Seriously. What is happening in foodservice?

To start with, food prices are skyrocketing. Year over year Consumer Price Index increases havent been this high since 1981, leading quick-service restaurant menu prices to increase by more than 7 percent.  Supply chain shortages and delays are impacting 93 percent of U.S. quick service restaurants. Meanwhile, pandemic-era closures have created a void for brands to fill as demand returns, driving franchising and acquisitions. But labor shortages, supply issues and rising interest rates constrain growth. 

But heres the good news: the solution is already sitting at every single location.

The secret to riding out this storm is simple: your people. 

Think about it: when faced with rising costs, supply shortages, and unpredictable revenue growth, the only variable you can control is the operational effectiveness of your people. But the question is … how? 

How can you empower the staff you do have to meet heightened guest expectations amid turmoil? How can you enable them to deliver the right messaging around menu price increases and supply chain shortages? How can you support them in task execution, decreasing food waste, and so much more? 

The secret to using your people to ride out this storm is discretionary effort

What is discretionary effort? 

Discretionary effort refers to the level of effort a foodservice worker is able to give to their role that goes beyond the bare minimum thats required of them. Its about inspiring staff to take action because they want to, not because they feel they have to. 

When you unlock discretionary effort among staff, you unlock an incredible energy across your workforce where people go above and beyond to delight guests, improve processes, and drive operational efficiency and profitability. 

When it comes to tapping into the magic of discretionary effort at scale, organizations can lean on research into what foodservice workers desperately want and need to thrive in their role. 

While compensation will always play a critical role in employee engagement and retention, according to The Deskless Report: Foodservice Edition, restaurant workers are motivated by other drivers. Tapping into these critical findings can help foodservice organizations invest in their staff—and, in turn, see the discretionary effort flow. 

Here are a few data-backed ways to whether the storm by driving discretionary effort in foodservice staff: 

Prioritize unburdening” your workforce

Mental wellness is a concern in every industry, but the pandemic has left the foodservice industry particularly vulnerable. Ever-changing protocols, long hours, staffing issues, and greater responsibilities have left restaurant workers burned out

In fact, The Deskless Report found that 38 percent of foodservice workers currently want to quit their job—and one of the top three reasons was understaffing and burnout. And when asked what makes them feel engaged and motivated at work, over half of foodservice respondents said employee benefits/programs, like a wellness program—it was the top motivator, ranking higher than even compensation. 

The message here is clear: to deliver the performance organizations need, workers need to first address their burnout and mental/physical wellness. 

Deliver a sense of purpose

A critical part of driving discretionary effort is channeling your inner Simon Sinek and delivering the why.” This, unfortunately is often overlooked—frontline workers are often told what to do and how often to do it without connecting those tasks back to their overarching role in the company as a whole—and the core brand mission the company is trying to achieve. 

Forty-seven percent of foodservice workers polled said that a sense of purpose or meaning at work makes them feel engaged and motivated, indicating a clear connection between brand mission and employee performance. And when it comes to this information, you cant over-share. While 81 percent of workers said they have a clear sense of their companys vision, 64 percent of respondents still said they want to know more.

Connect staff (and drive brand loyalty) through employee community

As compensation becomes more level-set and the tidal wave of hiring bonuses starts to ebb, the importance of fostering an employee community becomes critical to foodservice organizations looking to keep staff engaged, loyal, and productive. And while frontline workforces often number in the thousands (or higher), often employees only feel a sense of community with their specific location. 

While 78 percent of foodservice workers polled feel connected to the staff at their location, 58 percent of workers would like a stronger community with the employees outside their location. 

Creating an inclusive, welcoming environment in the workplace is becoming a prioritization for many brands. DE&I in foodservice organizations has been a major talktrack this year with many organizations acknowledging the connection between an inclusive community and more memorable guest experiences

Prioritize effective two-way communication 

Clear two-way communication is a crucial component of driving discretionary effort. After all, you cant expect staff to go above and beyond if they dont know whats going on. Unfortunately, research shows a disconnect between what foodservice leaders think theyre sending out, and what workers are receiving. 

While 94 percent of leaders feel theyre sending out meaningful, quality communications, 54 percent of foodservice workers said the communications they receive are somewhat to not-at-all useful. And while 48 percent of foodservice leaders say information is shared daily, only 17 percent of workers agree. The same disconnect goes for feedback: while 85 percent of foodservice leaders say their company has channels in place for collecting feedback, only 25 percent of workers say their organization asks them for feedback often. 

Its no wonder, then, that of the leaders polled 76 percent noted they plan to invest more budget into overall employee experience next year—to truly weather this storm, these gaps need to be addressed, quickly. 

While foodservice organizations are up against a number of challenges, theres also an exciting opportunity at hand. Taking a moment to explore how to better support and enable foodservice staff has the potential to drive unprecedented business outcomes. 

Jordan Ekers is co-founder and COO of Nudge, the top-rated frontline enablement solution that empowers workers with the knowledge, tools and resources they need to execute consistently and confidently every day. Hes worked with many of North Americas leading foodservice and hospitality brands to design transformative approaches for executing the brand promise and empowering frontline teams. Jordan is a Forbes Council Member and has been a speaker and conference chair at major industry events, such as NRAs Future Restaurants series, as well as a guest on BNN Bloomberg.

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