The food service industry is fast-paced and highly volatile. Owners try to serve as many customers as possible while creating positive experiences for everyone involved. When food sits on the counter waiting to be served, it starts to wilt, get cold, and go bad. This leads to lost revenue if it goes to waste and potentially lost customers. Staff members are often burnt out, which leads to mistakes, burnout, and high turnover.
Although these issues certainly preceded the COVID-19 pandemic, the global emergency highlighted just how vulnerable this industry is. Years after the shutdowns were lifted, many establishments sit empty but still have long wait lists because of poor staffing. Strategic owners are trying to change. They are working to make their businesses more resilient and working with their communities toward brighter futures.
Increasing resilience won’t be easy, but it is possible. Here are a few shifts that the food service industry can make for the benefit of owners, staff, and customers alike.
What Is Industry Resiliency?
Paul Kirvan, an independent IT consultant, defines business resilience as “the ability of an organization to quickly adapt to disruptions while maintaining continuous business operations.” Essentially, when something should stop a business in its tracks — from wildfires to internet outages — resiliency allows it to respond and resume operations. Every business is impacted by macroeconomic trends (like supply chain issues) and business-by-business issues (like a parade blocking off car access to their location).
Within the food service field, team members often show resiliency with creative problem-solving. Professional caterers often have to deal with canceled weddings if the couple breaks up while farmer’s market organizers track the weather to decide whether they should risk allowing their vendors to set up. However, long-term resiliency allows food service professionals to panic less and respond to existing plans whenever an issue arises. Resiliency for these food professionals also involves protecting themselves and their business with catering or farmers market insurance for general and product liability.
Not every resiliency issue is an immediate crisis. There are often situations where an owner notices trends over time that they need to adapt to. Something seemingly small like the price of eggs can eat into profits and cause owners and managers to change their menus.
What Trends Are Contributing to Resilience in the Food Industry?
One of the best ways to understand resilience in the food industry is to see it in action. Here are a few trends that industry leaders are pursuing as they work to become more resilient.
Sustainability is an ongoing process at every level of the food industry and in individual establishments — from where you source your produce to the plates and utensils you choose. However, sustainable actions serve as more than just a marketing ploy for customers, they can have a real impact on your bottom line.
For example, look at your monthly electric bills. Some experts predict that electricity costs will increase by 10% this year alone. Now might be a good time to invest in solar panels that are more sustainable and reduce your dependence on the electric company. Other adjustments to reduce your water usage can also cut down your monthly utility bills.
Food Technology Innovations
Food technology is a growing field that is meant to help consumers and business owners. For example, advanced refrigerators use air filtration systems that clean the cold air they produce. By removing bacteria and mold spores, produce can last longer, reducing waste.
Researchers are also working on better packaging options and even streamlined cooking experiences (like induction and convection systems) that allow kitchens to produce more food at a faster rate.
Keep an eye on modern innovations and consider how they could affect your business — they could ultimately benefit your bottom line for years to come.
Supply Chain Protections
In 2023 and beyond, the food service industry will be affected by supply chain issues. This wasn’t a one-time problem that occurred because of the global pandemic. For example, Ukraine and Russia produce 28% of the world’s grain which means global production has significantly reduced since the start of the war in Ukraine. Reduced supply means prices are on the rise, affecting anyone who uses wheat products.
One way to build resiliency is to pay attention to your suppliers. Know where your food comes from and how these vendors set their prices. Now is also a good time to develop alternative options if a vendor can’t provide the items you need.
Many food service providers have started to use local food vendors and now work with regional farmers to secure their produce. This is a great step but doesn’t necessarily build resiliency. Make sure your business has a backup plan (and a third plan for the backup plan).
Community-focused Food Businesses
A good relationship with your community is one of the strongest assets you can have to build resilience. At the start of the pandemic, patronizing local restaurants by getting to-go orders or buying gift cards became an act of support for those small business owners. When something happens to a beloved local business (like a lightning strike that causes a fire) the community will rally around them to offer help where it can.
Consider developing a community-focused business where you give back as much as you can. This doesn’t necessarily need to be a financial setback if you can afford it. Instead, you can set up clothing and food drives, host events in your space, and create employee volunteer days to give back to your town. Set aside time to attend city council meetings and networking events with other business owners.
You can decide whether your business is a leader in the community through your actions and participation on a local scale.
Shifts Toward Unionizing
More food workers than ever before are taking steps to unionize. You can either fight this trend or you can embrace it and use unions as a tool to build resilience. When working conditions are poor, employees will leave them as soon as possible. If a company pays a low wage, those staff members will quickly leave when they find a higher-paying alternative. The same can be said for a high-stress business with poor hours.
Unions fight to protect wages and working conditions to keep employees safe — and there are countless benefits to employers who embrace this concept. Union workers have lower turnover rates (which saves money for companies on recruiting, hiring, and training). These workers are also more productive because they value their jobs and are less stressed about their finances.
This can also be used as a marketing tool for your business, as 71% of Americans approve of labor unions. You can bring in customers who want to support your business because you support union workers.
There’s no way for a food service company to prepare for every potential crisis, but you can take steps to reduce your long-term costs, improve the customer experience, and develop a staff and a community that will stay loyal to you through difficult times.