Looking Back on the Restaurant Industry in 2019

By: Rachael Perry

6 Minute Read

Dec 30, 2019

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Well, friends. It’s been a year.

You survived 2019: a year of cultural, economic, political, and technological change for restaurants and the heroes who run them. You've hustled, adapted, pushed forward, made time for a laugh, and created memorable experiences for a ton of people. A lot has happened in the past year. Here's where we're ending 2019.

Restaurant profits are holding strong in a slowing economy.

This past November, sales from food service businesses grew 5.1% compared to the same period last year. And in comparison, retail sales grew only 3.3% in November from the year-ago period, marking the third straight month that sales at restaurants and bars had faster year-over-year growth than retail. Margins in our industry might be tight, but they’re steadily improving.

Still, restaurateurs faced an uphill battle in staying profitable. This year, 21 states and Washington, D.C. saw increases in the minimum wage. Restaurants responded with increased menu prices, service charges, and slashed hours and closures, but we still saw shutterings, widespread job loss, and customer complaints about rising menu prices. And it's not just customers who have expectations for how a restaurant manages its money — it's staff, too.

But hiring, training, and retaining staff is still the big challenge.

Last month, restaurant businesses added 25,300 workers for a seasonally adjusted total of 12.3 million, up 2.6% from a year ago, according to the U.S. Bureau of Labor Statistics. An increase in jobs is great, but the thing is, there aren’t enough restaurant workers to fill them. For example, for every student in the George Brown College's culinary arts program, there are six paid field placements available.

Restaurateurs are experimenting in every way possible to find the right employment model and service model to balance happy staff with happy books.

That means constantly evolving the way we serve our teams and ourselves.

The restaurant industry still has a notoriously high annual employee turnover rate. Last year, it reached a five-year high, eclipsing 75%. So owners, operators, and managers are looking for new ways to get their employees to stick around.

Despite the monumental strides made by the #MeToo movement to create safer, more supportive workplaces for all, women make up a large portion of those leaving restaurants in search of opportunities that offer reliable wages, skills training, safer environments, and career advancement.

Erin Wade, owner of a mac and cheese restaurant in Oakland, CA, wanted to create a safe, enjoyable place to work for people from all walks of life. That meant dealing with harassment head-on.

Danny Meyer, founder and CEO of Union Square Hospitality Group, looks for a high “hospitality quotient” in any restaurant staff he hires, above technical skills or experience.

And Irene Li, owner and operator of Mei Mei Street Kitchen, in Boston, MA, offers innovative benefits and training programs to make restaurant work a viable option for anyone who loves food.

Restaurateurs are taking lessons from other industries and evolving their workplace environments to be inclusive, supportive, and rewarding places to work.

And the way we adapt our operations.

Off-premise orders now officially account for the majority of sales generated in restaurants, with the overall percentage of off-premise orders expected to expand in 2020. Restaurateurs are learning how to adapt and extend hospitality into the homes of their guests while still somehow making a profit through third-party delivery platforms.

More restaurateurs are raising capital through friends and family, investors, and providers like Toast, looking for restaurant financing loans for a new business or to expand an existing one.

And even though profits remain strong, margins are still tight, so restaurateurs are continuing to refine their ability to calculate their business's performance metrics and explore new technology to help solve challenges.

And best of all, we did it all together.

Whether you joined us for the first time in 2019 or you've been with us since the beginning, we want to thank you for supporting our work.

It’s our privilege to bring you stories of the people who keep this industry alive.

That’s why we spent four days running the halls of the National Restaurant Show in May to bring you the latest updates from the forefront of the industry as they were announced.

It’s why we launched a new publication, On the Line, to create more spaces for industry voices and more restaurant education.

It’s why we continue to invest in formats like our podcast, the Garnish, so you can hear directly from people like you.

It's why we create free tools, templates, calculators, and guides to help you manage your days.

We do this work because you tell us it makes a difference.

“I read the Toast blog because I feel like it's more about training development than industry trends. I know this is how the world works. It starts on the coast and bleeds into us, but by the time it gets to us, it's half a decade later. So I really stay away from traditional restaurant news and trends."

Josh Miller

VP of Culinary, Bluestem Communities

“We love Toast’s content because it gives us insights into the goings-on in the industry, best practices, and up-to-date, timely information. This allows us to have one reliable source for relevant and useful information, which affects our operation directly and helps us build leaders and insightful team members throughout our brands.”

Ryan Egozi

Director of Operations, Suviche Hospitality Group

“I'm so grateful to have access to Toast content because wow. They've done the research and are looking into things I may not have ever thought of myself."

Bill Stevenson

Kitchen Supervisor, Cherry Republic

We pay close attention to the content that helps you most. Here are the articles you loved in 2019.

Your Favorite Articles From This Year

You’re mastering operations.

You’re marketing your restaurants.

You’re training your teams.

You’re starting something new.

You’re learning how to lead.

You’re trying new tech.

New Resources We Made in 2019 Just For You

An interactive course to teach you how to hire an amazing restaurant team

An industry report breaking down the biggest trends in restaurant success in 2019

A webinar with Fast Casual on tackling the challenges facing restaurant professionals

A tool to calculate your return on investment when purchasing restaurant technology

A refreshed tool to help you compare POS systems

A template to run your balance sheet from

A template to create a training manual for your team

An online template to manage your staff schedule

And comprehensive, complete guides on the things you want to master:

Looking back on this year, we shared a ton of new insights, learnings, original stories, and experiences. It’s been a hell of a year for the restaurant business and for Toast. We're psyched to have tackled it together.

And you know what? Next year is going to be even bigger. 

Cheers, from our team to yours 🥂

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