attributes that attract them, we can more effectively target and drive even more brand affinity and traffic to our restaurants.”

In the first week of October, sales were down 3 or 4 percent relative to 2019. But last week, BJ’s finished with positive comp sales at 0.2 percent, and weekly sales ticked back up into the $105,000 to $106,000 range. This is noteworthy because October is generally BJ’s lowest weekly sales period of the fourth quarter.

Levin expects this to trend upward as BJ’s hires more people and customers return to dining rooms, assuming a new variant of COVID does not rear its head. He predicts labor inflation to still be in the mid- to high-single digits, although it seems to be abating a bit.

There’s reason for optimism, he says. Earlier in the year, applicants would book interviews and never show up. Now there’s significantly more interest.

“We're seeing people show up,” Levin says. “We're seeing people really want a job and come back, and we're also seeing higher retention rates or lower turnover going into September and October across the board.”

Still, there are difficulties in even bringing on these new employees. If BJ’s is down 30 people in one restaurant, the new staff can’t all be trained in one week. Only a maximum of six or seven people can be trained at one time, per restaurant. And compared to Q3 in 2019, training and overtime hours impacted labor by 70 basis points. Still, as BJ’s continues to add more team members, the company expects the additional labor costs to be offset by increasing profits from sales fully staffed restaurants drive.

The units that face the greatest challenges are those without sister BJ’s restaurants nearby to support staffing needs.

Many restaurants facing labor setbacks have had to operate on a limited menu and close doors an hour or two earlier. In fact, BJ’s restaurants shut 1.3 hours earlier on average and lost 25,000 operating hours across the system compared to 2019.

More than 20 percent of BJ’s Restaurants operated with limited menus, too. These offerings end up with smaller average check sizes and miss out on late-night business. Again, Levin aims to reinstate full menus once BJ’s staffing shortages hopefully end in November.

There’s been improvement there as well of late. Restaurants now close an hour earlier on average. Returning to pre-COVID hours could return $1,000–$2,000 weekly in sales.

“Throughout this time, our goal was to make sure our team members were taken care of and that we delivered a gold standard level of execution to our guests,” Levin said. “We understand that at times, these conscious decisions sacrifice short-term sales by limiting restaurant seating and capacity, as well as menu items. However, in doing so, we know that the guests that are in our restaurants are getting the service, hospitality, and food quality that they expect and will keep choosing BJ's over other concepts.”

Until staffing levels are secure, BJ’s won’t lean too heavy into marketing. After all, BJ’s wouldn’t be able to drive the incremental sales for the additional spend to make sense, Levin says.

That doesn’t mean BJ’s isn’t thinking ahead. The brand is developing an internal guest personalization platform to better engage with guests in a one-to-one manner. And restaurants that are already fully staffed can engage in localized digital marketing.

Even amid staffing troubles, BJ’s is growing. In new locations in Lansing, Michigan, and Merrillville, Indiana, a new prototype has resonated. Levin says the design provides a more inviting feeling in the restaurant, and overall weekly sales for both restaurants were strong. The design boasts a similar square footage to previous units but with a circular bar, offering a patio for guests.

Levin said BJ’s has a clear path to at least 425 domestic locations, which is roughly double BJ’s current footprint. Catering and BJ’s Beer Club will also be instrumental in the company’s long term strategic plan, he said.

“There's a lot of good things we have going in the right direction, moving the business forward,” Levin said. “It's just Q3, the way it started and then what came through from the Delta and our exclusions in our restaurants, really put a challenge in front of us. Frankly, we would rather look at the business from the long-term perspective and make sure we're taking care of our team members, taking care of the guests that come to BJ's, and no doubt, we'll build it over the long term.”

In 2022, the brand anticipates growing same store-sales above 2019 levels as staffing issues resolve and dine-in traffic continues to recover. Eight more restaurants are scheduled to open next year, including four in the first half.

“While we have seen new challenges present throughout this pandemic, we continue to meet the challenges head-on, manage our business for both near and long-term objectives and remain steadfast, and are focused on delivering our guests the best experience which will allow us to continue delivering outside growth in years to come,” said CFO Tom Houdek.

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Categories: Restaurants

Chef Nyesha Arrington's Los Angeles

Restaurant Management - Fri, 10/22/2021 - 11:13
Chef Nyesha Arrington's Los Angeles erica Fri, 10/22/2021 - 11:13

Global cuisines and access to farm-fresh ingredients make L.A. a restaurant mecca—just ask chef Nyesha Arrington.

October 2021 Brian Parillo Chef Nyesha Arrington's Top Picks:

Parks BBQ

The Serving Spoon


Tito’s Tacos

Sage Plant Based Bistro

The glitz and glamour that have become synonymous with Los Angeles extend to its restaurant scene. But there is also a more grounded side to L.A. dining, one populated with mom-and-pops serving cuisines from across the world.

These global flavors combined with California’s abundance of fresh ingredients left an indelible mark on Nyesha Arrington. A classically trained chef and L.A. native, Arrington has worked at a number of fine-dining institutions and appeared on shows including a recent episode of “Selena + Chef.” Next up, she’ll be a judge on Gordon Ramsay’s “Next Level Chef.” All the while, Arrington is continuing to advocate for sustainable sourcing and encourage other chefs to take advantage of the rich bounty the area has to offer.

Bounty of the land

From a chef’s perspective, we have access to some of the world’s best produce. We’re able to draw inspiration from a seasonal standpoint because the local farm is less than an hour away. We have a very rich culture in agriculture. A lot of those iconic, historical places around downtown Los Angeles were once robust citrus fields.

Where all the farmers know your name

I live in Santa Monica, and I would say the farmers market is a must. It’s really the place to be for a chef because it’s great networking. You’re going to meet farmers who are within less than two hours of the market. Every chef in L.A. is going to be at the farmers market Wednesday morning.

Taking things to the Next Level

I’ve been in food competitions for a while now and this is my first recurring appearance as a judge on “Next Level Chef.” Really what I’m excited about the most is the mentorship aspect. To get to connect with these people and mentor them through the challenges is going to be exciting.

Why L.A. rocks

If you’re going to come to Los Angeles, you’re coming for that beach culture. It’s a really nice and relaxed energy.

The scene

What makes Los Angeles a great food destination is the melting pot and the mix of cultures that make the terroir so robust. You can go to different parts of the city that are centralized by different cultures. For example, the Fairfax area is basically Little Ethiopia; Boyle Heights has a very strong Latin culture; and then there’s K-Town; I could go on and on.

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Categories: Restaurants

Buffalo Wild Wings Tests New Robotic Chicken Fryer

Restaurant Management - Thu, 10/21/2021 - 14:28
Buffalo Wild Wings Tests New Robotic Chicken Fryer ben Thu, 10/21/2021 - 14:28

Tests show a 10 to 20 percent increase in food production speeds. 

October 21, 2021

Buffalo Wild Wings is testing a new robotic chicken wing frying solution to streamline back-of-house operations. 

The tech-forward product, created by Miso Robotics, is called Flippy Wings. The machine is equipped with an AutoBin system that provides kitchen staff with multiple food-safe bins where products are dropped for cooking. After the robot's AI vision automatically identifies the food, it pick ups the items, cooks them, and then drops them off into a hot holding area. In the mean time, back-of-house staff is able to cook more and spend much less time attending to the deep fryer. 

Additionally, Flippy Wings increases safety by eliminating several hot touch points and significantly decreasing oil spillage. Miso's tests show a 10 to 20 percent increase in food production speeds when using the robot. 

Buffalo Wild Wings started piloting the machine at the Atlanta-based Inspire Brands Innovation Center this fall, where Flippy Wings—or "Wingy," as the kitchen staff calls it—is being tuned and adjusted to the chain's specifications. Inspire will then test Flippy Wings in a real cooking environment by installing another unit at Alliance Kitchen, a 7,500-square-foot, $2.6 million ghost kitchen that opened earlier this year. After that, the robot will enter a standalone Buffalo Wild Wings in 2022. 

"Technology is making a fundamental impact on the end-to-end restaurant operational model," Paul Brown, CEO of Buffalo Wild Wings parent Inspire Brands, said in a statement. "Intelligent automation including AI and robotics will not only transform how we communicate with and take orders from our guests but also how we prepare and serve food to those guests. This transformation will ultimately result in improved efficiencies in our restaurants and an overall elevated experience for our guests and our team members." 

In addition to Inspire and Buffalo Wild Wings, Miso said it has "several other pilot agreements" with other national brands, and that it plans to announce more partnerships and products later this year. 

“We’re incredibly proud to not only unveil Flippy Wings, but to also have an exceptional brand like Inspire share our vision of kitchen automation,” said Miso CEO Mike Bell said in a statement. “From day one, Flippy Wings will cook more food with less waste and save staff for higher value contributions. Flippy Wings fries fresh, frozen or hand-breaded products like a pro, avoiding cross contamination and increasing throughput while reducing costs. It is fast, safer to operate than traditional fryers and the whole system can be set up in just a few hours over existing equipment. We think team members in restaurants everywhere are going to love having Flippy Wings working for them.” 

Miso is the same company behind Flippy, a burger-flipping robot most notably tested by White Castle. 

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Categories: Restaurants

Positioning Your Restaurant for Sale

Restaurant Management - Thu, 10/21/2021 - 08:56
Positioning Your Restaurant for Sale danny Thu, 10/21/2021 - 08:56

Let's look at a few of the different structures of the payment portion of a potential deal.

October 21, 2021

You made the decision to sell your restaurant and hired a business broker to assist with the procuring of a buyer and for help navigating the process. With a buyer in place, we want to discuss a few of the different structures of the payment portion of the deal.

Payment through a financing institution

A common form of payment in the sale of a business is through a financing institution that allows the buyer to place a down payment for the purchase and make installments, with interest, over an agreed-upon period until it is paid off. Depending on the size of the deal and available capital, buyers may present offers that include SBA financing. If third-party financing isn’t an option, you may be approached with a seller-financed deal. In this case, like the bank, you will receive a down payment at the closing of the sale followed by payments over a period until the balance is paid in full.

Lump-sum payment

The most preferred form of payment for business owners selling their restaurant is receiving a lump sum. This is when the buyer pays for the business in its entirety at one time and usually in cash. This is often the easiest way to sell your business because once you receive the money and sign the paperwork the deal is done.


When selling your business, you can also get creative. These creative ways of selling your business may include an earn-out or a long-term partnership. A few examples of when an earn-out may take place are when a buyer and a seller can’t reach an agreement on the price, there are growth opportunities that may occur in the near future, long-term contracts, or unpredictable trends in the industry. When a buyer and seller agree on an earn-out the seller receives payments from the buyer at certain points when agreed-upon performance targets are met.

Selling in a partnership

A long-term partnership however is different in the sale structure. A buyer will acquire a certain percentage of the business, usually majority ownership, and the seller will retain the remaining percentage. If you are a co-owner in the business, it is important to have an operating agreement and fully understand the roles, obligations, and rights of all parties.

Working with a professional business broker is the best way to help you navigate the sale of your restaurant and help you get the right price. Brokers will help you with every step of your selling journey from getting your books in order, to being an intermediate between the buyer and the seller.

Bryan Vitagliano is the lead restaurant broker of Strategic Business Brokers Group, in affiliation with American Realty Brokers. He has helped dozens of owners sell their restaurants across Arizona.

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Categories: Restaurants

Chili's Relieves Pressure with Tech-Forward Labor Model

Restaurant Management - Wed, 10/20/2021 - 16:00
Chili's Relieves Pressure with Tech-Forward Labor Model ben Wed, 10/20/2021 - 16:00

The system requires fewer bodies and increases wages for servers. 

October 20, 2021

Three years ago, Chili’s parent Brinker International began testing a new "Team Service Evolution" model in California featuring handheld server devices, with intentions to reduce labor pressures and improve productivity.

