How restaurants coped with food and labor shortages

Published October 1, 2021

Local restaurants adopted creative strategies in response to food and labor shortages

The past year and a half challenged everyone in unprecedented ways. From shortages at grocery stores and rising food prices to shipping delays and a hurting global economy, COVID-19’s impacts are ubiquitous.

The emergence of new variants has shown us that the pandemic’s impacts are also cyclical. Specifically, the talent pipeline and resource supply chain for the food and beverage industry are still experiencing significant delays and struggling to recover.

So how are local restaurant owners dealing with these challenges?

Managers realize the importance of having good relationships with their suppliers

If the uncertainty created by the pandemic has taught us anything, it’s that relationships are everything. They’re the backbone upon which we can support ourselves and grow.

Restaurants and restaurant managers aren’t exempt from the need to build solid relationships. The impacts of the pandemic have highlighted the critical need for solid, sustainable restaurant-supplier relations.

When lead times on food deliveries skyrocketed and suppliers had to turn restaurants away because of shortages in their supply chain, a strong supplier relationship became a hot commodity.   

Alex Brounstein from Grindhouse Burgers spoke about the importance of his supplier relationships during the pandemic.

“French fries, frankly, are another huge [item] for us, so we picked a big national company [as a supplier] and a product we like and we made sure to lock in a good price for ourselves because we use so much of it,” he said. “You know, we don't really lock in prices for things, but we try to do it for beef and french fries because that's all we can really do it for.”

Brounstein added that his suppliers worried they’d lose money if they sold to him last July and August, when shortages were extreme.

In the end, they were able to work out a deal based on their longstanding relationship.

National ingredient shortages coupled with an absence of truck drivers in the market contributed to significant delivery delays or a lack of certain foods on store shelves. Not only were supplier relations critical during this time, but restaurants had to face yet another challenge: getting creative with their menus.

Given that various commodity items, particularly beef, were in short supply, cooks had to rethink their recipes and consider how they could do more with less.

Beef is paramount at Grindhouse, but the team there took what they could get. Brounstein said, “I would call [the supplier] and say, ‘I need this many pounds.’ And they were taking the trimmings left over from steaks and grinding them and bringing them to me the next day, which actually tastes great. But once you grind meat, it can go bad really quick. And when you grind dry-aged meat, it can go bad even quicker because it's been exposed to the elements.”

Limited supply leads to an increase in price

When supply decreases, prices rise. Unfortunately, these price increases flow all the way to consumers. But it’s important to remember that when suppliers raise prices, they’re only responding to the current market environment.

To deal with this challenge, many restaurants have begun price shopping. When it comes to price shopping, maintaining strong relationships with suppliers is crucial.

Hobnob’s Sean Yeremyan said, “It's a constant struggle to find the right product at the right price and at the right time. And right now [the] strategy is working with multiple suppliers instead of focusing on one and then basically seeing what's available and who has the best price.”

Related: How to address labor shortages & make your restaurant more efficient

Shortage of labor

If restaurants don’t have food to serve, customers will stop coming. But what if there’s no one there to serve the food?

In addition to the supply chain bottlenecks that challenge the food and beverage industry, local food service spots have struggled to find workers.

To deal with pandemic-induced bottlenecks, many restaurants have turned to staffing companies that can help fill managerial and higher-end server positions. 

This past year has taught all of us how to adapt to new challenges, and restaurateurs are no exception. Supplier relations, innovative pricing strategies and talent recruitment and retention are all critical to the success of local restaurants.

Though many retailers continue to struggle with a global shortage of various commodities like meat products and toilet paper, the good news is that the food-service industry is recovering thanks to innovation. And while we continue to deal with a lot of uncertainty, one thing remains constant: people have to eat! 

When your restaurant is backed by NCR, it's simple to stay out front.

Whether that's literally up front with your customers, or out front of your competition.

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