In the wake of the COVID-19 pandemic, restaurant operators face yet another new wave of pressures. Labor shortages, wage increases, and supply chain issues have wreaked havoc on margins. In 2022, according to Datassential, 89 percent of operators saw an increase in food costs and 75 percent saw an increase in labor costs. It’s become more and more difficult to maintain back-of-house efficiency.
“Operations are becoming more complex,” says Courtney Anderson, senior strategic marketing manager at Kerry. “Supply chain issues with availability and rising costs have meant that staff are constantly being trained on new product SKUs. Combined with high turnover rates, investing enough time in your people is becoming a big challenge.”
Running a restaurant has never been easy—and it’s only getting tougher for many, especially when it comes to back-of-house labor. Operators have the most difficult time finding hourly kitchen staff, especially prep cooks and line cooks. Datassential recently found that about two-thirds of foodservice outlets don’t have enough hourly cooks. High turnover can also lead to inconsistent—or even nonexistent—training. One in three operators reported a drop in the culinary skill level of their back-of-house staff compared to one year ago.
At the same time, customers have begun to return to restaurants, but their standards have skyrocketed. They’re demanding higher quality and more convenience, even as many locations expend massive effort simply to keep the doors open. Guest satisfaction has decreased recently, according to a report from reputation management and data analytics firm Merchant Centric. After seeing a high-water mark of guest satisfaction in February 2021, customer feedback about their restaurant experiences then grew steadily worse.
What’s behind all the negative sentiment? Operational challenges—labor shortages, supply chain difficulties, and inflation—were reflected in customer reviews, the Merchant Centric study found. After most lockdowns in the U.S. were lifted last year, an influx of restaurant guests arrived with pent-up demand that many brands have struggled to serve.
“The end consumer really isn’t empathetic with the situation restaurants are facing,” Anderson says. “Restaurant guests want to see extreme convenience—even more so than before the pandemic. Consumers got used to cooking in the home, and now when they order food away from home, the bar has risen. Restaurants have to deliver innovation, ultra convenience, and quality.”
It’s a tall order—one that restaurants can’t fill without support. As operators look for ways to do more with less, they are turning to product formats that are more flexible, last longer, and are more convenient. According to Datassential, 77 percent of restaurant operators have had to switch products in the last six months due to supply chain, labor, and inflation challenges. And 57 percent say products that can help them save on labor are particularly appealing in the current environment.
To learn what resources restaurants need to improve back-of-house efficiencies, Kerry recently surveyed nearly 200 decision-makers operating foodservice businesses in the U.S.
“We decided to reach out and ask some questions to learn about the pressures operators are facing,” Anderson says. “We discovered that operators are open to making changes to make their processes more efficient, to do more with fewer people, and to bring in fewer SKUs.”
The goal of the survey was to evaluate where respondents stood in terms of back-of-house difficulties, define some specific situations that restaurants often encounter, and provide suggestions to help overcome them.
“Kerry has teams developing products that are helping to solve a wide range of problems related to back-of-house inefficiencies in foodservice,” Anderson says. “We wanted to use the survey as a tool to offer potential solutions to common problems.”
For example, a restaurant may be committed to a specific schedule of limited time offerings—possibly creating new menu items each season. Topical seasonings like Kerry’s Ready-to-Eat Seasonings can be added to multiple menu items like french fries or fried chicken sandwiches to create several new dishes with one SKU. “You can just add Ready-to-Eat Seasonings on top of a signature menu item, and it opens up a new way to market that item to customers,” Anderson says. This can help maximize the dollar spent and prevent introducing multiple new ingredients that require additional training.
A restaurant may also be able to increase efficiency in its craft beverage program by switching from frozen or refrigerated concentrates to a shelf-stable option like Kerry’s Tractor Organic Craft Beverage portfolio. “You have a longer shelf life and you can potentially limit waste in your processes,” Anderson says. The Tractor portfolio offers beverages made from liquid concentrates that reduce back-of-house labor, save on prep time, and provide premium, certified organic beverages that can drive repeat traffic. Kerry also offers a Dry Innovation program for craft beverages that extend shelf life even further.
The survey from Kerry discovered that some restaurants may want to introduce cold brew to their beverage programs. Cold brew is versatile across dayparts and has grown its momentum especially among millennials and Gen Z, but it is also trickier to produce than hot coffee. It is labor-intensive and prone to go to waste. “With traditional cold brew, you may have to train someone very extensively on a process that takes 12 hours, and then you still have only as much as you made 12 hours ago,” Anderson says. “We have a solution that provides immediate entry to this new menu category that perhaps you couldn’t participate in before.” Kerry’s Cold Brew Extract Pouch makes a half-gallon of ready-to-serve coffee immediately, allowing operators to stay flexible during rushes.
In a short-staffed kitchen, sauces and dips can represent an additional time sink. Scratch-made sauces and dips require training to maintain consistency and quality, and high turnover makes it less feasible to give adequate training to each new employee who comes in. The need for menu versatility only serves to make the balancing act more complex. The survey from Kerry found that operators are interested in finding pre-made sauce and dip solutions that also satisfy their customers. Kerry’s Kettle Collection Sauces and Dips allow operators to deliver crowd-pleasing, premium quality and consistency, offering scratch-made appeal with more convenience.
“The results of our survey prove that back-of-house efficiency is top of mind for foodservice operators,” Anderson says. “The survey also shows that operators are also willing to make changes to benefit their processes and the customer experience.”
Kerry has also developed solutions to help solve efficiency bottlenecks around everything from breading, batters, mac and cheese, and bakery operations to beverages like espresso and house-made margaritas. These are all areas where operators reported difficulties.
Operators now have an opportunity to evaluate their own back-of-house efficiency processes with Kerry’s foodservice back-of-house quiz. They can answer five questions about their operations and receive customized feedback tailored to their specific situations—with solutions proven effective through Kerry’s survey.
“We encourage operators to take the quiz and discover peer-approved solutions to their labor and time-saving needs,” Anderson says.
To get personalized solutions to back-of-house efficiency challenges, take the quiz.