That initial pilot was a failure, CEO Wyman Roberts said Wednesday during the company’s Investor Day. The model worked well, but the technology was lacking.

“It would break on a Saturday night in the middle of volume,” Roberts said. “It just couldn’t handle capacity.”

In the ensuing years, Chili’s decided to remove third-party partnerships and build the model internally with proprietary software, which left the brand with an efficient system ready to be rolled out to the entire footprint.

The new Team Service Evolution model has three key pieces, including iPad minis with POS software for each server, new kitchen display screens in the bar and beverage area, and a fresh labor model with a runner position to assist servers on the floor.

READ MORE: Chili's Wants to Pay GMs an Average of $100K

Instead of waiting in line to use a POS monitor in the back of house, servers take orders using their iPad Minis. Often, drinks are brought to guests by the food runner before the server has left the table. Chili’s said the setup creates an improved food and drink order flow to the kitchen, which prevents food orders from flooding kitchens all at once.

“TSA allows for smoother shifts and simplifies the job for our team members by creating clear direction of what their roles are,” the company said in a video explaining the new system.

The food runner position forms a new career progression for Chili’s employees as well, which begins with host, and flows to runner, server or bartender, certified shift leader, manager, and general manger. Roberts said this gives inexperienced employees a clear line of sight toward earning six figures. According to Chili’s Sustainability report, Chili’s general managers across 1,600 stores earned an average of more than $87,000 in salary and bonuses in fiscal 2021, but the restaurant aims to boost that to $100,000 over the next three years.

Roberts said the Team Service Evolution model is in half of restaurants currently and will be rolled out completely by December. The CEO noted that because servers remain on the floor, they can take a bigger section, which results in higher wages. Hourly workers earned an average of $16.95 in fiscal 2021, including tips, bonuses, and sick pay, but Brinker wants to increase that to an average of $18 by fiscal 2023.

Roberts also said the model requires fewer bodies, and that should lead to more efficient service.

“That means we get to keep the best of them,” Roberts said. “On a Friday night, when you need more bodies, you’re oftentimes going to somebody to come work in the restaurant who’s not that skilled, that’s only working one to two shifts per week. That’s the last place you want somebody that’s not very skilled is in your restaurant messing with your kitchen and your POS when you’re very busy.”  


Chili’s earned $58,000 in average weekly sales per restaurant in July.

The new model comes as Brinker faced pressure from staffing shortages, the Delta variant, and commodity inflation in the first quarter. Chili’s same-store sales grew 8.8 percent in July compared to two years ago, but decelerated to a 3.1 percent increase in August. In September, comps lifted 7 percent, and through October 13 (the beginning of Chili’s Q2), they grew 7.3 percent.

Maggiano’s comps upped 1.6 percent in July, but lowered 2.2 percent in August and 0.5 percent in September, compared to two years ago. Through October 13, same-store sales lifted 1.5 percent.

Restaurant operating margins decreased to 10.4 percent in Q1, down from 11.6 percent last year. The primary drivers of that trend were 150 basis points of higher labor costs and 60 basis points of higher commodity costs. However, Brinker noted that a large piece of increasing labor costs are transitory, including training, productivity, overtime, and bonuses. 

Chili’s earned $58,000 in average weekly sales per restaurant in July, but $55,000 in August. The figure dipped to $54,000 in September. CFO Joe Taylor explained average weekly sales typically remain flat between July and August, yet this year proved to be uncharacteristic because of all the macroeconomic factors.

Taylor estimated Chili’s lost roughly 3–4 percent in comps because of short-term constraints. Regions most challenged include the Midwest and California.

“That’s an opportunity for us,” Taylor said. “As pleased as we are with our ability to drive topline, we’re still leaving sales on the table. We still have restaurants that have not been able to fully open, staffing issues are forcing some restaurants into limited hours, inability to open fully, particularly when you think about Fridays and Saturdays where you really get those volumes.”

The good news for Chili’s is restaurants are starting to capitalize on the opportunity. Month-to-date in October, average weekly sales per unit are at $55,000.

Roberts said turnover is decreasing and restaurants are basically staffed to pre-COVID levels, on average. There are some hot spots where stores are struggling more, but he believes the system is past the “911” situation it experienced in the past.

At higher career levels, retention remains steady. General managers have an average tenure of 11.6 years, while directors of operation stay 19.2 years and vice presidents of operation 17.9 years. Brinker has also observed employees returning to restaurants after leaving for another industry. The manager rehire rate is 10 percent, versus 4 percent in 2019, and the hourly rehire rate is 21 percent, compared to 13 percent in 2019.

To improve workplace quality, Brinker leadership implemented multiple changes to remove stress for restaurant employees, including how it trains new managers. Beforehand, managers learned from modules and were then tasked with training other managers. The company is now accelerating and testing a method in which it offers live classes from its headquarters and trains all managers across labor, production, and their own well-being.

In addition to training, Brinker has made sure restaurants aren't losing sales because of short supply. Roberts shared employees once drove U-Haul trucks to restaurants when a distributor didn’t have enough drivers.

“We are responding to these COVID headwinds with increased focus on hiring and retention efforts, and working with our partners to gain further stabilization of the supply chain environment,” Roberts said in a statement.

Brinker’s total revenue increased to $876.4 million in Q1, compared to $740.1 million last year and $786 million two years ago. Adjusted operating income in the first quarter grew to $30.2 million versus $28.4 million in the year-ago period and $31.8 million two years ago. 

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Categories: Restaurants

Restaurants Turn to Outdoor Dining, but 'Dark Chill of Winter' Awaits

Restaurant Management - Wed, 10/20/2021 - 12:40
Restaurants Turn to Outdoor Dining, but 'Dark Chill of Winter' Awaits ben Wed, 10/20/2021 - 12:40

Only 30 percent believe they can use outdoor dining for the whole winter. 

October 20, 2021

Thousands of restaurants could close without the financial support to extend outdoor dining, the National Restaurant Association warned Tuesday in a letter sent to the U.S. Conference of Mayors.

“Despite a few weeks of optimism earlier this summer, the outlook for the restaurant industry remains dire,” Mike Whatley, the Association's vice president for state affairs and grassroots advocacy, said in the letter.

In a survey of 4,000 operators from early September, the Association found the Delta variant slowed indoor dining at 78 percent of restaurants, and at at the same time, 61 percent of operators experienced an increase in demand for outdoor seating. In fact, outdoor dining has grown to a mix of 20 percent or more at 68 percent of full-service restaurants.

Overall, 72 percent of full-service operators said they offer outdoor seating in a space such as a patio, deck, or sidewalk, up from 61 percent in April. The number mirrors where the casual-dining segment was last year at this time, when 74 percent of operators offered outdoor seating. 

But changing weather conditions mean outdoor dining might no longer be as viable of a solution for customers concerned about Delta’s spread. According to the Association’s research, 61 percent of full-service restaurants can only use their outdoor space through October, and only 30 percent of full-service restaurants plan to utilize outdoor seating throughout the entire winter season.

“Restaurants currently rely on outdoor dining to stay open, but the dark chill of winter is coming,” Whatley said. “For operators depending on this revenue, every additional day they can extend their outdoor service matters. Last year, despite supply chain issues, many restaurants were able to invest in equipment to expand and winterize their outdoor dining areas. But many restaurants weren’t able to make those investments.”

National Restaurant Association National Restaurant Association National Restaurant Association

Whatley noted that many restaurants are headed toward another difficult winter without proper financial aid. In the letter, he emphasized that two-third of applicants for the $28.6 billion Restaurant Revitalization Fund did not receive any financial assistance.

Even though there's $43.6 billion left to be funded, Congress has not replenished the program, leaving 177,000 restaurants without crucial monetary help. During the summer, the Restaurant Revitalization Fund Replenishment Act was introduced to add $60 billion in funding. The ENTRÉE Act, rolled out a month later, aims to add $60 billion, as well. However, neither piece of legislation has garnered significant momentum. 

The National Restaurant Association is asking local leaders to help restaurants in offering outdoor dining for as long as possible this winter. The organization suggests possible solutions like extending expanded outdoor dining allowances, continuing to streamline permitting processes, promoting outdoor dining efforts by operators, and giving funding for outdoor dining infrastructure.

“Expanded outdoor dining cannot replace robust consumer demand for indoor dining or Congress taking action to replenish the RRF, yet it is critically needed to help the industry sustain the winter,” Whatley said.

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Categories: Restaurants

Texas Roadhouse to Help Employees with Tuition Costs

Restaurant Management - Tue, 10/19/2021 - 15:46
Texas Roadhouse to Help Employees with Tuition Costs ben Tue, 10/19/2021 - 15:46

The chain is hosting another National Hiring Day on October 25. 

October 19, 2021

Texas Roadhouse announced last week that it's added tuition reimbursement to its list of benefits as restaurants continue to battle the nationwide labor shortage. 

According to local media, the company will take care of up to $5,250 in annual tuition for those working more than 30 hours per week, as long as the individual earns at least a "C" average from an accredited institution. The reimbursement applies to both Texas Roadhouse and Bubba's 33 employees. The company is preparing for a major employment push on October 25 with a National Hiring Day. 

“Texas Roadhouse and Bubba’s 33 offer rewarding and fun career opportunities – complete with competitive pay, based on experience,” the casual-dining chain told media in a news release. “The restaurants believe in putting people first and promoting from within. The company encourages ‘Roadies’ to love what they do today and prepare for tomorrow through extensive training and opportunities for advancement.”

CEO Jerry Morgan told analysts in late July that most restaurants have made "great strides" in staffing while others have struggled to maintain necessary employment levels on a consistent basis. He added that Texas Roadhouse hosted a National Hiring Day in Q2, which contributed to the company adding 5,000 workers in the quarter

"We know which stores need help specifically," Morgan said. "And we're really focused on that as a team. Our regional market partners, our managing partners at the store level, and our support center here—we have a very dynamic team that is focused to support our restaurants. As we continue to get staffing, we will be able to provide even probably higher comp sales and a little better service to our guests. So we are continue a full-court press on getting properly staffed across the country, especially where a lot of them are there. But there's still a lot that need some help, and we are absolutely all hands on deck to help support that."

Texas Roadhouse joins a growing list of companies boosting educational benefits amid the labor crisis. In early August, Raising Cane's revealed that it was bolstering its benefits package by offering hourly and managerial employees up to $5,250 per year in tuition reimbursement, family tuition discounts, and college-level courses in numerous study areas. Chipotle began boosting educational perks prior to COVID. In October 2019, the fast casual unveiled a new benefit in which the brand covers 100 percent of tuition costs up front for 75 different types of business and technology degrees via Guild Education. That's in addition to its $5,250 tuition reimbursement. 

Throughout 2020, Texas Roadhouse spent more than $20 million in COVID pay, relief, and bonuses for employees.

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Categories: Restaurants

Choosing the Right Benefits for Restaurant Employees

Restaurant Management - Tue, 10/19/2021 - 11:25
Choosing the Right Benefits for Restaurant Employees ben Tue, 10/19/2021 - 11:25

Mental wellness has become a huge component, especially since the pandemic began. 

October 19, 2021

The benefit wars are heating up amongst employers who are trying to overcome the labor shortage. After laying off and furloughing employees during the pandemic, many companies have struggled to attract applicants as they attempt to restaff and grow, including many restaurants. Over the summer, restaurant chains like Papa John’s, McDonald’s, BurgerFi, and P.F. Chang’s announced wage increases and signing bonuses. But “Now Hiring” signs in front of restaurants can still be seen dotting streets and in some cities, restaurants are even being forced to close early because they cannot find enough workers to fill shifts.

Now, major employers like Walmart and Target have raised the stakes of the wage and benefit competition even higher announcing tuition benefits for eligible employees. Amazon has also announced wage increases to $18 an hour and new college tuition benefits. While large companies can continue to up the ante to attract workers, not all restaurants can compete with equal benefits and wage offers. Restaurants also cannot offer chefs, serving staff, bartenders, and other employees the option to work remotely like many companies are now offering to match employee demand.

