BREVARD COUNTY, Fla. – The restaurant world isn’t easy in the best of times, but the past two years have tested even established businesses.
“Obviously, the labor shortage has been the thing that has affected my peers as much as anything,” said Drew McLeod, owner of Savour in Tallahassee, and a chapter president and state board member for the Florida Restaurant & Lodging Association.
Add COVID-19 closures, supply chain issues, rising labor costs and increasing customer expectations into the mix, and restaurant owners can feel like they’re swimming alone in gator-infested water.
But help is available. McLeod will be part of a panel of business and legal experts sharing advice and expertise during a free webinar from 1-2:30 p.m. Jan. 13, according to News 6 partner Florida Today.
Sponsored by weVENTURE Women’s Business Center at the Florida Tech Bisk College of Business, the Restaurant Recovery Webinar will give restaurant owners the opportunity to ask questions and seek advice from peers who are experiencing similar problems.
Joining McLeod, who also is a senior consultant in the hospitality industry; will be attorney Kelly Swartz of Widerman Malek, PL, in Melbourne; and Kathy Knowles, human resources advisor, Intuitive Strategies in Melbourne.
McLeod draws from more than four decades in the restaurant industry when he offers guidance to other restaurateurs.
“The biggest thing that I have found that has been effective to me has been to find ways to really take care of your staff,” McLeod said.
Guests can’t have a great experience in a restaurant without a great team, he said.
When it comes to hiring new employees, McLeod said going with the most experienced person may not be the best move.
“Sometimes we look for a perfect employee,” he said. “They don’t exist. Look for character you want, regardless of experience, and take the time to train.”
When it comes to coping with staffing and supply shortages, McLeod said restaurateurs need to be honest with themselves and about how much they can realistically handle.
Savour only is open Tuesday through Saturday for dinner. Could he make more money by opening a sixth night or for lunch? Possibly, but that would mean essentially hiring a second staff to handle the additional hours, or expecting his current staff to work overtime.
Even at five nights a week, if McLeod doesn’t have adequate staff, he accepts fewer reservations to make sure guests get the experience they’re expecting.
“I control how many we serve,” he said. “We will sacrifice revenue to ensure quality of service.”
As for harsh criticism from keyboard warriors, that can be difficult, he said. “We want to defend ourselves, and we want to defend our team. But social media has changed so much, we have to be careful about what we say and how we say it.”
The best defense is to build a brand with an expectation for a standard of excellence that can withstand a couple of unflattering online reviews.
“But also, we have to be willing to apologize and own up to our mistakes,” he said. Use guest feedback to make adjustments if needed.
“If you’ve got thin skin and you’re in the restaurant business, you probably should consider another line of business,” he said.
McLeod sees the industry changing. More fast-casual restaurants will open in the coming year, places that require less staff to operate.
But those who have chosen restaurants as a lifetime career are in it for love, he said.
He enjoys seeing smiles on guests’ faces, and he likes watching employees grow and develop. Even if they don’t stay in restaurants, they learn things while working in kitchens and dining rooms that can take them further in life.
“There’s a lot to be said for the industry and how it develops character, life lessons that make you a better team member, no matter where you decide to work.”
No, restaurants aren’t an easy business, he said.
“It’s a challenge every single day,” he said. “But we love to make people feel special, and we go the extra mile to do that.”
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How to register for the Restaurant Recovery Webinar
Restaurateurs who want to benefit from McLeod’s expertise and that of the other panelists can register for the webinar by visiting weventure.ecenterdirect.com. Click on “training events” to find the Restaurant Recovery Webinar.
The webinar is free, though registration is required, and is open to all restaurant owners, not just women. While weVENTURE offers one-on-one coaching, executive director Kathryn Rudloff said the center also wants to foster peer group conversations.
The webinar is funded by a grant weVENTURE received to help businesses through the economic recovery process.
Funded in part through a cooperative agreement with the U.S. Small Business Administration, weVENTURE’s Women’s Business Center provides no-cost, one-on-one consultations, as well as no and low-cost business education and networking opportunities to women entrepreneurs and business owners in Brevard, Indian River and St. Lucie Counties.
Topics to be covered include the increase in the minimum wage, the growing desire for takeout and delivery, rising food costs and labor shortages.
Rudloff said she hopes restaurant owners will gain valuable information and support coming into the new year.
“For so many, it’s just one thing after another,” she said. “It’s like Wack-a-mole.”