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.