The restaurant and hospitality industry typically employs a lot of part-time workers to meet the variable needs of their business, and part-time workers are usually not offered a traditional medical, dental, and vision benefit plan. In fact, offering a qualified medical plan can hurt the employees financially by disqualifying them for a medical plan and subsidy on the ACA exchanges. The solution for restaurants is not to rush into offering a medical plan, but focus on other benefits that are less expensive and truly meet the needs of the employees.

Remote work options are not the only benefit that job seekers are searching for today. The pandemic has made more than geography a priority for many people. Caregiving, mental health, vacation time, access to telehealth, education—these are all benefits that hold greater value for people today. And for some, these benefits offer more value than a bigger paycheck.

One of the biggest changes in benefits for employees is employers recognizing the need to support the well-being of employee’s mental health. More companies are expanding mental health resources and creating programs to remove stigmas and give employees greater access. The pandemic has caused a significant increase in mental health challenges, and some restaurant workers are still dealing with the impact it had on them. Especially as variants drive up case numbers. According to the CDC 11 percent of adults reported symptoms of anxiety and depression between January and June of 2019. In December of 2020 that number had grown to 42 percent. Some of the most popular mental health benefits companies are offering include: 

  • Access to free counseling sessions or reduced copays for in-network therapy 
  • Subscriptions to virtual counseling service apps 
  • Subscriptions to wellness apps for meditation, stress reduction, and improved sleep 

Childcare continues to be a challenge for employees this year. Even though children have returned to school, COVID cases among kids continue to rise and many kids are having to quarantine after being exposed at school. According to the Kaiser Family Foundation, during the pandemic schools and daycare closures forced close to half (47 percent) of working mothers to take unpaid sick leave to care for their children, and this number was even higher (70percent) for mothers who had part-time jobs. In the hospitality industry, women were impacted more by furloughs and job loss than men. According to the Bureau of Labor Statistics, 53.4 percent of job losses in the hospitality industry were experienced by women. The ongoing caregiving burden can make it difficult for women currently working in or seeking employment in the hospitality industry. The solution to address this need could be greater flexibility in working hours and schedules for employees to address childcare needs.

More than ever, employees are looking for a sense of belonging and purpose, and this is something that does not need to be an expensive benefit but can be created through company culture. It is a great way for employers to compete in a tight labor market as opposed to just increasing wages only. 

Overall, employers are looking to add benefits to make employees lives easier, especially with some of the specific pain points they have encountered during the pandemic such as juggling family/work issues, and financial pressures.  In the restaurant industry, offering creative solutions and benefits to address these needs could be more effective than wage increases as well as offering work flexibility, and the sense of purpose, belonging and a clear career path that workers want.

The full impact of the pandemic on the hospitality industry is still unknown. It is an evolving situation and as a result, restaurants must remain nimble and flexible, able to react as new challenges develop. Right now, that challenge is identifying ways to attract employees to fill shifts and continue to recover and grow.

Doug Ramsthel is a Partner at Burnham Benefits, a Baldwin Risk Partners Company, one of the top 50 employee benefit consulting firms in the United States. He consults employers across the US on their benefit plan strategy, design, funding, and communication.

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Categories: Restaurants

Legal Sea Foods Strikes Balance Between Legacy and Innovation

Restaurant Management - Tue, 10/19/2021 - 09:03
Legal Sea Foods Strikes Balance Between Legacy and Innovation ben Tue, 10/19/2021 - 09:03

Under new ownership, the chain has bolstered its menu and opened its first ghost kitchens.

October 19, 2021

Legal Sea Foods, a restaurant that traces its history 70 years ago to a fish market in Cambridge, Massachusetts, entered a new era in December 2020.

PPX Hospitality Brands, parent of Smith & Wollensky steakhouses and Strega Italiano, acquired the legacy chain and its quality control center for an undisclosed amount from Roger Berkowitz, son of Legal founder George Berkowitz.

PPX CMO Kim Giguere-Lapine says the decision to purchase Legal dates back to spring 2020 when the company’s bank brought the opportunity to its attention. The financial institution felt the idea was worthwhile given PPX’s successful acquisition of Strega Italiano the year before and the hospitality concept’s requisite infrastructure and operational knowhow.

For the next six months, the PPX team met daily with key personnel and management to perform due diligence and assuage concerns about changes in employment and guest experience—fears that were heightened dramatically during the peak of COVID. PPX took over a brand that wasn't heading in the right direction. Legal had 33 restaurants, but six closed by December due to COVID. The chain is now down to 23 units across Massachusetts, New Jersey, and Pennsylvania.

“Everybody in the restaurant business was just focused on staying alive, never mind investing and all of those things, so that needed immediate attention when we took over and it hasn't stopped,” Giguere-Lapine says. “We’re really, really making sure that all of those different initiatives are well-funded, well-thought out, and well-supported.”

“We didn't necessarily take over because we inherited a very strong and capable senior management team who stayed with us for the most part,” she continues. “Our strategy was really focused on reassuring and reinvesting in the team members, people being our most valuable resource.”

READ MORE: Iconic Boston Brand Legal Sea Foods Sold to PPX Hospitality Brands

Since PPX’s tenure began, one of its primary goals has been to maintain menu quality, add innovation, and bring more species into restaurants, according to Giguere-Lapine. Chef Matt King, the company’s chief culinary officer, describes the approach as having to “honor the reputation and heritage of the brand,” while also evolving the concept to attract new consumers.

To kickstart innovation, PPX transformed Legal Test Kitchen—a spinoff concept that closed permanently during COVID—into a section of Legal’s menu. King says this gives the casual-dining brand room to experiment with products that are hyper seasonal and require different preparations. Guests can eat something more inventive, like Grilled Swordfish with Castelvetrano olives, tomatoes, relish, and butter roasted potatoes, or Seared Gulf of Maine Scallops with chorizo and sweet corn succotash.

Legal’s typical menu received upgrades, as well, such as the bigger-sized Half-Pound Main Lobster Roll, which King calls the “biggest and best lobster roll you’ll find anywhere,” and the Baked Lobster Mac & Cheese comprising one whole Gulf of Maine lobster, Vermont cheddar, and buttered crumbs.

Almost a year into ownership, Giguere-Lapine says PPX is on its fourth rendition of the menu.

“We're really focused on listening to the guests as well as the team members who hear directly from the guests,” Giguere-Lapine says. “When we played around with various omissions and additions and some of the first-round drafts of this new menu, we heard loud and clear that certain items were missed and they needed to be brought back."

“Whether it was gone from pre-pandemic or something that we were testing, we've either brought them back or like Matt said, we've enhanced them, yet we've also added some new innovation,” she adds. “So we're listening, we are monitoring, and we're continually testing within this Legal Test Kitchen section of the menu.”

Legal Sea Foods

Seared Gulf of Maine Scallops.

Legal Sea Foods

Half-Pound Main Lobster Roll.

Legal Sea Foods

Baked Lobster Mac & Cheese.

The updated menu is no longer restricted to the four walls of a Legal restaurant either. Earlier this year PPX opened the seafood concept as a ghost kitchen under the roof of two Smith & Wollensky stores in Columbus, Ohio, and Chicago. Giguere-Lapine explains that because of the pandemic, the steakhouses’ capacity was underutilized and management found that both kitchens had the capability of producing more.

Legal began as a delivery-only concept on DoorDash and eventually expanded into pickup. The menu was narrowed to the popular classics to ensure execution, including New England Clam Chowder, the Half-Pound Main Lobster Roll, Crispy Calamari, Blackened Raw Tuna Tataki, and Fish Tacos. King says Columbus and Chicago were chosen not only because of capacity, but also due to the long-tenured general managers and chefs at those locations.

The chef adds the company was particularly careful not to deploy an overwhelmingly large Legal menu so that the Smith & Wollensky experience wouldn’t suffer because of it.

“Through our quality control center that we have here, we have several things like chowders and some of the stuff that's more labor intensive that we actually ship out of our commissary kitchen to these locations,” King says. “It's important, A, from the labor standpoint, but, B, from the consistency and quality standpoint that it's the same exact clam chowder that you're going to get at any Legal Sea Foods that you go to.”

After a soft opening, Legal now actively promotes the virtual kitchens on DoorDash, social channels, and inside the restaurants. With establishment of pickup, sales have doubled in the past two weeks.

“Now that we've announced pickup and now that we've gone public with the announcement through press releases and digital advertising and things like that, now the word is really spreading,” Giguere-Lapine says. “With very little effort and very little investment, we're making a major impact on the volume, which is exactly what we wanted to do. This not only reinforces our gut feeling that there's an appetite for this sort of cuisine, but there's also an affinity for this brand because you don't just order seafood to-go from anybody when you're in the Midwest. We want it to be a quality-established brand that's heavily focused on freshness, quality, and sustainability. We know it's resonating. We know there's an audience.”

The ghost kitchens are also being used to explore appetite for brick-and-mortar expansion into those Midwestern markets. Another possibility is that a Legal menu could be placed in another Smith & Wollensky location, like in Florida, where the seafood restaurant previously had a presence and where many New Englanders go to retire, Giguere-Lapine says. However, the marketing executive notes there will come a point when PPX will evaluate necessity of the ghost kitchens, since pre-pandemic volume at the steakhouses is likely to return, leaving no room for an extra brand in the kitchen.

As for the brick-and-mortar Legal restaurants, units are ahead of projections with travel and tourism picking up recently. Boston Logan International Airport in particular, housing five Legal locations, has seen increases in enplanements and deplanements. There’s also been more convention business, which has helped boost sales.

“Throughout the U.S., people are out and about,” Giguere-Lapine says. “They're wanting to get out there, wanting to get back into restaurants, and we're fortunate enough to be in markets where that is strong. It's vibrant. And because we have some really high-quality brands and because we’re a company who’s continuing to invest in people, we're probably seeing a bit more success than some others in retaining and acquiring new talent and new personnel.”

“We're certainly not over the hump like everybody,” she adds. “We need good people  and we need to retain those people. We're taking a hard look at our benefits, at our training programs, at our hiring practices, and our HR department. It's something that's constantly in the forefront.”

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Categories: Restaurants

Measuring Restaurant Success After COVID: New KPIs for a New Era in Dining

Restaurant Management - Tue, 10/19/2021 - 09:01
Measuring Restaurant Success After COVID: New KPIs for a New Era in Dining danny Tue, 10/19/2021 - 09:01

How can restaurants make real-time decisions with transaction data?

October 19, 2021

Business models for restaurateurs continue to evolve as the industry adapts to new consumer trends and technology innovations. Online and mobile ordering, curbside pickup, delivery services, and more have become commonplace for quick/fast-casual and table-service restaurants alike. 

While many consumers are returning to in-house dining, the demand for delivery remains, leaving restaurants juggling multiple balls and sometimes competing priorities. Operators need to determine the best approach to blend traditional business practices and service styles, with the requirements needed to serve new hybrid models. The biggest challenges at present are managing multi-channel orders efficiently, optimizing kitchen operations in alignment with new service channels, and finding, training, and retaining top talent. So, how can restaurants make real-time decisions with transaction data, while enabling long-term strategy in a competitive market facing increasing cost pressures?

Let’s explore some key areas where restaurants have met new expectations, how technology has enabled change, and how brands are measuring success.

Menu Performance

New menu items are a reliable tactic to attract new customers and keep loyal guests engaged with a brand. Keeping tabs on the performance of a menu item down to the channel in which it is offered and fulfilled is critical. This includes basic key performance indicators (KPIs) such as revenue, margin, customer affinity, and promotion redemption. In addition to the basics, brands need to think about and operationalize their ability to measure speed to market and forecast menu performance, taking into consideration upstream uncertainty and inflation. How fast a brand can pilot a new concept, forecast the business potential, and move to full roll-out confidently will separate winners from laggards.  

