Most of us will remember those opening lines to Charles Dickens: Tale of Two Cities:
“It was the best of times, it was the worst of times, it was the age of wisdom, it was the age of foolishness, it was the epoch of belief, it was the epoch of incredulity, it was the season of light, it was the season of darkness, it was the spring of hope, it was the winter of despair.” They are, at least in part – etched into our brains from those early days in English Composition class – lines that stand out as an umbrella statement that encompasses a point in time from yesterday or today. These words can relate to our personal, political, economic, career centric, or spiritual lives – thus the reason they are so compelling and poignant.
We can easily apply Dickens profound human summary to the state of the restaurant industry today. Without a doubt, many would paint a bleak picture of troubled times for the restaurant segment. Coming off fourteen months of partial or full shut down, limited numbers of guests allowed, mask mandates, and loads of fear associated with the virus – staff in restaurants dwindled down to a fraction of what was the norm in 2019, business that had crested the wave of participation and excitement suddenly drew down to a trickle, and even the most noteworthy operations were faced with financial crisis. Now that the pandemic was beginning to come under control and state governments were loosening the grip of protocol on restaurants – customers were beginning to re-emerge, albeit with some trepidation. At the same time, many of those restaurant employees – front and back of the house, were taking their time trying to decide if it made sense to return to an industry that was unpredictable, low paying, void of reasonable benefit plans, and now a target for customer anger and angst as servers suddenly became covid policemen. Yep, it certainly seems like the worst of times even in the face of business optimism.
While the media was filled with stories of despondent employees, angry restaurateurs, and, in particular – cooks who were riding the tide of victimization – there exists a tremendous light of encouraging news. I am going to make a bold statement and profess that there has never been a better time to be an open-minded chef, cook, server, or restaurateur. That’s right, you heard me correctly – this may be one of the best times to take the leap into restaurant work and stake your claim to a career. Why would I say such a thing when so many restaurateurs and chefs are beside themselves with trying to staff their operations, culinary schools are trimming their operations or closing their doors, and restaurants are unable to find the product they need through a distribution network crippled from pandemic uncertainty? OK, so here it is:
- A CHANCE FOR REBIRTH
“It was the age of wisdom” – oh, yes, it is. Wisdom is often only evident after a time of suffering, of losing what you had gained, of making mistakes time and again, but then to learn from those so that one can be reborn with new insight, knowledge, and confidence. The restaurant industry has been keeping its wounds under wraps for decades, but the pandemic brought everything to an abrupt stop. We could no longer hide what we knew needed to change – we had time to reflect and analyze and gain the wisdom from experience that has been avoided for too long. Now we have an opportunity to be reborn – to change what is wrong with how we operate and come out bigger and better in the end. The opportunity to be part of this has never been greater.
- A NEED FOR CREATIVITY
To take full advantage of this opportunity – chefs, restaurateurs, cooks, servers, and managers must put on their creative hats and devise new solutions, to build ideas into actions, to bring to fruition the new and exciting ways that the restaurant industry can regain all that it has lost. The door is wide open for creative problem solvers.
- AN INEVITABLE RECOVERY
“It was the epoch of belief”. Believe it – history has shown this to be true – the restaurant industry has always been one of the first industries to recover after disaster and hard times. This has occurred time and again, not just in America, but all over the world. We can depend on this opportunity as long as we are ready to adjust our methods of operation. What an exciting time to jump on board and become partner to what may very well be one of the greatest world-wide recoveries – ever!
- A POPULATION READY TO CELEBRATE
The reason that restaurants recover first is because people relish the opportunity to celebrate with others. We all have an innate need to connect, to share, to enjoy, and to put aside the bad and welcome the good. Restaurants provide the vehicle for this to happen. A place where family and friends, business partners, and even adversaries can gather, enjoy a great meal, break bread, raise a glass and laugh away life’s challenges while celebrating the hope of tomorrow. Don’t you want to be a part of this?
- A LEVELING OFF OF COMPETITION
“It was the age of foolishness”. I grieve for those operators who lost their life dream. When I see a restaurant closed for good – I know that behind that sign is a lifetime of saving, dreaming, working countless hours, sweating details, and struggling with paying their bills. It is heart wrenching to see dreams dashed especially when it is, to some degree, beyond their control. Yet, we should all understand that even in a system of free enterprise when anyone has the opportunity to give it a shot – you can oversaturate a market. Such has been the case with the restaurant industry. I have no doubt that eventually that oversaturation will return, but for right now we may see the right number of restaurants to service an area and a much greater chance for financial success. This is a much better environment to be in as a chef, restauranteur, cook, or server.
- AN INDUSTRY READY TO LISTEN
“It was the epoch of incredulity”. Necessity is the mother of invention (so goes the English proverb that had its origin in the teachings of Plato). Those changes that needed to happen – you know, the ones that restaurant employees have been talking about for decades, may have never caught the attention of owners and operators until those same operators were unable to staff their restaurants. Those who do the work are now in the driver’s seat and many of those harped about changes may actually come to fruition as a result. Step into the new restaurant industry where efficiency, profitability, better pay and benefits, and a willingness to respect life outside of the operation is front and center.
- AN INDUSTRY THAT HAS NO CHOICE BUT TO CHANGE
“It was the season of light; it was the season of darkness”. So, it is time to reassess, to change the model, to find ways to become more efficient and adaptable, to be positioned to face the next big challenge (and it will come at some point), to take care of staff, develop menus and systems that allow the restaurant to reach its financial goals, to do more with less and as a result take better care of the people who make every restaurant work.
- NEW MARKETS HAVE EMERGED
“It was the spring of hope, it was the winter of darkness”. Finally, it is such a great time to engage or re-engage in an industry that has seen new ways of creating product, marketing it, producing it, selling and serving it and building a brand as a result. Ghost kitchens, food trucks, curbside, home delivery, and on-line engagement will only get better. Don’t you want to be part of an industry as it finds ways to create experiences around these new business opportunities? Now is the time – “It is the best of times”.
PLAN BETTER – TRAIN HARDER
Harvest America Ventures, LLC
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