Despite Challenges, Independent Operators are Making Changes for the Better
by David Klemt
Independent Restaurant Coalition survey results show our industry is still struggling but some operators are making positive changes.
The hospitality industry absolutely needs and deserves help. The Restaurant Revitalization Fund absolutely needs replenishing.
However, hospitality continues to prove its resiliency, adaptability, and innovation.
It must be said, though, that it’s exhausting for owners, operators, and workers to have to constantly be resilient. Sometimes, the industry needs help. It’s past time for help to come.
But, I digress. Back to the IRC and their recently released survey results.
The IRC surveyed close to 1,200 respondents who are part of the restaurant and bar community. Survey participants represented all 50 states in the US.
Some respondents received RRF grants, some did not. Of course, receiving a grant wasn’t a silver bullet for surviving the pandemic.
However, the grants certainly helped:
- Nineteen percent of grant recipients took out personal loans since February 2020. In comparison, that number more than doubles to 41 percent for those who didn’t receive grants.
- Since the beginning of the pandemic, five percent of grant recipients took on additional investors. Again, that number more than doubles for operators who received no RRF grants. Eleven percent took on more investors to survive.
- Due to the omicron variant of Covid-19, grant recipients had to reduce staff by 21 percent on average. Their counterparts had to decrease staff, on average, by 30 percent.
- When it comes to selling off a personal asset to help their business survive the pandemic, ten percent of grant recipients did so. For those who didn’t receive an RRF grant, that number increases more than two-and-a-half times to 26 percent.
The challenges—an inadequate word, truly—have led to industry-wide changes. Per the IRC’s survey:
- Hiring challenges have impacted 91 percent of independent restaurants and bars.
- Menu prices were hiked up by 89 percent of independent businesses.
- Nearly half—42 percent—reported to the IRC that they had pivoted to alternate business models after ceasing indoor and outdoor service.
- Six percent of independent restaurants and bars pivoted to offering outdoor dining only.
Progress Being Made
Operators have been facing hiring challenges for several months now. In response, some operators offer various incentives.
As examples: meals for honoring scheduled interviews; cash for showing up to interviews; large cash bonuses for remaining in position for 90 or more days.
However, none of the above really address longstanding, widespread issues hospitality workers have given as reasons for quitting jobs (and the industry entirely).
To name just two, livable wages and benefits. Despite the challenges operators are facing, they have made positive changes. We’re not talking a small percentage, either.
Per the IRC, independent businesses reported the following changes:
- 84 percent of restaurants increased wages.
- 37 percent of restaurants, bars and other independent hospitality businesses added paid sick leave to the benefits they provide.
- 21 percent of employers have added paid vacation to their benefits.
These changes (and others) are a promising start, showing that operators are listening to workers. Bringing traffic and revenue back to pre-pandemic levels—and beyond—is a great goal. But how will the industry get there?
One answer is for operators to listen to the hospitality professionals they rely on for their businesses to thrive. Listening, and then acting in meaningful ways.