With restaurant analytics across all sales channels, operators can dig deeper into how their menu is performing. Most operators start simply with volumes and profitability. Advanced operators are thinking about menu performance across multiple dimensions. Combining menu, loyalty data, operational performance, and financial metrics, where ideally this information can be made accessible in real-time. Many business owners rely on their restaurant POS system as the source of truth for all of this information and automatically flow it to various business systems and stakeholders as needed. 

An additional view of menu performance considers consumer expectations for transparency on elements such as source ingredients and a supplier’s sustainability practices. Connecting restaurant systems to a supply chain management solution that offers two-way communication between manufacturers and suppliers gives restaurants the ability to confidently communicate nutrition and allergen information as well as mitigate the risk of waste, particularly in the case of a recall. Analyzing supplier performance in terms of risk is a best practice in consumer goods and is rapidly becoming an important aspect of restaurant KPIs as well.

Omnichannel Performance

In an omnichannel environment, restaurateurs need to regularly analyze their on-premises and off-premises channels to understand the mix and balance from a revenue, margin, and customer satisfaction standpoint. This insight will help guide priorities across staffing and technology investments.

In the case of off-premises dining, mapping out the customer journey from start to finish and then creating KPI dashboards for each channel will give restaurants a complete picture of what channels are working and what aren’t. For example, delivery aggregators are consistently under scrutiny from a margin performance KPI, but they are important channels for new customer acquisition, particularly for a ghost kitchen or virtual brand expansion. In fact, in some cases, shifting delivery out of an on-premises kitchen and into a cloud kitchen environment that is solely served through a third-party may be the most productive model. This approach removes complexity from a kitchen and reduces the need for guests to contend with a constant flow of delivery drivers lingering in the front of an establishment and taking parking spots, both of which can have a negative impact on the guest experience. Once restaurants become more comfortable with tracking sales channels, they can further break down performance at a micro level—from individual aggregators to kiosks, tablets, and even phone orders. 

It’s important to avoid the trap of keeping on- and off-premises channels in silos. We saw this frequently in the early days of omnichannel retail. Ecommerce was managed separate from the store and ended up looking like the star performer which then led retailers to systematically shut down store fronts only to realize that the local presence was key to their online sales. It’s difficult to forecast that without having a holistic view of how customers interact with a restaurant across all channels. Modern consumer restaurant experiences should transition seamlessly between channels.

Kitchen Performance

While restaurants expanded channels for online ordering and off-premises volume increased, most did not expand the footprint of their kitchen as they were operating with little to no on-premises demand. Now that on-premises dining is back to near normal levels, many businesses are finding that their off-premises demand is actually remaining constant, which aligns with findings of our restaurant trends research. That means brands must now potentially manage more orders with the same size kitchen, same setup or perhaps what was thought of as a short-term configuration. Measuring kitchen productivity, for example orders per station and their completion time, will help identify potential issues with staff, fine tuning promise times, and giving restaurants a better understanding of where they might need to consider a change in approach. A restaurant’s POS transaction data directly synced to a kitchen display system and downstream through to fulfillment (delivery, pick-up) will help guide an operator’s decisions. Layering in machine learning, an operator can automatically refine promise times by time of day, order channel, order size, and so on.

Mobile ordering and curbside pickup have become so popular over the last year that many quick-service restaurants have expanded drive-thru lanes and are continuing to offer curbside pick-up stations. Independent brands are also increasingly investing in location technology to streamline their pickup experience, giving customers a highly personalized journey as well as improving operations and profitability. With all the data connected to a POS, operators can again establish KPIs for everything from kitchen productivity to front of house staff.

Ultimately, restaurants are going to have to make some decisions on how to prioritize the most profitable aspects of their business. For example, restaurants have found people who order via the mobile app are often their most loyal customers. Therefore, they are served first because restaurants want to keep them the happiest but that’s potentially at the cost of deprioritizing walk-in and dine-in customers.

This is a critical area to get right because the fastest way to lose business is to keep customers waiting for an extended period. According to recent Oracle research, 80 percent of consumers will leave or consider leaving when they see a long line (more than 6 minutes of waiting). It’s straightforward to measure drive-thru and delivery throughput because the journey is nearly all digital—from order placement to fulfillment—but with on-premises orders operators likely don’t have a line of sight to how long someone has to wait from the point they walk in the door to when they are seated and greeted by a server. Handheld mobile POS devices can give restaurants a more complete data picture of a customer “analog” journey if they build the right business process and KPIs.

Brands such as Outback Steakhouse use mobile POS systems to take and deliver drink orders as they are escorting guests to the table. This results in a near “magical” experience where the customer gets their beverages within minutes of being seated. Measuring the time from table assignment to drinks, order placement and fulfillment, and finally payment is something table service restaurants should consider as they balance challenges with finding talent and meeting increased customer demand.

One important piece of technology that helps keep kitchens running smoothly is kitchen display systems. Kitchen display systems help monitor and set kitchen KPIs. No matter how orders are received at the point of sale (phone, self-service kiosk, online POS system, mobile, cashier, tableside, etc.), the flow of orders to the kitchen can be properly timed to ensure optimum delivery (boxed or plated). Automated timing helps ensure hot food is delivered hot, and cold food is delivered cold.

Staff Performance

Restaurants are facing multiple challenges staffing their business. Labor can make up as much as 30 percent of a restaurant's overall costs, and it’s important for restaurants to be strategic. After having barely enough staff to cover work during the pandemic, some restaurants are now welcoming staff back, while many are still having difficulty recruiting new talent.

In order to maximize operations and profits, operators will want to find ways to accelerate the learning curve for new recruits in order to push them beyond the “basics.” That means finding new ways to reduce onboarding time and accelerate new employee performance and skill development so they can help drive more revenue for the restaurant.

Staff can often be the best vehicle for “upselling” customers and expanding profit opportunities. For example, skilled wait staff can suggest high-margin specials customers might like or a special bottle of wine that would pair well with a customers’ meal. Restaurants might consider bonuses for staff who sell specific “drinks of the day” or other special promotions. These prompts can also be automated in a POS so that even new team members hit the mark.

Restaurants must reimagine how they are managing and running their business, especially in light of new complexities and challenges within the industry. Restaurants who are able to best leverage analytics, digital tools and traditional POS to manage the technical and operational complexities of this post-pandemic age are the ones who will be the most successful.

Simon de Montfort Walker is the Senior Vice President and General Manager of the Oracle Food and Beverage Global Business Unit. Tapped for his deep experience in hospitality technology, Walker leads the business unit’s efforts to deliver innovative hardware and cloud solutions, enabling restaurants of all sizes to personalize the guest experience, streamline operations and grow their businesses.

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Categories: Restaurants

Is the Restaurant Industry Facing a Supply Chain Crisis?

Restaurant Management - Tue, 10/19/2021 - 02:54
Is the Restaurant Industry Facing a Supply Chain Crisis? rosie Tue, 10/19/2021 - 02:54

A year and a half after the pandemic began, restaurants are still grappling with a shaky supply chain. Conditions are expected to stabilize, but long-term effects, from a rise in automation to more adaptable sourcing practices, will remain.

October 2021

When the pandemic first struck, life ground to a halt. Restaurants were immediately tasked with turning their operations upside down to adapt to new restrictions. Meanwhile, farther upstream, manufacturers, distributors, and processing facilities were facing their own challenges, ones that would quickly trickle down to foodservice operators.

In the years leading up to COVID-19, major supply chain crises were largely the result of extreme weather, deteriorating environmental conditions, and outbreaks among livestock and poultry. But as with so many things, 2020 presented one unprecedented situation after another. Amid regulations and mounting health concerns surrounding the coronavirus, suppliers lacked the workforce to meet demand.

“It’s hard to argue that we had a bad crop last year during COVID. … What we saw over and over again was that the processing points couldn’t get people in because of COVID, whether it was fruit packing or salad packing, whether it was in the beef slaughter or chicken slaughter facilities,” says Michael Swanson, the chief agricultural economist for Wells Fargo. “We had the product; you just couldn’t move it or process it.”

Swanson adds that adjacent labor shortages also came into play. Even if food manufacturers and distributors could boost their output, they still had to contend with transportation. Fewer trucks on the road and low staffing at ports compounded the existing gridlock.

Later on, other goods, like containers and bottles, also posed problems. When plastics and glass factories shut down, inventory fell behind, leaving food and beverage with limited means of being packaged.

“It’s amazing how there’s a domino effect with all of this. I don’t think the average person, or even some people in our industry, had thought about it prior to this,” says Patrick Roso, senior director of purchasing for casual-dining chain Twin Peaks. “There’s a lot more supply chain than people think; it’s not just a truck showing up at your back door. And the fact is the general public doesn’t understand that.”

Smokey Bones

Although chicken wings (right) are an important part of the Smokey Bones menu, the brand’s positioning as “masters of Meats” has helped it pivot in the face of supply chain snafus.

For a time, the Texas-based brand struggled to source tequila, which had nothing to do with the available quantity of the spirit, but rather the glass and plastic bottles that housed it. So, Twin Peaks pivoted and told its operators to source whatever size of various alcohols they could instead of sticking to the usual bar bottles.

The meat of the matter

Although consumers have been less privy to these secondary supply chain issues, they’ve been attuned to other commodities, namely livestock and poultry, whose shortages even extended to the grocery aisle early in the pandemic. While these goods equalized somewhat by summer 2020, prices were still erratic, especially for beef and pork; costs soared amid the spring shortages only to bottom out in the fall when ranchers and meatpackers found themselves with a backlog from the earlier slowdown. The low prices were a boon to buyers—both consumers and retailers, including restaurants—but at the expense of producers who couldn’t recoup lost profits from earlier in the year.

Chicken, however, was and remains more complex. Not only was poultry subject to the same bottlenecks as livestock, production was also disrupted by harsh winter weather. All the while, consumer demand for wings soared, which could be partially chalked up to a desire for comfort foods in uncertain times. The limited nature of wings—only two per chicken—exacerbated other supply chain issues, creating the perfect storm this past spring.

“Chicken wing prices are sky-high. Until they start hatching more chicks, we’re going to have high wing prices,” Roso says.

As with most pandemic-related challenges, figuring out the chicken conundrum required some fancy footwork.

Florida-based Smokey Bones serves a variety of animal proteins, which granted it more wiggle room than specialized brands in the wing category. Still, smoked, bone-in chicken has been a menu cornerstone at Smokey Bones; the company even launched a chicken-specific virtual brand, The Wing Experience, along with another ghost concept, The Burger Experience, back in 2019. The Wing Experience serves 50 different flavors of wings and last November—even before the shortage began in earnest—it expanded its offerings to include boneless varieties. So going into 2020, Smokey Bones had sizable inventory orders to fill across its brands.

“We have never experienced this level of demand for chicken wings ever,” says CEO James O’Reilly. “It put more pressure on our supply chain, which led us into more frequent, constant conversations with our vendor partners, our distributors.”

When the wing supply began to ebb, Smokey Bones tried a number of different avenues. It sought different suppliers and tried buying whole birds rather than wings, but the most effective change involved rethinking the menu and dining experience.

Smokey Bones began sourcing and serving whole wings rather than just the drums and flats. O’Reilly says this menu addition opened the door to fun, educational moments with guests who may not have encountered whole wings before.

“We launched whole wings partly in response to the challenges we were seeing on the supply chain side, but also because we have a strong chicken wing business,” O’Reilly says. “The availability of the whole wing was greater at the time and is somewhat [still] greater because it requires less processing.”

“We have never experienced this level of demand for chicken wings ever. It put more pressure on our supply chain, which led us into more frequent, constant conversations with our vendor partners, our distributors.” —James O’Reilly, Smokey Bones

The Wing Experience also decided to toss its hat in the chicken sandwich ring this summer, given the relatively stable price of chicken filets. Like its wings, the brand’s Crispy Chicken Sandwich is available in 50 flavors, ranging from more traditional flavors like sticky honey garlic to off-the-wall varieties, including hot cinnamon candy apple.

