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What's worrying independents in 2018?

Leading operators share their top concerns—and how they are coping.
Photograph: Shutterstock

Wages and workforce are very prevalent worries for independent operators, with food costs also a major concern. Here’s how some are coping: 


“Minimum wage continues to be a challenge in our industry; identifying how we can improve efficiencies while reviewing menu price to help offset.” —BOA Steakhouse

“Wages are a growing concern, as we are poised for a $1 increase in the minimum wage. This increase will have more financial implications due to it being double what we paid last year. We are fortunate to have guest volume and a good business model, but eventually more proactive measures will need to be employed to offset. The easiest way [to cope] is to develop more revenue centers on the property. With the advent of our own BBQ restaurant concept, this has enlightened us to the potential for increased revenue. Additionally, a proposed RV park is being considered, which will fill the void we have recognized for years. This should tap into a niche market that may evolve into something very successful. Menu prices are the last resort due to price aversion, which is a fine line that we need to be cognizant of. We also need to be the best we can be in impressing our guests and for them to feel their dollars were well spent on a quality meal and receiving exceptional service.” —Harris Ranch Inn

“Minimum wages continue to rise, putting pressure on costs and forcing price increases, impacting guest counts at our lower-priced dayparts. … We are not reducing our guest service quality or staffing levels. This is what sets us apart in an industry trending toward technological replacement of the workforce. Instead, we are carefully examining what our guests are telling us by analyzing our product mix sales and refining our menu selections, ensuring that our offerings reflect what the guests want. This allows us to offset the negative impact that price increases due to rising wages have on our price-conscious guest counts, and instead diversify our price points, allowing guests more opportunity to buy up or buy down based on their preferences, thus keeping our menu attractive to a wide guest base.” —Portland City Grill

“We keep a very close eye on labor costs. Minimum wage is on the rise in the city of Chicago, so we have to monitor this closely.” —Tavern on Rush

Workforce quality

“In a city like Nashville experiencing such rapid growth, the number of service jobs often exceeds the number of workers to fill them. We retain our quality workforce by offering benefits like 401k and healthcare, which is unique for the restaurant industry.” —The Southern Steak & Oyster

“We implemented an intricate interviewing process. We always have several BOH and FOH managers/executives interviewing to ensure we are recruiting the most suitable candidates for each position. We also have implemented a 30/60/90 touch-base plan with each new team member to provide feedback and guidance.” —Swift & Sons

“Internal development; utilizing action plans with teammates.” —Bob Chinn’s Crab House

“Never stop hiring; ongoing training.” —Timberline Steaks & Grille

Food costs

“Constant monitoring, vendor evaluation and menu engineering.” —‘21’ Club

“Negotiating pricing in advance of seasonal commodity price swings.” —Abe & Louie’s

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