Sharing Success

Focus on What You Can Control

As I think about the incredible challenges faced by Independent restaurateurs this year, a wisdom shared by my Uncle Dino years ago comes to mind: “Focus on what you can control (and ignore the rest).”

Nothing better describes the way that restaurateurs continue to persevere! That is, despite tons of bad news over which we had no control, Independents powered through by focusing on the few key issues where they could make a real difference.

As we complete final preparations for our own upcoming fresh pack tomato season this summer, I am feeling especially upbeat regarding the outlook for Independent restaurateurs. More than half of all Americans have been vaccinated. COVID-19 new case statistics continue to improve. Most states are relaxing or have already relaxed restrictions. Many restaurateurs I have spoken with lately have mentioned that their business has been picking up dramatically!

I think that it is worthwhile to consider what is happening now, as well as look ahead at the challenges that restaurateurs will be facing. Even before the pandemic, many restaurateurs were finding it hard to find affordable help and were trying to figure out what to do about rising labor costs.

To make things worse, many Independents and chains alike are facing unprecedented shortages of available service workers. Friends say they are seeing “jobs available” signs in windows, not just at restaurants, but hotels, stores, and practically every type of retail business out there. In fact, McDonald’s franchisees in our area are so desperate to find employees that they are mailing “help wanted” postcards to local homes.

The good news is that the current labor shortage should hopefully ease a bit in coming months as enhanced unemployment benefits taper off and daycare centers and schools reopen.

But the fact remains that labor issues were a challenge before the pandemic and will likely remain so after it’s gone.


So, what are business owners supposed to do? I suggest that we keep focusing on the areas of our business that we can control, such as:


Unique Recruiting

Recognize that “doing what everyone else is doing” has a low probability of success. If the main way you recruited new employees in the past was hanging a “help wanted” sign, remember that pretty much every potential employer in your area is doing the same thing. Instead, you may consider turning your existing team into hiring ambassadors. Create a referral bounty that rewards existing employees if the person they refer lasts for a certain amount of time that you deem reasonable.

(After all, who can better convince their friends and family how much they enjoy being on your team?) This is just one concept for nontraditional employee recruiting, and I am sure that you can think of others that fit your specific needs and unique business. The key thing to remember is that unconventional tactics provide better chances of overcoming widespread challenges than following the same playbook as everyone else.


Seek Efficiency

Re-Evaluate Your Offerings and Business Model based on “Profit Per Labor Hour.”

When labor is scarce and/or costly, treat it like your most valuable resource. Analyze your menu mix, your business hours, how you take and process orders, etc. How much labor time/effort is required at every step versus the relative value of what is being produced?

For example, consider your most labor-intensive menu items. If they are popular, charge a bit more to cover their labor intensity. If they are not popular, consider replacing them with attractive new choices which are faster/easier to prepare.


Pricing Discipline

When faced with unavoidable cost increases, raise prices. No one likes to raise prices (especially a small business competing with large chains). However, businesses which fail to pass along rising costs eventually become unprofitable. As my Uncle Dino is also fond of saying, “Arithmetic is not an opinion.” You must have pricing discipline today to make sure your business is healthy and strong for the future.


On a personal note, I want to conclude this column by expressing my personal feelings toward all of the restaurateurs out there. I remain intensely proud to be associated with the countless number of tenacious, hard-working, and committed restaurateurs and chefs who have battled their way through this most difficult time period. Together, we will get through this! Until next time,