O’Reilly says the chicken wing supply was starting to improve in July as distributors were able to bring in more staff for processing. He also thinks that once extended pandemic unemployment benefits expire, productivity will increase even further. (As of mid-September, those benefits had ended, though the Treasury Department clarified that states could continue to use the remaining $350 billion funds from the American Rescue Plan to help unemployed workers.)

Regardless of the timeline, Twin Peaks’ Roso believes that some price hikes will remain, perhaps not as prohibitively expensive as they have been in recent months, but also not as low as pre-pandemic levels.

“Right now we’re in the middle of the storm. I don’t know exactly what those changes [will be]. I think we’ll see some price changes that will remain permanent,” Roso says. “I do think distributors and manufacturers will come up with automation to reduce labor or mitigate it. It’s still a little bit of a wait-and-see game.”

Automation and other alternatives

The new market equilibrium for various commodities remains to be seen, but one change in particular is all but guaranteed: an increase in automation.

COVID-mandated staffing restrictions and subsequent employee shortages occurred against the backdrop of growing wages. The pandemic didn’t start the conversation around automation; it only sped up a shift that was already underway. In the tug-and-pull between labor and tech alternatives, a more expensive workforce tips the scales in favor of increased automation, even if the initial transition requires a hefty investment of time and money.

Twin Peaks

Twin peaks, which puts a creative spin on classic bar bites, leans on the innovation of its culinary team when sourcing becomes a challenge.

“Automation is not a panacea in the sense that it’s easy to do and always cost-effective,” Swanson says. “But as you see the labor get more expensive per hour, you definitely see a lot of businesses saying, ‘OK, at this point, I’m going to bite the bullet and go for the automation with all the incumbent challenges that I know will come with it because it has a long-term benefit on a go forward basis.’”

Workers along the supply chain may receive higher wages and better benefits, but those gains could ultimately put their jobs in jeopardy, Swanson adds. On the supply side, technological substitutes could include everything from automated pickers to pallet stacking to robotics in the processing line. For restaurants, which are also entrenched in a labor shortage, automation might work its way into the back of house with food preparation, digital ordering, drone delivery, and more.

“The thing that people forget is that we really live in a world that’s a system. If you change A, it changes B. But B comes around and changes A again,” Swanson says. “One of the benefits of COVID, and it’s hard to call it a benefit, but it really has shaken up a lot of people’s complacency about how the world really works.”

The restaurant industry has an advantage over other sectors in that operators could never afford to be complacent. Ever-evolving consumer demands in terms of food, brand values, and the overall dining experience have historically kept operators on their toes. That said, operational structures, such as how many employees work a shift and where they’re positioned in the store, remained largely unchanged until the last few years. Certain segments (particularly full service) have been slower to embrace technology, and many restaurants had the luxury of committing to a core menu indefinitely, thanks to solid supply chains.

Those points of stability are becoming a thing of the past. Restaurants must constantly reinvent the proverbial wheel in terms of workforce, menu offerings, and sourcing practices. For many, that means strengthening ties with vendors and staying in constant communication. It’s what helped Twin Peaks navigate supply snafus over the past year.

“Having good relationships with those manufacturers, having been fair with them over the years, having paid your bills on time, makes you the guy that when you call they’ll tend to pick up that phone,” Roso says. “We try to avoid going through different layers if we can. In some industries you have to deal through a broker; that’s just the way it is. … But we tend to work directly with the manufacturer.”

More restaurants might soon follow suit by building supply chains with fewer touch points. Wells Fargo’s Swanson predicts businesses of all stripes will start pondering how they can consolidate their supply chains, thus creating a more flexible system.

But even the most optimized restaurant-vendor relationship can’t shield against outside forces like droughts, labor shortages, or even a global pandemic. For this reason, Twin Peaks has made some COVID-era tweaks that it plans to maintain once the crisis finally ends.

Given recent delays, the brand has started putting orders in 12-plus weeks in advance when 4–6 weeks used to be plenty of time. It’s also making QR code menus a permanent part of the dine-in experience.

“Initially the thought was just sanitation; people aren’t going to want to touch [a menu]. Or, we have to make a bunch of disposable menus and that costs a lot of money,” Roso says. “We’ve actually found it to be a great tool from a culinary standpoint and from a supply chain standpoint.”

He offers a recent example: Twin Peaks had St. Louis Ribs on the menu until the price jumped so high that consumers would be unwilling to pay, and the brand couldn’t afford to eat the cost. Thanks to the QR code menu, Twin Peaks could instantly remove the item instead of waiting to change the hardcopy menus, which are only updated twice per year.

The agility of its culinary team—both in the corporate office and at the individual stores—also helps in the face of uncertain circumstances.

“Even on the store level, we’ve got experienced cooks, so whatever curveballs are thrown at them, they’re able to manage it,” Roso says. “I think the fact that we also have a focused menu—it’s not 12 pages long—helps us as well with the supply chain.”

Smokey Bones is also employing an adaptive strategy that takes the potential waxing and waning of inventory into account. When the chain sourced whole wings to combat the drumstick and flat shortage, it also doubled down on marketing the new item; on National Chicken Wing Day in July, it offered free whole wings with the purchase of boneless wings.

“Promotions can be managed strategically to help us optimize the demand where we can and to also introduce consumers to newer products on our menu like the whole wings and the boneless wings,” O’Reilly says. “When Smokey Bones starts talking about being, ‘The Masters of Meat,’ we can begin to offer other protein alternatives to consumers that generate incremental business for the company in areas where there hasn’t been as much pressure on the supply chain.”

In addition to bringing in the whole wings as a menu supplement, Smokey Bones also introduced a pork porterhouse over the summer, when pork wasn’t under the same strain as chicken. O’Reilly says the new menu item has not only been a hit with guests, it also exemplifies how adroitly the brand can maneuver through supply fluctuations.

Just in case

Like Twin Peaks, Smokey Bones’ size gives it a leg-up in navigating situations like this. With a system of about 60 units, it’s large enough to have some bargaining power but also small enough to stay nimble. While size isn’t something restaurants can—or would even want to—change over night, this Goldilocks approach to sourcing could serve operators well.

“There’s a lot more supply chain than people think; it’s not just a truck showing up at your back door. And the fact is the general public doesn’t understand that.” —Patrick Roso, Twin Peaks

Back in the 1970s, Swanson says, manufacturers latched onto a “just in time” sourcing strategy, wherein suppliers took out the last bit of inventory to boost efficiency and return on investment while cutting product waste. While he adds that just-in-time supply chains were most popular in the automotive sector, the mindset trickled down to other industries. At the same time, supply chains became longer and more complex.

This system works well under stable conditions but can break under pressure.

“COVID has exposed a real problem,” Swanson says. “A lot of people are asking themselves, ‘Are just-in-time inventories the only model?’ And, if not, ‘Is there a hybrid that’s better?’”

Blending just-in-time supply chains with a just-in-case inventory buffer would leave businesses better prepared when the unexpected happens. Still, this approach comes with its own set of drawbacks. Unlike automotive or tech, restaurant inventory is by and large perishable. While spare car parts could sit around for months if not years, food has a relatively short shelf life.

Overestimating inventory also flies in the face of restaurants’ efforts to cut food waste. According to a 2017 report by the National Resource Defense Council, restaurants generate 22–33 billion pounds of food waste every year. The amount doesn’t take into account disposable serveware, which has undoubtedly increased amid the surge in takeout and delivery orders. Finding the right balance between efficiency and preparedness is a perennial quest for operators, but the past year has been an extreme stress test, revealing cracks at every juncture along the supply chain.

Swanson says things are improving, but in some ways the situation remains a game of whack-a-mole; as soon as one area stabilizes, another problem pops up. So perhaps the key to weathering future supply snafus goes beyond adaptability and into the realm of tenacity.

“What’s kind of frustrating is there are the flare-ups that occur where you thought, ‘OK, we’ll be back to normal,’ and then you’re missing plastic lids for your coffee cups. And you’re like, ‘When have we ever had a problem getting plastic lids for coffee cups?’ Well, you do now,” Swanson says. “Specialization is good in normal times, but specialization in unusual times can really be detrimental. What do you want to do to build in some resiliency around that?”

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Categories: Restaurants

Bennigan’s Pioneers ‘New-stalgia’ in a Virtual World

Restaurant Management - Mon, 10/18/2021 - 09:02
Bennigan’s Pioneers ‘New-stalgia’ in a Virtual World danny Mon, 10/18/2021 - 09:02

Thanks to a deal with REEF, the classic casual chain is ready to bring its products to a global audience.

October 18, 2021

Paul Mangiamele was brought on to lead a turnaround at Bennigan’s and Steak & Ale. He ended up buying the only two concepts Norman Brinker created instead. The former Salsarita’s CEO, and personal friend of Brinker, took on two brands nearly erased by a Chapter 7 bankruptcy. But Mangiamele understood something else as well.

This was a company—now called Legendary Restaurant Brands LLC—where the brand awareness far outweighed the unit count.

Yet scaling up in full service, especially casual dining, has been a challenging proposition for much of the past decade. Applebee’s effectively removed the bottom 10 percent of its system from 2016 to 2020, and the sector overall, far more often than not, has walked back an overleveraged landscape. Bennigan’s today has 11 domestic and 14 international stores. There were 288 (150 corporate) when the brand declared Chapter 7 in 2008.

However, the COVID-19 arena, for all the setbacks and darts thrown at sit-down chains, has opened up outlets to reach new guests. For Bennigan’s, this is an especially alluring point, Mangiamele says, because people have asked him “when are we getting a Bennigan’s,” or, “can you send us a World Famous Monte Cristo?” for as long as he can recall.

He couldn’t move as fast as guest demand wanted him to. Now, he can.

“A million times,” he says of Bennigan’s awareness compared to its store count. “That’s exactly the angle that I took.”

Bennigan’s just struck a deal with REEF Neighborhood Kitchens, one of the fastest-growing companies in the foodservice space. Its network of 4,500 locations continues to target a delivery-only opportunity that’s erupted in recent months. Wendy’s inked a 700-unit deal with the company. TGI Fridays signed up for 300 in early October.

REEF’s vessel operators sign licensing agreements with the brand and then fix, prepare, and deliver product from their own facilities. Customers see chains they recognize on aggregator or direct platforms and gain access without the need for brick-and-mortar development on the side of the restaurant.

So all those markets and customers asking for Bennigan’s? Mangiamele now plans to tap into that emotional equity in a hurry.

“Since our brands were pioneers of casual dining in the first place [Bennigan’s was founded in 1976 and Steak & Ale in 1966], the mission was to try to get them into as many markets, both domestically and internationally, as possible,” Mangiamele says. “But now, there have been so many roadblocks in front of us in terms of coronavirus and dealing with this going on almost two years now … So what better way to still explode the brand awareness in getting product out, not only domestically but internationally as well, then to partner with a company like REEF?”

The decision accomplishes Mangiamele’s past strategy of having Bennigan’s not only serve as a franchise model, as well as Steak & Ale, but also its fast casual, nontraditional Bennigan’s On The Fly and virtual iteration. And it also adds a piece to the chess set—a virtual network that can drive incremental business.

One thing about today’s digital space is that’s splitting at the seams. You have opportunistic brands created from inception to tap into delivery’s rise, like celebrity-backed concepts hosted out of other kitchens. Then there are established chains rebranding corners of their menus to get in front of third-party users (Chili’s “It’s Just Wings” for example). And also, classic chains aiming to meet demand and seed markets without investing in physical infrastructure, likely through macropartners such as REEF, Franklin Junction, and others.

Bennigan’s falls into that latter set. There’s no brand building campaigns needed. The chain even has a host of trademarked menu items, like its World Famous Monte Cristo, Oh Baby Back Ribs, and Death By Chocolate dessert.

