Sharing Success – Tom Cortopassi
Despite ongoing pandemic and supply-chain challenges, I am glad to report that our family’s tomato company successfully completed yet another fresh pack tomato season.
After taking a brief break away with family after the long tomato harvest to recharge my batteries, I have been reflecting on how current events are impacting our Independent restaurateur customers.
I remain immensely proud of the determination and resilience displayed by our Independent restaurateurs. Owning and operating an Independent business is never easy. But it has been truly inspiring to see how restaurateurs keep finding ways to adapt to a seemingly never-ending series of challenges.
I am reminded of the old proverb, “The only constant in life is change.” That is, no matter how much we wish things would someday “return to normal,” a reality of business is that, with each new challenge, our competitive landscapes continue to evolve.
In other words, even when this pandemic thankfully fades away, things likely won’t return to the “normal” we remember.
Keep in mind that even before the pandemic, there were already significant consumer and employee trends underway:
- Electronic ordering – Especially among younger generations, more than half of all takeout and delivery orders were already being placed digitally via smartphones or laptops. During the pandemic, that percentage has only grown.
- Off premise dining – Overall takeout and delivery sales were growing at a faster rate than dine-in. They remain strong today and will likely remain so in the future.
- Hiring challenges – Just prior to the pandemic, many restaurateurs were already reporting challenges in finding affordable, dependable new hires.
More recently, new challenges have emerged in the restaurant industry, including:
- Ingredient and wage inflation – Restaurants are facing higher costs on everything from food ingredients (especially among proteins, cheeses, grains, and oils) and takeout packaging to natural gas and employee wages. Businesses wishing to remain profitable have no choice but to raise prices to match rising costs. As my grandfather Amerigo used to say, “Aritmetica non e opinione” (Arithmetic is not an opinion). Fortunately, restaurateurs who have routinely updated their menu prices have said that, for the most part, their regulars have taken these adjustments in stride. I find this understandable, considering that consumers are already experiencing similar increases at the supermarket and the gas pump.
- Acute labor shortages – In most areas, restaurants remain hard- pressed to fill open staff positions. As a result, many successful restaurateurs have been creatively reimagining labor usage. This includes everything from adjusting operating hours to better match their most profitable days/dayparts to rethinking service models or menu offerings. Contrary to earlier hopes, the labor shortage didn’t immediately ease with the end of extended unemployment benefits. These things take time, so I’m confident that the supply of labor will continue to improve. Additionally, the labor efficiencies that have been created are here to stay—which is a very good thing!
- Hygiene hypersensitivity – Many consumers remain hypersensitive about distancing and hygiene issues. For example, despite relaxed indoor dining restrictions, some table service guests continue requesting chillier outdoor shelters vs. cozier dining rooms. Given this continuing hygiene sensitivity, some restaurants make a point of visibly wiping down each tabletop in view of guests just before they are seated. Others have replaced effective, yet anonymous, “bleach and water” wipe downs with more visually obvious commercial sanitizing sprays or wipes.
In this issue of La Trattoria, I have asked Editor Steve Rouse to highlight restaurateurs who continue to challenge traditional business assumptions. Whether these examples fit your particular type of business or not, I hope that they provide inspiration to reevaluate your business practices and willingness to challenge “conventional wisdom” to further improve your own situation!
At the beginning, I quoted an old proverb that continues to be very relevant. However, I feel compelled to alter it to apply to today’s restaurants: “The only thing constant in life is change… and the love of good food!” Thankfully for your business and ours, restaurant patrons still don’t mind paying a bit more for the consistently great-tasting food they crave!
We remain incredibly proud to stand with you during these challenging times. Keep up the good fight!
Until next time, Ciao!
President and Co-Owner