Australian Bureau of Statistics data shows about 33% of hospitality businesses were advertising for extra staff in February 2022, compared with 15% in February 2020. In this state of flux, it’s important to keep your customers and staff happy and supported.
Investing in organisation, the latest tech and team support will have a flow-on effect. It can improve everything from customer experience and loyalty to staff retention and your bottom line.
Future Food is a hospitality consulting business that partners with business owners to help them get the most out of their offering. We spoke to Ashley Cooke, senior food and hospitality consultant at the company, to get his insights on the state of play for the industry. Here, he shares six tips for how small businesses can prepare for most challenges.
1. Look after your employees so they stick around
“Staff are seeking job satisfaction and an employer who cares about them,” Ashley tells us.
Supporting your employees’ growth improves staff retention and also has positive flow-on effects throughout your business – ensuring high standards, great customer service and a stress-free environment.
Ashley shares that there are many ways to keep your employees happy.
- Consider what perks you can offer, such as staff meals, knockoff drinks, free parking and family-and-friends discounts.
- Offer training, development, upskilling and hands-on learning. You could also give your employees the opportunity to work with your growers, your suppliers and your producers. This provides great insight and value into the work they do – and offers better product knowledge for your customers. Edapp and Typsy are great ways to get your employees engaged with online staff training modules.
- Cross-skill your staff to keep things flowing smoothly during staff shortages. Ashley tells us that cross-skilling allows for float staff who can be used in different areas of the business. “A multi-skilled workforce is a great asset for workforce planning and labour management,” he says. It also helps create a calmer workplace, which reduces staff burn-out. Be mindful when you’re training your staff that pay is often scaled differently when it comes to more specialised skills like counting the till at the end of the day.
- “Openly discuss what work practices are causing stress and seek to reduce the impact of these,” Ashley says. Hospitality can be quite a high-pressure environment and it’s important you support your employees’ mental health. It’s a practice that will lead to a positive workplace, more long-term staff and a better experience for your customers.
Hospitality businesses rely on the passion and dedication of their staff. The better prepared they are to fulfill their roles, the more job satisfaction they feel. This energy translates to your customers and encourages them to become repeat spenders.
"Everyone's aware of the staffing issues in the industry, but demonstrating genuine care and mentorship in your staff will make you part of the solution, not part of the problem."Ashley Cooke, senior food and hospitality consultant, Future Food
2. Streamline your processes with the new generation of hospitality software
“There’s so much happening in technology at the moment in every industry, especially in hospitality,” Ashley tells us. Here are a few of his favourites to meet almost every need of your business.
This software offers data-based insights into previous scheduling needs, workforce planning and seasonal demand. It’s especially helpful when planning staff requirements and shift lengths. Deputy, WhenIWork, Microkeeper, Emplive and TandA are also great tools to support scheduling staff.
Cooking The Books is software that includes recipe cards and costing tools to help you maintain consistency in the kitchen. Storing your recipes and training information in cloud-based software is also a cost-effective way to store valuable knowledge.
Supp app helps with short-term staffing needs. “It works similar to Airtasker, where you have an online profile for employees to assess their suitability for the work,” Ashley says.
Hungry Hungry, Mr Yum and me&u are great apps that let customers order and pay at the table by scanning a QR code. This can ease pressure on staff and give your customers more control of their experience. However, Ashley suggests you consider how you’ll maintain a level of human connection that customers are looking for. If you’re looking to streamline your point-of-sale systems, Tyro EFTPOS from Telstra Business Services offers simplicity for your staff and new ways to pay for your customers. It’s also worth considering how you can integrate third-party delivery apps and online booking systems to meet customer expectations.
3. Embrace flexible pricing
“Prices are increasing across the whole supply chain,” Ashley tells us. “It’s inevitable and it must be accounted for.” He suggests that one way to account for fluctuating prices is by embracing a flexible pricing model.
“Hospitality operators have been too reluctant to increase their costs. Large organisations add surcharges to weekends, public holidays and credit card purchases,” he says. “Businesses should consider being more responsive and adjusting their prices daily or weekly, rather than leaving customers disgruntled by surcharges.”
Moving your menu online, rather than using printed menus, can give you more freedom to adjust your prices when needed. It can also give you greater control over supply and demand by encouraging customers to visit in off-peak times – like on a weekday, rather than Saturday morning.
4. Invest in your social media to make it stand out
Social media is a powerful tool to connect with your customers and tap into new markets. Curating your online presence can seem overwhelming, but Ashley has four tips for social media success:
- Regularly post.
- Ensure your images and captions are professional.
- Make the content relevant to your audience.
- Lean into your unique brand and voice. It will help you stand out from your competitors.
“Social media is key and it has been for a long time,” says Ashley. “You need to make sure your messages don’t get lost and that they stand out.” He tells us that customers are always asking “What’s in it for me?”. So consider how you can reward them for engaging with you online, like an extra stamp on their loyalty card for following you on Instagram.
Some business owners have a knack for social media – or have a staff member who can do it for them. But it’s not everyone’s forte. Ashley suggests that engaging a social media professional can be a valuable investment in your restaurant marketing plan, if you can afford it.
5. Be the consistent face of your business to keep your regulars loyal
Developing customer loyalty and maintaining great service starts with the relationship you develop with your regulars. “Be a hands-on manager or owner. Don’t let your staff be the only ones who are customer-facing,” Ashley says. “Put on an apron and be among them during their challenging times.”
Frequently interacting with your customers means they see a familiar face through any staff changes. A hands-on approach can also help to mitigate employee turnover. Showing that you’re actively invested in staff training can help your people stay happy in their role, in turn allowing you to provide the best customer experience possible.
Ashley says transparent communication is key to connecting with your customers. “Clear communication is crucial to building customer empathy,” he says. “It’s about setting expectations early.” He suggests keeping customers in the loop through social media and in-store notices about any upcoming issues that might affect them, such as staff shortages or updated trading hours.
"Nurture and inspire the next generation of hospitality leaders through mentorship and guidance."Ashley Cooke, senior food and hospitality consultant, Future Food
6. Adapt to changing customer behaviours
Since the start of the COVID-19 pandemic, the way customers approach dining out has changed dramatically. Australian Bureau of Statistics data shows that Australians are dining out more in 2022 (36%) than they were pre-pandemic (35%). Customers prefer to shop locally, are spending less and going out more, are seeking more value for money and want full experiences – not just a meal. Rather than pushing against these changing behaviours, Ashley suggests embracing them.
Capitalise on those who are looking to buy local and dine out more by rewarding repeat visitation through things like customer loyalty programs.
It’s also worth considering your customers’ spending habits. “Look at how your menu can meet different customer expectations,” Ashley says. “Do you have low-entry price points as well as higher, more aspirational options to capture a wide market appeal?”
You might also like to elevate your customers’ experience to give your business a competitive edge. For instance, some cafes offer sparkling water with dine-in coffees and some restaurants provide warm towels as part of the service. You don’t need to overhaul your business, but a few tweaks to your offering can make a world of difference.
As Ashley’s tips show, preparing your hospitality business to meet any challenge is all about clever planning. Investing in your staff, adopting the right tech and engaging with your customers are your keys to success.