“Like so many people I know, some of my favorite memories were made at a Bennigan’s or Steak & Ale,” REEF president Michael Beacham said. “These brands have formed deep emotional connections with fans across the globe that have stood the test of time, and we fully intend to tap into that through this partnership. Along with the tremendous brand equity they have established, we are committed to preserving the world-class training and ‘people first’ culture that Paul and his team have fostered over the years.”


"When value is guaranteed and delivered, people don’t mind spending more money,” CEO Paul Mangiamele says.

Mangiamele calls the opportunity ahead “New-stalgia,” or the chance to recreate Bennigan’s intimacy of product. The idea that retro is in again, and his company could take casual dining global through a virtual accelerator. This allows Mangiamele to present franchisees with new options as well.

Meanwhile, virtual isn’t just an avenue to bring classics back to life. “It will also expose new people to Steak & Ale and Bennigan’s that might not have even heard of us,” he says.

Mangiamele sees plenty of potential in REEF’s model overall, which optimizes parking lots to stand up these vessels. REEF raised $700 million from SoftBank last year to bring its value above $1 billion. It grew from 50 kitchen hubs pre-COVID to nearly 300 by July 2021 (there are about 450 ghost kitchens operating today). Just a couple of weeks ago, the company acquired logistics partner Bond, a New York-based startup that offers e-commerce brands delivery and distribution center services. Last year, the two teamed to add Bond’s refrigerated, last-mile delivery “nano warehouses” to REEF’s parking lots. Bond’s delivery couriers collect orders and transport them. Given the labor challenges afoot, it’s another example of why so many companies are turning to partner companies to broaden delivery reach.

“Depending on all the business conditions, and who knows what the future portends, but if [REEF] can continue to capitalize on the availability of the spaces that they need for vessels and they can get the right people and the delivery aspects in place, I don’t think there’s any cap to the opportunity,” Mangiamele says.

And it’s a straightforward concept on the other side for Bennigan’s—one that reflects why Mangiamele and his wife purchased the chains in the first place. “It’s the perfect vehicle and within the strategy that we created years ago,” he says. “Deliver our product to as many people as possible who love our brands.”

He believes virtual success should spur franchise growth. It would give Mangiamele proof for why operators should open a Bennigan’s or Steak & Ale, and just how concrete the demand is.

Speaking broadly about casual dining, Mangiamele has always been fond of saying “the guest never abandoned casual dining; casual dining as a category abandoned the guest.” It was something slow-burning before COVID, and is still a danger area today.

Brands failed to innovate on the menu and beverage side, Mangiamele says. They strayed too far from core values in an effort to reach millennials and younger groups. Turnover was rampant. Mangiamele says chains that have been successful, like Texas Roadhouse, managed to do so by preserving their culture.

“I will not let the integrity of the culture be violated by raising prices,” he says of a recent widespread trend, “by making our guests suffer because we don’t have enough brand knowledge to figure it out. That’s what I see happening in a lot of casual-dining concepts.”

Surcharges on tickets are another reaction he believes “violates the bond that a brand has with their guest.”

“I really think that the guest’s affection will drive more people to the brands that do deliver and that’s why I’ve been pushing this for almost 12 years now,” he says of service and hospitality. “That we have to deliver a legendary guest experience. All the time, for every meal period, for every guest, and also make sure that our teams in the front of the house, back of the house, bar, hostess, are well-trained to deliver that.”

“At the end of the day, look, you talk all around this stuff, but it’s about execution, treating your people right, getting your training right, and delivering on your promise of quality food at a reasonable price point that makes people feel that they got the value,” Mangiamele adds. “And when value is lost, people defect. When value is guaranteed and delivered, people don’t mind spending more money.”

While Bennigan’s has had to reduce operating hours and pivot to offset inflationary and labor challenges, comps are running positive over 2019, he says. No stores closed and franchise interest is picking up.

The brand is even set to pose as the backdrop, or as Mangiamele puts it, “another cast member,” of an upcoming movie “About Fate,” which stars Thomas Mann and Emma Roberts. The romantic comedy largely will take place in a Bennigan’s, Mangiamele says. The timing should align this winter with Bennigan’s REEF activation and whatever might come next.

“I realize I’m standing on the shoulders of those that came before me, like Norm Brinker, and to be running and continuing the legacy of the only two brands that he created and providing literally thousands of team members opportunities to learn this industry, is really, for me, that’s my mission,” Mangiamele says.

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Categories: Restaurants

What Restaurants Can Expect with Biden's Upcoming Employer Vaccination Mandate

Restaurant Management - Fri, 10/15/2021 - 08:56
What Restaurants Can Expect with Biden's Upcoming Employer Vaccination Mandate ben Fri, 10/15/2021 - 08:56

One major state has already challenged the OSHA regulation. 

October 15, 2021

While President Joe Biden outlined his Occupational Safety and Health Administration (OSHA) COVID-19 plan to mandate vaccinations or weekly testing for companies with more than 100 employees, it is still unclear what this will entail for the restaurant industry. 

The full guidelines will be outlined this fall. Those who do not follow the regulation could face fines of up to $14,000 for each violation.

Ultimately, this new government regulation is a strategy employed to reduce the burden on the healthcare system, specifically hospitals dealing with severe COVID cases, says Dr. Anthony Harris, the owner of HFit Corp and chief innovation officer and associate medical director for WorkCare. To date, there have been more than 710,000 deaths attributed to the virus in the U.S. 

Harris, a lead health consultant to businesses, is not sure if the 100-employee policy was the best path. He says the regulation will definitely decrease hospitalizations and deaths. But, in his view, "the limited effectiveness of the vaccine in preventing transmissions," will not likely get Americans to the “other side” of the pandemic—a world in which masks and social distancing are concepts of the past.

“If we're looking at how do we mitigate risk for our population, the vaccination is the right way to go to minimize risk of death and hospitalization,” Harris says. “So I think that's why the administration has gone this route.”

Counter to Harris’ point, researchers have found that vaccinated individuals are not as likely to spread COVID, even if they become infected. Scientists at the University of Oxford looked at nearly 150,000 contacts traced from 100,000 initial cases, including those fully or partially vaccinated with Pfizer-BioNTech or AstraZeneca vaccines, and unvaccinated individuals.

The research discovered any given contact was 65 percent less likely to test positive if exposure came from a fully vaccinated person with the Pfizer vaccine. For AstraZeneca, it was 36 percent less likely. Although the study hasn’t been peer reviewed, Dr. Aaron Richterman, an infectious disease physician at the University of Pennsylvania, described it as “the highest quality study we have so far on the question of infectiousness of vaccinated people infected with delta.”

Harris notes the federal government chose the barrier of 100 employees to begin its policy. The reasoning is likely that companies with 100 or more employees place workers at a higher risk of infection—especially if all workers are in one location—and because these sites theoretically have more resources to enact the guideline, the medical professional says.

As restaurants wait for more specifics on how the OSHA rule plays out, large chains are monitoring the situation closer than typical mom-and-pops, which would likely not reach the size requirement. Franchisees might be able to abstain from the rule if it is deemed they are a separate business entity according to the law.

“I don't know in terms of the legality where that litmus test is,” Harris says. “But certainly the majority of mom-and-pop restaurants will not meet that criteria and thus won't really affect the numbers from a vaccination standpoint.”

Adobe Stock

According to a Black Box Intelligence report, 59 percent of operators said employees will quit in response to President Joe Biden's upcoming mandate. 

By requiring employees to get either vaccinated or tested weekly, the mandate creates another barrier for restaurants navigating the labor shortage and suffering from what’s been called the “Great Resignation.”

The mandate may only be marginally effective in driving up vaccination rates in restaurant workers. According to a Black Box Intelligence report, 59 percent of operators said employees will quit, and 53 percent said it will be harder to find new employees in light of the new mandate. Many unvaccinated workers would rather leave than take the vaccine, according to Lisa Miller, a consumer insights and innovation strategist who has tracked behavior throughout the pandemic.

Part-time workers were significantly more likely to not be vaccinated (37 percent part-time versus 28 percent for full-time employees). These part-time workers were also three times more likely to quit than get vaccinated to keep their job.

The same pushback the airline industry has experienced from workers will take place in restaurants, Harris says, as employees refuse to get vaccinated or tested weekly.

“It's putting a strain on many of the industries that in particular have high turnover already,” Harris says. “Now with the mandate, it unfortunately pushes in the wrong direction in regards to getting more people employed and keeping them employed.”

READ MORE: Vaccine Mandates Costing Restaurants Customers, Money, Early Reports Say

Because some states have their own OSHA, the exact impact of the rule on businesses will vary by state and region, Harris says. Some states may have the autonomy to bypass the mandate altogether by not enforcing it, and this very well may occur in states like Texas, where Gov. Greg Abbott issued an executive order banning any entity from mandating the COVID-19 vaccine.

Aaron Goldstein, a labor and employment partner at international law firm Dorsey & Whitney, believes Abbott’s executive order won’t hold up. He explains that it was issued under the Texas Disaster Act of 1975, which grants the governor and state and local agencies certain powers to “"reduce vulnerability of people and communities of this state to damage, injury, and loss of life and property resulting from natural or man-made catastrophes, riots, or hostile military or paramilitary action."

Goldstein argues that a ban on vaccine mandates doesn’t fit that purpose and that it’s actually contrary to the guideline. "This will probably get challenged as outside the powers granted to the Governor by the Texas Disaster Act of 1975, or preempted by the OSHA rule when it gets released," Goldstein says. 

Harris says actual mechanics behind weekly employee testing also has its obstacles. Not only will restaurants have to provide a way for unvaccinated individuals to test, they also have to provide a means to catalogue whether staff are compliant and storing data safely. Many restaurant employers are not prepared at this point in time unless they’ve already identified a third-party partner to help them in the logistics, he notes.

“It's going to be hard for restaurants to execute,” Harris says. “Unless we have enough supply to meet the strategy of testing at home, on that level of frequency, then it will become a barrier for some restaurants.”

Adobe Stock

Customers are required to be vaccinated in New York City, San Francisco, Los Angeles, and New Orleans. 

Restaurants will incur significant costs if they are in charge of paying for weekly employee testing. Harris says depending on the test, this could range from $30 to $130 per employee. And it’s unlikely restaurants will put the burden of paying for tests on employees since that would cut down the number of interested applicants for open roles and potentially alienate the workers they already have.

“That just makes your business even less attractive for employees to be there,” Harris says. “So we haven't seen a lot of businesses go that route. If they are going to bear the cost of the weekly testing, it will be significant.”

Harris’ advice to restaurants: Know your employee base. Know your community, and recognize whether this mandate will make your business less competitive. If it will, restaurants need to seek out testing options instead of just mandating the vaccine to staff. This should be a localized decision that depends on each business’s environment and staff. 

He adds that restaurants should look for third-party help in implementing the tests in order to bend their cost curves. While lawsuits are impending, they will likely not stop the regulation in its tracks at all. Harris believes the executive order will take hold since it’s not a far cry away from the approach of other sectors like the military and universities which often require vaccines.

Restaurants are some of the most dangerous workplaces for COVID spread from a physical closeness and personal contact standpoint, Harris says. Before Delta, only 1.8 people on average would be infected by one person with COVID. Now that number is around 8, according to Harris. Since servers work in environments that are often poorly ventilated in close proximity with customers who are not wearing masks while eating, transmission can happen easily.

“Compare that to a healthcare worker. Compare that to an airline attendant, and yeah, I think the frontline restaurant workers are at greater risk than perhaps other industries for contracting COVID,” Harris says.

While the OSHA rule will probably have implications for restaurants’ bottom line when it comes to testing costs and increased labor shortages, Harris says vaccine mandates on customers—occurring in New York City, San Francisco, Los Angeles, and New Orleans—will have far larger ramifications on consumer behavior. Some restaurants have run into issues, like in New York where operators are reportedly losing customers and money.

“If you're a restaurant and you require anything of your patrons to come in, certainly, if you require vaccinations, then you're going to create a dynamic that will alter your competitiveness,” Harris says.

