We are so close to the turning point, so close that we can almost taste it.  If we can just get past the vaccine hesitancy then the country, and the restaurant industry might be able to see the light at the end of the tunnel.  Well, this is what we hope.  As states wrestle with decisions to open everything back up and whether the timing is right or premature – the real demon remains those who deny their role in turning things around whether it is preventative measures or standing in line for their vaccination.  No one is certain whether or not that last 25 or 30% of the population will do what needs to be done.  If they continue to refuse then a fresh start is unlikely.  

The other elephant in the room however is how will the restaurant industry approach business if we reach herd immunity through vaccination?  With all of the pain and suffering that independent restaurants and their employees have gone through it appears that many are simply hoping to return to where they were pre-pandemic.  This difficult time in our history has revealed significant flaws in how restaurants operate – flaws that will not only remain if we seek to return to “normal” – they will be even more pronounced.  This time away from the way we operated for decades has given employees and customers a chance to re-evaluate.  What they discovered is that these flaws are too significant to ignore any longer.  This is why restaurants across the country -all restaurants – are finding it very difficult to pull employees back to their old positions.  This quest for normal will not work anymore – we cannot ignore the flaws and expect that everyone will simply stet back in line as if nothing ever happened.

Trust has eroded and without trust restaurants will have a very difficult time regaining the ground that they lost.  It is time for wholesale change – the kind of change that people know is needed, but the pain that will accompany it seems too severe to welcome.  Our employees need to trust that the restaurant will have their back moving forward, they need to trust that as the restaurant succeeds – so will they.  Our customers need to trust that the restaurant they patronize will be safe and that the operation will take all of the necessary steps to ensure their health and wellbeing.  Until this is the standard of operation – the restaurant business will suffer.

Right now it is important that “a return to normal” be replaced with “a fresh start built on trust”.  This is the chance that is offered to restaurants as we ease out of shutdown and re-open businesses.  Each restaurant should approach this time as an opportunity to start over, and do it right this time.

“The entrepreneurial life is one of challenge, hard work, dedication, perseverance, exhilaration, agony, accomplishment, failure, sacrifice, control, and powerlessness – but ultimately, extraordinary satisfaction.”

-David S. Rose (angel investor)

This is the time to set the stage for ultimate extraordinary satisfaction.  A time when employees are treated appropriately, paid fairly, provided with reasonable benefits, secure in their positions when they perform as they should, listened to and engaged, and treated with respect.  This is a time when customers are listened to and restaurants acknowledge that service, convenience, consistency, experiences, and value equate to the formula for success regardless of the type of restaurant, product, or price range.  This is a time to start fresh.

We remain addicted to normal, but with the right treatment and support – any addiction can be broken, or at least held at bay.  Restaurants must replace ordinary with extraordinary; average with superior; normal with fresh; and common with unique.  

There will be many who ignore the signs and hang on to normal as long as they can, but a few that will heed the call and embrace the opportunity that change can provide.  It will mean that restaurants address location, the need for brick and mortar businesses, the type of service provided in the dining room, menu concepts and menu variety, efficiency, pricing and cost controls, training and skill level, the number of employees needed and how a smaller number can be expected to accomplish more but be paid accordingly, and it will mean that the old “normal” when it comes to work/life balance for restaurant employees be seriously addressed.  Those few that “get it” will win.

“Bad things do happen in the world – like war, natural disasters, and disease.  Out of those situations always arise stories of ordinary people doing extraordinary things.”

-Daryn Kagan (broadcast journalist)

Let’s not lose sight of the opportunity.   Let’s look past the absolute need to bring restaurants back to operating capacity and let’s work to set the stage for a better restaurant industry – one that employees relish the chance to be a part of and customers stand in line to support with trust and confidence.  This is not a time to despair or a time to rely on decision by reaction – this is a time to act.  The ball is in our court.


Harvest America Ventures, LLC

Restaurant Consulting

www.harvestamericacues.com. BLOG

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