Take this November quote from Wendy’s CEO Todd Penegor:
“We're seeing almost 10 years of economic recovery, we're seeing lowest unemployment levels in a long time, high consumer confidence and median households finally at record levels,” Penegor said. “But as you look at that income growth, it's skewed significantly to the higher-income households. You do have a workforce participation remaining well below pre-recession levels. And real wage growth is still not accelerating to the extent that we had all hope for.”
“And on the low end, you start looking at folks with rent and healthcare costs starting to rise that are really eating into some of the headway that they're making. And remember in [quick service], we got about 40 percent of our customer base that makes $45,000 or less. So that's why it is so important for all of us in the [quick-service] space to have a really solid high-low calendar to bring folks in, and allow them to mix across the calendar depending on the time of the month.”
Two other big topics for 2019 are labor, as always, and what happens with all tax-return funds. On the labor note, this shrinking pool has led quick-service brands nationwide to bolster incentives as they compete for talent. Retaining that talent is another battle. TDn2K’s People Report showed that the number of jobs in chain restaurants grew 1.7 percent after a year-over-year growth of 2.1 percent during the previous month. According to its Workforce Index, 58 percent of restaurant companies plan to add hourly workers during the fourth quarter, while 51 percent said they plan to add management staff. About 70 percent of companies reported an increase in their staffing difficulties for both restaurant hourly employees and managers.
Wells Fargo & Co., per Bloomberg, said tax cuts should start affecting customers, especially lower-income shoppers, in 2019. This is, in theory, great news for quick service. There already have been improvements seen in investments by companies, such as pouring savings into labor initiatives, like Starbucks did earlier in the year. Now, however, increased spending could help those chains that are winning with value.
As you can see, there is no shortage of issues shaping the landscape of the restaurant industry. All of these changes, and plenty more, dictated how chains operated and evolved this past year. Let’s take a look at one in particular that reshaped its business in 2018, and is poised to continue leading with innovation.