Start a conversation with anyone in the foodservice industry these days and one word quickly surfaces — challenges. Never has the industry been faced with a litany of so many obstacles and never have restaurateurs felt as pummelled as they do today.
Whether it’s wage increases, staffing issues, government interference, increased real-estate prices or the ever-invasive tentacles of technology and how it plays into the business — operators are feeling bruised and battered. Who can blame them?
But, as challenging as operating a foodservice business can be, running a restaurant is also addictive and, for many operators, breaking free of its hold is not an option. More and more, as I talk to operators from across the country — from QSR to casual — the frustration is palpable, leading one to wonder just how the industry can move forward. And, while it’s easy to get knocked down, unable to find the strength to rebound, it’s becoming increasingly clear that the operators who will succeed on this front are the ones who rise to the challenge, fuelled by innovation.
As Bruce McAdams, assistant professor at the School of Hospitality at the University of Guelph, said recently during Foodservice and Hospitality’s webinar on the impact of minimum-wage increases, “We often hear about food innovation,” but we rarely talk about innovation in other facets of the business.
By our very nature, human beings don’t like change, as it makes us feel uncomfortable. At our core, we’re all creatures of comfort.
We don’t’ like the unexpected and most of us don’t handle it well. But, ironically, we’re living in a world of daily disruption.
Today, more than ever, with the advent of the digital age, disruption is de rigueur, thrust at us in myriad ways. Whether we are talking about the publishing industry — which has been forever altered by the advent of the Internet — or whether we’re talking about the massive changes fuelled by disruptors such as Uber and Airbnb, we’ve all been impacted inalterably.
Clearly, disruption is forcing innovation. But, with the number of challenges growing by the day, the innovation required in this industry moving forward is more pronounced and profound than it’s ever been. To succeed in this new landscape, innovation will be required in more than just the menu or even the design of a restaurant. It will require creative engineering in how restaurants are staffed, how employees are treated and compensated, how diversity is highlighted and how restaurants are run. Moving forward, the industry will need to put aside outdated models that no longer work and start fresh with new perspectives that suit the times in which we’re living. The sooner these changes are made, the better.