The summer of reconnection is in full swing – complete with family cookouts, long-awaited dinners with friends and an overall resurgence of in-person shopping and dining. Yet, as vaccine distribution continues to climb and many states lift COVID-19-related restrictions, the food industry finds itself facing full reopening just as it encounters a number of post-pandemic road blocks. For some organizations, foodservice concerns are just now coming to light after being long overshadowed by bigger challenges. Rapidly shifting consumer behavior has seen restaurants relying on outside delivery services and facing an industry wide labor shortage. And, a disrupted supply chain has impacted everyone from farmers to grocers.
For leaders in the food industry, it seems the steady return to normalcy is simply a transition to a new state of uncertainty. As you prepare for widespread re-opening, you’re likely wondering how to tackle these new challenges while staying focused on recovering revenue and keeping up with demand. A big part of the answer lies in what you’re keeping behind the counter.
6 ways your equipment can bridge the gap
A critical factor in overcoming these new and potentially long-lasting challenges is one that may not have been on your mind much since the start of the pandemic -- your equipment. Whether you’re returning to serving eat-in customers, juggling delivery and retail, preparing a cafeteria for reopening or struggling to maintain the staff to keep up with an influx of customers, your business relies on the tools you use to prepare, serve and package food. There’s a big difference between equipment that just works and equipment that really works for you. As 42% of foodservice businesses struggle to fill open jobs, here are six key ways that machinery and technology can bridge the gaps between staffing and demand.
1. Less labor. When hiring is its own challenge, the strategic streamlining of labor becomes a necessary solution. The right equipment can help by automating repetitive manual tasks, allowing employees to spend less time on menial work and more time on things that have a deeper impact on customer service. It also allows you to focus hiring efforts on things that can help your business grow, creating new roles that are higher paying and more skilled. When your equipment can automate grab-and-go wrapping or inventory tracking, for example, your employees can focus on maintaining the impeccable quality control that the post-pandemic public will demand.
2. Faster training. Proper training is absolutely vital to the safety and efficiency of your business; it also costs both time and money, which can be drastically reduced when you’re trying to get new staff onto the floor as quickly as possible. Making training quick and simple should be a top priority as consumers remain focused on safety and businesses and organizations work to find and train much-needed new staff. User-friendly interfaces, automatic features and built-in support can all reduce training time, which means that you can get new employees working more quickly or train current employees on new tools in less time. Consider how the training your equipment requires (or the training your team lacks) impacts productivity.
3. Reduced downtime. It doesn’t take a lot of downtime to cause a major problem, especially if you’re already balancing a skeleton staff with steadily increasing customers. Temporary closures, distancing guidelines and budget concerns may mean that your equipment has had reduced use or maintenance, which could mean an increased risk of downtime. Making sure your equipment is in working order is a must, but taking the extra step of preventative maintenance now can also save time you can’t afford to lose later.
4. Improved safety. While the peak of pandemic precautions may be in the rearview mirror, safety is still of paramount importance to consumers. Aside from making sure everyone on staff knows the correct procedures for cleaning equipment, you can invest in equipment that makes it easier, or better yet, automatic. Look for equipment with auto-clean features, as well as equipment like hot and cold deli merchandisers that ensure products are always being held at a safe temperature, which are a great safety-first option for groceries, convenience stores and even restaurants.
5. Increased efficiency. During the pandemic, social distancing put technology at the forefront of daily life, particularly in the food industry. Retailers, restaurants and consumers alike found paths to recovering revenue and regaining stability through apps and the internet. While some consumers will happily continue to shop and dine, others are already eagerly returning to life-in-person. As they do, equipment can be the key to keeping efficiency high even if labor is short by automating things like wrapping, merchandising and more.
6. Additional revenue. The right piece of equipment can allow you to bring new offerings to customers and new revenue to your business. Getting the best return on your investment is all about creating an offering that drives sales without significantly increasing labor. For a convenience store, it may be a rotisserie that provides new hot food offerings; for grocers, a smoker set up in the parking lot can be a great way to pull in new customers and give existing ones a new hot food option.
Challenges and opportunities ahead
Evolution and adaptation are nothing new for the food industry. Whatever challenges the industry faces, food consistently remains a symbol and source of comfort and togetherness. With the public craving both more than ever, a strategic approach—not just to your business, but to your equipment -- can turn the summer of reconnection into one of vast opportunity as well.