With the federal 100-employee company mandate, customer behavior will likely remain neutral as the mandate doesn’t affect their ability to dine-in, Harris says. But as the U.S. enters colder months, it’s likely hospitals will see a spike in COVID cases. It happened last year when people moved away from outdoor gatherings and into indoor entertainment, and it will likely happen again, according to Harris.

But there’s room for optimism. While OSHA will still have the ability to shut down individual businesses, Harris does not foresee any widespread shutdowns or disruption to restaurant businesses, especially in states like Texas and Florida that are fully open without face masks.

“Gone are the days where we have shutdowns again,” Harris says. “I don't anticipate we'll have a federal or state mandated shutdown of businesses, so the disruption to restaurants that we saw as a result of that I don't think we would be in store for.”

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Categories: Restaurants

Higher Prices and Smaller Menus Become a Way of Life for Restaurants

Restaurant Management - Thu, 10/14/2021 - 10:03
Higher Prices and Smaller Menus Become a Way of Life for Restaurants danny Thu, 10/14/2021 - 10:03

Barbecue chain Mac's Speed Shop continues to push forward, despite new challenges.

October 14, 2021

Industry wide labor shortages and supply-chain issues are still causing major headaches for owners and operators throughout the restaurant industry.

It’s forced restaurants like Mac’s Speed Shop to pivot again at this stage of the COVID-19 recovery, including paring back menu offerings and finding new sources for kitchen equipment needed to open new units.

Mac’s Speed Shop, which currently operates units across the Carolinas, serves cold beer and barbecue to customers seven days a week. Co-president Shang Skipper says that’s becoming pricier given the steady increase in costs for popular items such as chicken wings and beef brisket.

Skipper says Mac’s had to remove about 20 percent of its total menu because they simply “can’t do these things.”

Items were removed for being too expensive, either because the cost of food made it unprofitable or the price of labor was too great to keep churning out certain dishes.

“it's just too much on the kitchen; too much on the staff. It takes too many hours. We just can't do it,” he says. “So, we've taken an approach of what can we execute at a high level and ensure that people are getting the full experience?”

This led Mac’s to focus on dishes that take less time to prep and are more easily executed. Mac’s also increases menu prices on chicken wings and brisket. And while the increased cost of chicken wings should come as no surprise, the cost of beef skyrocketed in recent months, caused in large part to a drought across the American West.

According to statistics released by the U.S. Department of Agriculture, the aggregate national herd has shrunk in numbers, and the animals that do make it to market weigh an average of 15 pounds less than animals from the previous year.  

“We've been essentially losing money on those two items,” Skipper says. “So, it's unfortunate and we don't want to do it. We hope that we can bring the pricing back sooner rather than later. But at this point, we have no choice. We at least need to break even on those items.”

Skipper says he’s been told by suppliers beef prices may not start to fall for up to a year given the ongoing drought in parts of the country. This means unfortunately, he says, menu prices on items such as brisket and chicken wings will remain high. A self-described optimist, Skipper says although conditions aren’t ideal at the moment, the market could change.

“Cattle herds can increase rather quickly, the demand for beef could go down,” he says. “You never know what could happen with natural cycles.”

Supply chain issues aren’t the only problem Mac’s is facing. Like other restaurants, it’s struggled to fully staff locations. In response, Mac’s started to offer better pay and benefits than it ever has, Skipper says.

Per the most recent U.S. Labor Department, only 194,000 jobs were added in September, falling well below Dow Jones estimate of 500,000. On top of fewer jobs being added, more Americans are quitting their jobs than any other time on record—according to the U.S. Bureau of Labor and Statistics, 4.3 million Americans did so in August.

Staffing shortages haven’t deterred Skipper, however. He says the most important thing a restaurant can do is to be nimble and pragmatic. He says it’s also necessary to keep in mind how hard those who are present are working.

“I think some people are extremely overworked and we're trying to figure out how to reduce those hours for them,” he says. “We're not afraid or shy about closing the restaurant for lunch if we have to so that we can give people time off. In august we closed the entire organization for a day to give everyone a break and just a mental health day, if you will. We're not afraid to look at all options on the table.”

A new issue that may arise is related to vaccine mandates. An internal survey of staff revealed that almost 30 percent of workers would leave Mac’s if vaccines became mandatory.

Skipper says he thought after unemployment benefits rolled back staffing issues would ease. That hasn’t been the case. But he’s hopeful the upcoming holiday season will provide a boon in employment, although winter months tend to be the slowest for Mac’s.

“I have to imagine people are going to go back to work,” he says. “Maybe it will be Christmas that triggers it. If people are back working that would solve 80 percent of the issues currently. One thing we have going for us is we’re heading into a time where it’s a little bit slower so we’re going to have relief for our employees.”

Another problem Mac’s is facing is related to growth. With five units in the pipeline, the chain, naturally, needs kitchen equipment, and this, Skipper says, provided a new challenge.

He says the issue isn’t as much that certain pieces of equipment aren’t available for purchase, it has more to do with who has the ability to purchase them.

“There are much larger corporations out there buying 50 restaurants worth of equipment at a time,” he says. “That puts some extreme squeeze on the market for guys like us who are hoping to grow. We had a call with a partner last week and we were told if we want fryers and ovens, you've got to order now to get them in April.”

To combat these issues, Skipper says, Mac’s is looking at how to better streamline kitchens and dining rooms. He says one of the new locations is going to have no servers, just food runners and kitchen staff. He says they’ll also look at what equipment can be cut from the kitchen or replaced by something more readily available.

Despite setbacks, Mac’s is in a good place, Skipper says.

“If you adapt, you will survive,” he says. “Even with these challenges, we're still finding ways to get guests in the door and serve them and make sure that they have a great experience.”

Skipper says “95 percent” of Mac’s customers have been understanding of the recent menu changes.

“Everyone please treat your servers and bartenders with kindness,” he says. “They’re working incredibly hard to ensure that you have a great experience.”

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Categories: Restaurants

Technology Bridging the Gap Among Minority Food Groups

Restaurant Management - Thu, 10/14/2021 - 09:05
Technology Bridging the Gap Among Minority Food Groups danny Thu, 10/14/2021 - 09:05

How technology is helping the hospitality industry turn the corner on social exclusion for guests with dietary restrictions.

October 14, 2021

Restaurants are still the second most common location for food allergy reactions, according to a study based on data from Food Allergy Research and Education (FARE)’s patient registry. Incidents of accidental allergen exposure in restaurants often revolve around one common factor—people. People give the orders, people take the orders, people prepare the orders, and people deliver the orders. With all but removing the actual person who eats the meal, there is a lot less potential for accidental allergen exposure by removing the amount of interaction that people have with the ordering process.

According to Heather Landex, food safety and allergy specialist and author of INCLUSIVE: THE NEW EXCLUSIVE: How the FOOD SERVICE INDUSTRY Can STOP Leaving MONEY on the Table, “When you increase safety and build systems to reduce mistakes, you create an excellent customer experience while you also reduce complaints, liability and risk to reputation.” This is exactly the solution that technology is providing for the hospitality industry. 

The Untapped Opportunity Behind Accommodating Guests with Food Restrictions 

For the 85 million Americans impacted by food allergies today, the ability to quickly filter menu items by common allergens, is cause for celebration. It’s also great news for restaurants who whether they realize or not, have been missing out on a significant opportunity to engage with their local food minority groups (vegans, vegetarians, individuals impacted by food allergies or intolerances).

As of 2021, an estimated one in 10 adults and one in 13 children in the United States have been diagnosed with food allergies, per According to results released by the U.K.-based Food Standards Agency, 60 percent of the 2,599 respondents (aged 16–24) with a food allergy, intolerance, or both, “reported they had avoided eating out in the last six months because of their condition.” But individuals impacted by food allergies or sensitivities are not the only ones seeking more ingredient and preparation transparency in menu items today; those with dietary restrictions rooted in religious or philosophical beliefs also require additional knowledge. 

Leveraging Technology to Simplify Operations

National restaurant chain bartaco is just one of many operations across the U.S. that is enjoying the time-saving benefits that the implementation of apps such as OneDine allow. For the 85 million Americans impacted by food allergies today, the ability to quickly filter menu items by common allergens, is cause for celebration. Or take CertiStar, a comprehensive data aggregator which enables guests and restaurant staff to filter menu items by any type of allergen. CertiStar plays an important behind-the-scenes role currently for entertainment venues like Carnival Cruise Lines and restaurants such as Fazoli’s.

By aggregating all the ingredients for each menu item and the specifics for what equipment was used in the process (to rule out cross-contamination), restaurant staff are no longer required to commit details to memory or exert much energy at all to respond to guests’ varying dietary restrictions quickly, easily, and accurately. 

While the human element of hospitality will never wane, technology will continue to play an important role in bridging the gap of social exclusion that food minority groups experience today.

As both a marketer and food allergy parent, Katie Moreno has been navigating her way through the chaos and confusion of food allergies for the past seven years. She believes restaurants have the potential to convert people impacted by food allergies from one-time visitors into some of their most loyal customers, but restaurants need to win them over first. She currently resides in Madison, Wisconsin. Find more stories from Katie on Medium:

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Categories: Restaurants

Denny Post is Leading a Diversity Movement

Restaurant Management - Thu, 10/14/2021 - 08:30
Denny Post is Leading a Diversity Movement erica Thu, 10/14/2021 - 08:30

The former Red Robin CEO wants restaurant leaders to get unstuck when it comes to past practices.

October 2021

Throughout her foodservice career, Denny Post made it her mission to help women advance into leadership roles. Now the former Red Robin CEO is working to help other restaurant leaders do the same, both for women and people of color.

Earlier this year, Post joined the Atlanta consultancy GXG as its executive in residence for the firm’s DEIB (diversity, equity, inclusion, and belonging) Growth Accelerator. She and a group of other leaders from across different industries are lending their collective expertise to executives so they can pinpoint areas for improvement and articulate actionable steps to build a more equitable and inclusive workplace.    

Post is one of the few women to have led a major restaurant chain so she has a special understanding of the challenges brands face in effecting real change—and she’s ready to be part of the solution.

After years in the restaurant C-suite, what led you to join GXG?

My entire time in the industry, I’ve been active with the Women’s Foodservice Forum. I even served as the interim CEO and was board chair. I have been very focused on advancing women leaders in the industry. When I was CEO at Red Robin, we had a 50/50 board, a 50/50 executive team, and most senior leadership were women, which is very unusual in our industry.

But I realized upon reflection that I was very proud of our accomplishments in terms of gender diversity, but we didn’t make much progress in terms of broader diversity with people of color. And that was a real gap for us. When you look at the guest base and you look at the front line—the folks who are out there, either in the heart of the house cooking or in the front of the house serving guests—you see a great deal more diversity than upwards throughout the organization.

So when I decided to not go back into a full-time operating role, I knew I wanted to engage in places where I could make a difference in the last stage of my career. The opportunity with GXG came up, and I just found the approach so smart and so action-oriented that I was pleased to be a part of bringing together diverse councils with a great deal of wisdom.

At what specific point does diversity plummet?

Where we seem to have the greatest issue is when you move beyond single-unit management and into multiunit. When you have a dispersed workforce, as we do in restaurants, it’s very hard to have the visibility, processes, and policies that ensure we’re interviewing diversely. Often there’s a perpetuation of the same type of leaders gravitating to others like themselves. That tends to be white men, particularly in operations. There isn’t a lot of encouragement or visibility for women, women of color, or people of color to step up for some of those multiunit management roles, which is the first step to moving up in an organization. You have to see one to be one or want to be one. So the organization has to be very intentional, very thoughtful, and very committed. The whole piece of belonging has to be there.

Speaking of belonging, why was it so important to add it to DEI (diversity, equity, inclusion)?

