I recently returned to the United Kingdom for the first time in eighteen months. As a lecturer in hospitality at Swiss Hotel Management School in Caux, Switzerland, I was keen to see with my own eyes how the COVID-19 pandemic had impacted the hospitality industry in my home country. I was also interested to see how restaurants were adapting and innovating in today’s ever-changing landscape.

I had read a lot about the challenges facing the industry and was particularly interested in the pandemic’s effects on service delivery. The media was reporting sweeping staff shortages in the run up to Christmas, forcing many employers to rush to increase wages and even offer holiday bonuses just to be adequately staffed in time for the season.

It quickly became apparent that restaurants and hotels were heavily relying on temporary, student, and part-time employment. Mind you, the service staff’s positive attitudes and willingness to serve the customers’ needs were very apparent, but I couldn’t help but recognize the impact that the lack of training, skill, and experience had on the overall customer experience.  

This is no fault to supervisors and managers. They have been stretched to the limits and overwhelmed since the beginning of the pandemic. They simply did not have the time to spend training these willing team members. One could argue too, that amidst all the uncertainty we face right now, there is a hesitancy to invest in staff training at all. If most positions are temporary anyway, it’s understandable if there is a lack of long-term staff engagement.

The pandemic has forced nearly every industry to step back and reassess “business as usual”—the restaurant industry included. Restaurant owners have had to rethink their business models in light of these staff shortages, supply chain issues, and changing behaviors of customers. For example, there are fewer operations running seven days a week, with many restaurants switching to four- or five-night dinner offerings. In the competition for quality staff, restaurants are forced to rethink employment benefits to attract enough employees. 

While restaurants currently face a new and challenging landscape, it’s also an opportunity to rethink the traditional business model entirely. We already see this happening and I believe we will only see more restaurants pivoting to new ways of working in 2022. 

Here are five trends I predict we’ll see emerge this year in the restaurant industry:

More investment in employee benefits

With restaurants struggling to attract and retain qualified staff through a pandemic, we’ll see more restaurants looking for ways to create happier work environments for their staff—including expanding benefits for further education, time off, competitive salaries and wages, and employee perks.

Takeaway will take over

This year, we’ll see traditional restaurants continue to diversify their services—mainly through the expansion of more takeaway options, including fine-dining establishments. There is a growing market amongst fine diners who are willing to pay to recreate the restaurant experience in the comfort of their home through hosting privately catered events. Others are happy to pay for takeaway from their favorite restaurants and enjoy it without the restrictions imposed on in-person dining.

The creation of more set menus

Food and beverage supply chain issues have caused menu prices to fluctuate tremendously, putting great pressure on restaurants who need to turn enough profit to survive. Set menus, however, offer a more predictable option and allow for more control over costs. With a set menu, a restaurant can decide which ingredients are within its budget or choose ones at a discount and cleverly incorporate them throughout a set menu.

A greater focus on sustainability

Supply chain issues have also forced the restaurant industry to take a closer look at the issue of sustainability. Many have begun prioritizing the use of more local ingredients and suppliers, lessening their reliance on global supply chains and transport. Luckily, this aligns with the general public’s perception that using more localized ingredients is a better, healthier option and they are willing to accept increased menu prices to accommodate.

No-show, no mercy

Most people seem to understand the pressures and challenges facing the restaurant industry right now and are willing to adapt. For example, we will continue to see tighter policies around reservations and “no-shows,” which I believe people will come to accept as the new normal. Restaurants simply can no longer absorb the costs of “no-shows”.

As the pandemic labors on, restaurants will have to continue finding new ways of operating to keep their doors open and customers will have to continue to be sympathetic.

But if done strategically, we could be dawning on a new era for restaurants—one that promotes greater sustainability and localization, exhibits higher levels of creativity and innovation, and is carried by a more deeply engaged and skilled workforce. For those who want to not only survive the pandemic, but flourish long after it, they will need to rethink the way they do business.

Written by Simon Thompson.

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