Leadership is key to navigating the challenging months ahead


For the past few months, we’ve heard from analysts and the media alike that we’re heading into a recession. This, after we’ve just gone through a pandemic, battled supply-chain issues and rising inflation and dealt with a labour crisis. The last few years have been full of challenges. Restaurants Canada data shows more than 50 per cent of restaurant operators are operating at a loss as of January 2023.  Although many hospitality operations are struggling, there are still a strong number of that are growing and thriving when it comes to sales, profit, people retention and guest experience.  

I have coached and studied top-performing restaurant operators for the last 15 years and consistently I’ve seen leaders and leadership teams that run these growing and successful restaurant groups relentlessly follow certain prescribed steps to ensure their success. While you might feel resistance to some of the concepts I share and believe these approaches or ideas wouldn’t necessarily work for your operation, I ask you to stay curious a little bit longer.

As a coach, my goal is to help leaders find their resistance or what “triggers” them, as that is often where we need to spend a good amount of time and dig a little bit deeper.  Undoubtedly regardless of the size of your team or operation, it’s hard to duplicate the same level of success you experienced in 2023. We have turned the page and embarked on a new chapter that can be extremely fruitful and successful with a clear and strong plan, teamed with a commitment to relentlessly execute that plan.

Seasonal Shifts
We’re heading towards further foot traffic and transaction declines, a trend the industry has been experiencing since the end of 2022. I’m not trying to paint a negative picture, but it’s a reality our industry and its leaders are facing. 

If this is the case, what do we do? Just like there are seasons with regard to weather, there are also seasons with regard to the industry. And right now winter is coming. The great news is that nothing lasts forever, and at the end of each season there is a new beginning. What I encourage you to do is get yourself and your team clearly aligned on what you need to do to successfully make it through the challenging months ahead. 

How will you manage cash flow to ensure the stability of the operation? What does your guest experience need to be to draw guests back to your restaurant with foot-traffic numbers declining for many operators by 20 per cent or more? How will your menu support creating an experience that drives up the average cheque, and how will you engage your managers and staff to consistently focus on delivering this experience?

Every Business Has Patterns
Regardless what segment your restaurant is part of, there are patterns that exist. Patterns in sales, guest wants and needs, staffing levels, events, cost of sales — the list goes on. One of the best practices I have witnessed is commitment to studying the patterns inside of an operation, learning from them and preparing for them. This might sound basic, but often the biggest opportunities are right in front of us, but based on the pace or demand of our operation, we end up focused on the day, week or month instead of what we need to review, address and plan for in the three, six or 12 months ahead. 

We’re still in a fight for talent within our industry. In many cases, we’re not only competing with other hospitality operators for managers and staff, but with all retailers. We don’t need to wait until the spring to work on our hiring strategy. I recommend all operators do the following now to ensure you attract the talent you need to capture the sales you desire in months ahead:

Update or re-write your job ads: If you want to stand out in the crowded world of job postings, you must have a unique job ad. I encourage you to re-visit your job ad and re-word it to talk about what your position will offer the candidate, not just talk about what you need from the candidate. 

Change your applicant-filtering process: Most operators identify qualified candidates and call them once. The challenge is, some or most people don’t answer their phone anymore. I recommend you follow up every qualified lead three to five times by phone, text and email. If we want to attract the candidate, we need to pursue them, as they will have other options.

Review your interview process: Most operators are currently experiencing a 50-per-cent show rate to their interviews. It’s time to move to a virtual interview or re-visit group interviews. 

Someone once said to me, you get what you tolerate. I was offended by the statement to the point of being angry, but the fact is, they were right. I needed to slow down, review my business patterns and make the necessary changes to get the results myself, my team and my guest/customer deserve. Every business has seasons, what does winter look like for your operation, and how do you best prepare to not only survive it but to take advantage of a season that many will be unprepared for? Once we’re prepared, take time to review the patterns in your operation — what works, what can you improve and what needs to change?

BY MATT ROLFE – For more support, tools, and processes to help engagement, retention and attraction email [email protected] or follow him on LinkedIn @MattRolfe.

This site uses Akismet to reduce spam. Learn how your comment data is processed.