The food industry is suffering from a widespread labor shortage. As of July 2021, unemployment rates for eating and drinking establishments were at 8.4% and at 6.4% for the retail industry; both were higher than the overall U.S. rate of 5.4%, according to the Bureau of Labor Statistics.
These unemployment rates indicate that food industry workers are stretched incredibly thin. In fact, a recent survey conducted by my company found that 63% of our restaurant and retail customers are struggling with recruiting.
A recent Business Insider story explored the restaurant staffing crunch more deeply and identified the following ramifications:
- 75% of restaurant operators said that finding staff was their biggest challenge;
- 78% said they didn’t have enough workers to handle business;
- More than half of all fast food restaurants surveyed said they decided to shut parts of their dining rooms due to staffing challenges
Retailers are not faring any better. In recent months, Walmart, Target, and CVS Health have all announced initiatives to help retain current employees and attract new ones. The Wall Street Journal reports that a majority of Walmart’s U.S. warehouse locations are offering weekly bonuses or pay raises to employees as they compete in a tight labor market and ramp up for the upcoming holiday season.
At Target, both part-time and full-time employees are getting a new perk: a debt-free college education. CEO Brian Cornell told CNBC’s “Closing Bell,” that “We think it can make a big difference for our teams and just make sure Target is a preferred place to work.”
And, c-store behemoth CVS Health boosted hourly pay in August 2021 and dropped their former requirement that entry-level job candidates have a high-school diploma or GED, all in the quest to recruit and retain hourly workers.
Smaller Teams & Larger Focus on Safety
Since the pandemic began, the food industry has focused on creating greater transparency into how food is stored, handled, cooked and delivered to the end customer. This push is partially due to heightened consumer awareness of the importance of food safety.
It’s worth taking a minute here to examine the constraints that are holding back restaurants and retailers from implementing effective food safety protocols. These include:
- Legacy processes for managing multi-store operations that are still dominated by pen and paper;
- Lack of comprehensive, real-time data on multi-store operations;
- Little transparency and oversight, leading to higher rates of pencil whipping;
- Time consuming processes to track and gather data from paper logs of each location, which become more problematic with short-staffed teams
The situation at hand includes time-pressed frontline food and retail workers under increased pressure to adhere to complex safety guidelines. At the same time, the restaurant and retail operators who rely on employees need help in ensuring compliance with these expectations.
Deploying Food Safety Technology
Across the food industry, organizations are turning to digital technology as a way to achieve greater food safety transparency and to empower leaner teams. Specifically, digital automation helps short-staffed teams to achieve the following:
- Reduce the amount of time spent on tasks otherwise done manually;
- Minimize the chance of errors;
- Ensure compliance and adherence to safety measures;
- Record each inspection (images & temperature logging);
- Increase customer satisfaction and improve overall efficiency;
Workflow automation also reinforces the perception among front-line workers that management is enforcing safety protocols to keep them safe and help individuals achieve top performance, which, in turn, helps boost employee morale.
A comprehensive food safety platform should include digital food safety, shift management, and equipment maintenance solutions. It will fully replace paper logs, then automate complex and repetitive tasks so employees can spend more time where it counts—serving customers.
The platform’s food safety components should include digitized food safety checklists that provide a real-time look into compliance at every location. It should also provide automated temperature logging for efficiency and accuracy as well as customized real-time alerts and corrective action triggers.
Since a huge part of food safety is in the hands of employees, the platform also needs a core shift management component that provides digital checklists for the entire operation. It needs to track tasks from pre-shift checklists, to shift notes, and even to COVID-19 safety checks. It should have the capacity to deliver instant updates to mobile devices and the operator’s dashboard. And, finally, it should be customizable to each organization’s individual needs.
Food safety technology helps restaurants and retailers compete and thrive. It also strengthens customer relationships while generating valuable data that operators can use to refine offerings and make smart business decisions.
As food compliance becomes more complex, workflow automation helps to reduce the amount of time staff spends on formerly manual tasks;It also reduces errors. But most importantly, it increases customer satisfaction by improving overall efficiency.
About the Author
Brendan Bencharit is co-founder and chief customer officer at Squadle, Inc., a workflow automation company that enables multi-unit operators to simplify complex operations and streamline food safety.