by Greg Staley, CEO of SynergySuite
COVID was a huge disruptor for the restaurant industry, with many changes to the way restaurants operate, including adding new sanitation and cleanliness protocols, shifting the way we serve guests, and increasing the need for transparency. Rising numbers of cases and new virus variants mean that we’ll continue to navigate COVID into 2022, which will impact restaurant trends and behaviors in the coming year.
The good news is that restaurant staff showed their resilience, flexibility, adaptability, and perseverance throughout the pandemic. When customers couldn’t (or wouldn’t) dine in, restaurants added more takeout and delivery options, which became popular options for consumers. As regulations shifted and evolved, employees adapted, donning masks, cleaning high-touch areas more frequently, limiting capacity, adding outdoor tables, and conducting temperature checks before each shift. It was wonderful to see restaurants following new guidelines to protect their staff and guests.
After nearly two years of pandemic-related changes, what can we expect in 2022? There will be important back-of-house (BOH) trends, and here are my 7 predictions for BOH in the new year:
- Better tech integration – The pandemic showed us how critical it is to review and analyze accurate data. If restaurants aren’t properly or accurately integrating this information, it’s impossible to know what’s really happening across an enterprise. More accurate, integrated data help restaurants make better, more informed decisions. It can both help identify (and fix) risks before they become liabilities, and highlight opportunities that can be implemented across more locations. Integrating software for better data is a key trend that will rise in 2022.
- Clocking enforcement – Restaurant owners and managers will use scheduling software to limit how far in advance of their shift an employee can clock in. This is something many employers are expected to implement as they look to control labor costs. With the financial hit that restaurants took because of COVID, the industry will embrace technologies to limit costs and boost profitability.
- Increased focus on wellness – COVID changed the wellness game. In the past, some restaurant managers would encourage employees to “push through” an illness and work their shift regardless of sickness, so they’d avoid being caught short-staffed. Those days are gone. Now, restaurants will assess employees’ health before shifts, encourage them to stay home when ill, and require COVID tests for employees showing virus symptoms (and after they’ve been exposed). No matter what happens with COVID and the emerging variants, wellness assessments and an emphasis on health protocols will still be around through 2022 and beyond.
- More reliance on mobile – Restaurants will increasingly depend on mobile tools to enhance the way employees work. For example, they’ll offer more training information, resources, and updates on employees’ phones so they can have critical insights right at their fingertips. Employees will also conduct safety checklists and other self-assessments using their mobile devices, taking photos and videos as proof of compliance. Additionally, many restaurants are setting up systems where employees receive push alerts via an app to indicate potential risks (e.g., the walk-in door was accidently left open).
- Adoption of restaurant technologies – Increasingly, restaurants are relying on digital solutions, a trend that will continue in the new year. These tools have been invaluable during the pandemic, helping restaurants manage new cleanliness protocols, customer expectations, and more. They’ve also helped boost efficiency, productivity, accuracy, safety, and quality, all as restaurants continue to face pandemic-related staffing shortages.
- A shift in staffing to meet customer demands. Since the pandemic began, fewer people have been dining in-house, choosing takeout and delivery options instead. As COVID cases spike and new variants emerge, the trend for more take-out and less onsite dining will continue into the new year. That means restaurants will need to shift staffing accordingly, hiring more back-of-house employees to manage a higher demand for “to go” orders.
- Ghost kitchens – In addition to changing customer demands, many restaurants have experienced devastating financial losses in the past two years. In an effort to cut overhead costs and become more efficient, many restaurateurs have embraced ghost kitchens – commercial cooking spaces without the FOH space. Ghost kitchens provide an appropriate space to prepare to go, takeout, and catering orders without the huge overhead of an actual restaurant.
The ramifications of COVID will undoubtedly be felt for years. The silver lining is that restaurants have made changes to amplify safety and quality measures, including tech adoption and more transparency, to meet the demands of this new post-COVID world. I’m predicting an increase in digital tools, a focus on tech integration, continued flexibility with staffing, and other operational shifts – like working out of ghost kitchens – in the new year.
Greg Staley is the CEO of SynergySuite, a back-of-house restaurant management platform. Greg focuses on facilitating better visibility and increased profitability for restaurant chains through the use of intelligent, integrated back-of-house technology. For more information, please contact Greg at firstname.lastname@example.org.
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