Our founder Kiana Estevez sat down with Kealoha Pomerantz, Derek Domino, Parker Doyle, and Frank Schuetzendorf to discuss the rollercoaster restaurants survived in 2020 and ways the industry can get back on track from 2021 and beyond.
Kealoha Pomerantz: I’m thrilled to welcome our guests for today’s conversation and panel, we selected them all very intentionally. They have very diverse backgrounds and diverse, passionate perspectives on this industry.
My first question is for Frank & Kiana, how do we get people to really start or stay working in this industry?
Frank: There’s been a big shift in the industry. With the arrival of technology companies, we’ve had a lot of people see that it’s easier it is to make money in other industries but we’ve forgotten the essential component of what the food and beverage industry is all about. It’s really about taking care of people and working with and through people to get the end product to our customers. To spend time with the customers and to connect on a really human level.
Obviously, there’s a cultural difference in what’s happening in the United States as opposed to Europe because we pay salaries [in Europe]. It doesn’t matter how the operations perform, we get a salary at the end of the month. In the United States, it’s about the minimum wage. Based on the performance and how much you produce, you can double your wages with tips.
It’s also about dealing with how we manage those employees and how we retain them. It’s a very different mindset, with a Millenial mindset. We have to engage them and allow them to express themselves. That top down corporate approach really doesn’t work today. We need to be extremely creative in how we run the operation, but also have a vested interest in our employees. Maybe there’s new business models that could develop to have employees as shareholders in the company, to really have them 100% invested in the outcome and stay for a longer period of time.
Kealoha: Kiana, how do you think we can get people to work here or stay working?
Kiana: Thanks for setting the stage, Frank. Where we’re at right now and having this conversation, I’m going to come in with a dreamer’s mindset. I am a dreamer, I’m cautiously optimistic so take that with a grain of salt with what I’m going to share.
I think this last year has forced us to step into a place of so much awareness. From a cultural appropriation standpoint and I think really grounding that in with the chefs. Because, chefs are the stars. Chefs are the people who are creating the art inside of our kitchens and restaurants. We have to, as Frank mentioned, embrace that creativity. The creativity that came out of a time of desperation. I think when we really can step away from the confines of a restaurant menu of 3 lines and bringing in cultures that are unreported, cuisines that are unreported, that’s what’s going to get people into the door. That’s what’s going to get this next generation of chefs to truly redefine what a restaurant is.
What we’ve seen is such a drive for social media within the food and beverage industry because it’s freedom. Because there’s no borders in the food that you’re creating, in the audience that you’re sharing your story with. Embracing that storytelling component inside of the kitchen addresses the toxic culture that we’ve seen for so long in this industry. How do we bring the diversity of stories and the food creators into this space?
Kealoha: Yeah, that’s a great point. We’re seeing so much ‘more diversification’ of foods available but there’s an endless number of regional cuisines and small niche dishes that so few people get to discover. I think that’s an excellent point. As much as we all probably roll our eyes at this trend report that gets put out every year, they are getting away from tacos being the newest thing to crickets. Things that were historically not known of.
Parker, Derek, do you want to add anything?
Parker: It all comes back to the employee. The employee is the most integral part to the consumer journey, and creating brand loyalty comes back to small touchpoints that an employee adds to that consumer experience. With the introduction of technology, technology is here but it needs to be used to enhance the consumer experience alongside the experience of the employee.
Kealoha: How does the business model of restaurants need to change moving forward? How can we reimagine the traditional restaurant business model which is make very little money, work extremely hard, live between four walls?
Parker: The business model isn’t just a post-pandemic issue, the business model of restaurants has been questioned for decades. Pre-pandemic, we saw restaurants in California that were adding surcharges to cover the rising minimum wage and healthcare costs. Some restaurants had success, but often the ones that did have success were hiding the costs at the bottom of the menu. They weren’t transparent about the costs.
When it comes to overall business strategy, every restaurant and brand is so different. There’s no solution that is one size fits all. It’s extremely important to develop a business model that is directly connected to your brand strategy. What I mean by that is your brand is at the center of everything that you do. Profit sharing, higher wages, tip or non tip, these all have implications about the brand that you’re developing and trying to sell. It’s all interconnected. A brand is the sum of multiple touchpoints, all of which matter.
A strong brand needs to stand for something. An employee wants to work for a brand that stands for something, something they believe in, something they want to come to work and really fight for. That brand needs to have a distinct voice that speaks through the menu, the store design, and communications. You can’t have success anymore if you’re not an authentic brand because consumers can sniff that out extremely quickly and easily. Authenticity and speaking from the heart and really proving it is at the core of a business strategy.
Derek: One of the things that has become a cliche in the tech world is that covid didn’t change consumer trends – it accelerated consumer trends by about 10 years. When you looked at the adoption of digital ordering, where it was going, and the quantum leap we’ve taken you see it’s where we would have been 10 years from now.
Of course it might dip back down because of indoor dining coming back, but for the most part, it’s going to stay pretty high. A good mix of all ordering in restaurants is going to be coming from off premises. Covid really laid bare that you can’t just have one revenue stream. You need multiple revenue streams, multiple channels. You need to have a kitchen that can handle orders from all different sources, different order types. Different kinds of clientele. If the guest wants something, they want convenience, you have to give them convenience. If they want high touch from your brand, you have to give them high touch. That’s one thing restaurants are figuring out, how do you have different kinds of service models, different types of guest experiences out of a single restaurant?
A lot of restaurants went out of business but that created a lot of green field for new entrepreneurs to come in with new concepts in this new digital age. I’m excited to see where it’s going to go.