Diversity is about the numbers, and equity is ensuring that everyone’s being treated equally. Inclusion says you’re in the conversation, but belonging is where you actually feel that you can show up and give your real voice to what’s happening. It’s not just the sense of, ‘I’m included’ but instead, ‘I am valued, and my opinion, my experience, my unique point of view, is valued. The contributions I can make are sought out.’ It’s the difference between being on the team to really being a valued member of the team.

As a woman who spent a large portion of her career in the C-suite, what challenges did you face?

I came up the marketing side, but restaurants are heavily weighted toward an operating environment, so there was always the question of whether somebody who hadn’t actually run a restaurant could lead a restaurant company. I had to overcome not only, if you will, the gender bias, but also the background bias. More often than not, leaders come from either finance or operating. And both of those are heavily male, unlike HR or marketing, which tend to be more open to women.

To this day, I’m on a board where I’m still the only woman. You have to be able to find a way to give voice to your unique experience. And one of the best ways to do that is to speak on behalf of the customer because let’s face it, women make most of the purchasing decisions in this country. They make most of the purchasing decisions in this world. So I was able to speak with a voice that included women who were making the decisions about whether or not to come to our restaurants.

What other advice would you give to restaurant leaders?

Don’t look at it as a zero-sum game, but rather an opportunity for growth. So often people think they’re putting their own job at risk. The reality is that there is still opportunity and a lot of change and interesting innovation and growth in our industry, and more innovative companies come from more diverse workforces. Embrace it and approach it in a positive fashion.

And the other is to face the facts. People are loath to really look hard and see how little diversity is represented. They hide behind the total numbers, and the total numbers will look fine. At Red Robin, we had a 29,000-person workforce. Well, the vast majority of those were hourly employees on the front line where you have tremendous diversity. But you’ve got to look at the various layers of your organization and realize it’s not represented in the salaried and managerial ranks as much as it should be.

We’re all in a war for talent right now. And the studies are clear that more diverse leadership and more diverse representation throughout your organization leads to greater innovation and better performance. And yet, as you look across our industry, there’s still a relative dearth of diversity. I really want to see if I can help my former colleagues, those who lead restaurant organizations, make more rapid change in this space so that we can really demonstrate to other industries what it means to have really diverse teams.

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Categories: Restaurants

3 Reasons Why You Should Market Employee Safety on Your Website

Restaurant Management - Thu, 10/14/2021 - 08:27
3 Reasons Why You Should Market Employee Safety on Your Website danny Thu, 10/14/2021 - 08:27

Employee health and safety should always be a priority for every restaurant.

October 14, 2021

You’d think that medical workers might stand the highest risk as they combat COVID-19 on the front lines. Surprisingly, this is not the case. In fact, a UCSF study revealed that line cooks are actually at the highest risk, with more COVID deaths in the food and agriculture industries than anywhere else.

In light of this information, the measures you take to protect your employees are of the utmost importance. You rely on your cooks, servers, and management staff to run your restaurant—just as your customers rely on you for safe, high-quality food. Without consistent health and safety measures in place, you put lives on the line.

But integrating these policies alone isn’t enough. Highlighting employee safety is one of the many ways the pandemic has changed restaurant marketing. And while there are many reasons for doing so, the following should be more than enough to convince you to market restaurant employee safety on your website.

1. To protect workers

First, the desire to protect all your employees should be the chief motivating factor for every safety policy and practice you promote. Create a business continuity plan that answers the question of what happens when and if there’s a COVID-19 exposure at your restaurant. It can also address when there are new state or local guidelines for operation. It should never place employee health above your desire for profit. Regardless of how it might feel, your restaurant is replaceable—human life is not.

Once effective safety measures are in place that correspond to CDC guidelines, you should start the process of marketing what you’ve done to ensure worker safety via your digital platforms. Though this might seem like disingenuous self-promotion, there’s one key reason why it’s not: marketing safety measures enables your workers and customers to hold you accountable.

People are fallible. Perhaps nothing in recent history has proved that quite as well as the varied responses to the pandemic. However, by stating clearly for the general public what your safety policies are, employees and customers alike can point—hopefully politely—to where these policies aren’t being adequately followed.

From there, you are in a position to make changes and ensure adherence to safety measures, all to prevent illness and death in your workplace.

2. To make customers feel safe

Secondly, you need to cultivate an environment in which guests feel safe to dine in or order food to go. Clarity and cleanliness are key aspects of an effective customer service approach. Marketing your employee safety measures is one way to achieve this in the COVID-era.

Showcasing your employee health and safety policies on your website and through omnichannel marketing platforms gives customers all the information they might need to feel safe. This goes far beyond COVID-19, as well. With the yearly resurgence of the flu, customers need to feel at all times as though they are in an environment that supports employee health.

Reports have shown that as many as 12 percent of foodservice workers have actively served while they were sick with symptoms including vomiting and diarrhea. No one wants to dine in an environment in which this is occurring. So to keep COVID and the flu out of your restaurant, you need supportive employee safety measures that include sick pay.

Customers understand that without proper employee treatment, illness is going to seep into restaurants at higher rates. Because of this, marketing your prioritization of employee health and wellness will go a long way towards not only making customers feel safe to eat your food but also towards attracting new talent.

3. To attract new talent

Right now, finding and retaining the ideal employees in any restaurant isn’t exactly easy. At every level, the foodservice industry is struggling to hire as many workers as it needs to effectively meet demand. The jobs are there, but for a wide combination of reasons, workers are leaving the industry.

One of these reasons is a safety concern. Foodservice workers see reports like the UCSF study and don’t want to take those risks. By marketing the actions you take to ensure employee safety, however, your restaurant can better assuage these fears to attract the talent you’re looking for.

As an added guarantee of employee safety, you can even consider offering bonuses for employees who receive vaccines for COVID and the flu. Adding an incentive can help you mitigate risks while encouraging workers to stay as safe as possible. Furthermore, marketing these incentives can boost your ability to reach and comfort both your prospective employees and your customers.

Employee health and safety should always be a priority for every restaurant. The risks of failing to maintain a safe environment for food preparation and dining can lead to lawsuits in a best-case scenario and death as the worst case. Implement protective measures that adhere to the science of food and worker safety. From there, you can market your policies to promote your restaurant as a safe place to eat and work.

Managing the prevailing public health crisis of the modern era means ensuring these policies. To protect workers, make customers feel safe, and attract new talent, market your safety measures for an added layer of accountability.

Jori Hamilton is an experienced writer from the Northwestern U.S. She covers a wide range of topics and, because she spent over six years in the restaurant business before writing full-time, takes a particular interest in covering topics related to the food and beverage industry. To learn more about Jori, you can follow her on Twitter.

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Categories: Restaurants

Chef Kristin Beringson Continues to Prove Her Mettle

Restaurant Management - Wed, 10/13/2021 - 08:05
Chef Kristin Beringson Continues to Prove Her Mettle erica Wed, 10/13/2021 - 08:05

She came to the restaurant world later than most but has quickly made up ground.

October 2021

Chef Kristin Beringson is a self-described mutt. She was born in Athens, Greece, raised in South Dakota, went to high school in Ocean City, Maryland, and studied as an undergraduate in Philadelphia. That doesn’t include her time spent abroad in Fiji, New Zealand, and Australia.

While her home has been in flux, food has always been a constant in her life. Whether that meant being around her family’s bakery or cooking with her father, Beringson was in close proximity to a kitchen. She’s had a culinary curiosity since her childhood.

Emily Dorio

Favorite kitchen tool: Offset spatula

Restaurant industry in one word: Intense

Chef you’d most like to work with: Michael Anthony (of Gramercy Tavern)

Most underrated dish: Schnitzel

After-shift drink: Wine, unless it’s been a tough shift. Then it’s tequila.

“As far as food goes, my grandmother and grandfather owned a bakery; my dad had a big love of cooking,” the chef says. “My mom was like captain Velveeta rice casserole with broccoli. She couldn’t cook her way out of a bag, but my dad really enjoyed it. We grew up hunting and fishing. I think I was 5 when he took me hunting for the first time. So, a love of ingredients was kind of instilled in me. I was that annoying little kid that would follow my dad around and ask, ‘What is that? What is that?’ I asked him a thousand questions and god knows if he even told me the right answers.”

As eclectic as her upbringing was, Beringson’s path to the kitchen was just as unconventional. While some chefs get their start as a dishwasher at a young age and work their way up the ranks, Beringson took a different route. In fact, she wasn’t even working in the restaurant business when she was in her late 20s.

“I was standing in the electronics department at a Target that I was managing, and it was Black Friday. They came over the walkie and said, ‘OK, we’re opening the doors,’ and I was just like, no, no, this isn’t it,” she says of the lightbulb moment. “So I enrolled in culinary school, and I quit my job.”

After leaving the corporate-retail world in 2009, Beringson studied at the Art Institute while cutting her teeth at Holland House in Nashville, Tennessee.Over the next decade, she worked at a number of celebrated establishments in Music City, from City Winery and SILO to The Green Pheasant and Ellington’s inside The Fairlane Hotel. Along the way she also clinched a victory on Food Network’s “Chopped.” Today, Beringson is the head chef at Henley, a modern American brasserie at the Kimpton Aertson Hotel in Nashville.

Food in the South can get a bad reputation. Most people associate Southern cooking with fried, greasy offerings. But, as Beringson tells it, Henley has much more to offer than the ubiquitous Nashville hot chicken.

“There’s a trout farm 40 minutes west of here; that’s beautiful and great,” she says. “I think people would be surprised that we do have access to so many local products. We have the hydroponic farms that the bigger markets have. Those have become huge lately.”

Beringson thinks people would also be surprised by the elevated nature of the local cuisine. She hosts 14-course chef’s table events for small parties on Thursday, Friday, and Saturday nights.

“The fact that those tasting tables are available in Nashville is really special. It’s not just NYC doing the special tasting menus. There is a market here for that as well,” she says.

Henley’s offerings, like country-fried brie, summer corn chowder, and chicken-fried quail, hint at Southern comfort foods but with an elevated twist representative of a brasserie.

Aside from a fresh menu, Beringson brings a new outlook to the kitchen at Henley. In a profession usually dominated by men, Beringson says she doesn’t think too much about the challenges she has faced trying to break into the boys’ club. She lets her cooking do the talking.

“Life is merit-based, and I don’t think of cooking as anything different,” she says. “I just worked really hard and I did a good job and I did better than the person standing next to me.”

Although she doesn’t dwell on being a female chef in a very male-dominated profession, Beringson works to make the kitchen welcoming and inclusive. More than half of the kitchen staff are women.

“I tend to run a team with a little more empathy and care. I genuinely care about my employees and I want my team to learn and thrive and one day be better than me,” she says. “I don’t like working yourself to death—that’s not me. I make a place where people want to be and they want to work.”

The drive that led her to run her own kitchen also helped Beringson walk away victorious from “Chopped.” Confident in her abilities, Beringson beat three other chefs to claim the top prize of $10,000.

She describes the competition as a bit unnatural, noting how television isn’t always as it appears. Long wait times between rounds, an unusually hot kitchen, and one particularly feisty judge all took her by surprise. Nevertheless, the chef looks back on the experience fondly. “It was a good exchange,” she says. “It did a lot for my career at the time.”

It’s been seven years since she won, and Beringson has grown both personally and professionally in the interim. She credits her experiences cooking and raising her children with softening her.

“It calmed me down,” she says. “I realized I had to build the people up below me so I could keep on going. When you’re young, you want to do it all. Nobody else can do it as well as you. But when you realize that empowering those around you to do the things that you do is the way to go, that’s when you start pushing yourself forward.”

When looking to the future of foodservice, Beringson hopes the industry rethinks how it does business. She says restaurants need to raise wages and offer other benefits in order to remain competitive with other industries.

As for Beringson herself, she is happy to keep practicing her craft in the kitchen but unlikely to compete on camera anytime soon.

“I know that I’ve made a good choice, and I really do enjoy it,” she says.

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Categories: Restaurants


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