As the holidays of 2021 come into view, our restaurant clients are realizing it will be a season like no other. From one day to the next, it’s hard to predict what shortage will be coming next: beef, chocolate, chicken, toilet paper and even turkeys have been hard to come by at various times this year. No chef wants to create an elaborate holiday menu only to discover that the star ingredient in the menu is not available. Many restaurants are having trouble coming up with holiday menu plans given the erratic food shortages. Piggyback that on top of increased minimum orders, delivery issues and labor uncertainties, and it’s been nothing short of a daily nightmare to survive in the post(ish) pandemic restaurant business.
The supply chain has so many interruptions from farming, manufacturing, distributing and operators that menus are inconsistent at best. While staff is tasked with updating pricing and recipes monthly if not weekly, it doesn’t help when guests are disappointed their favorite dishes aren’t available.
The almost daily crises have taken a toll. And they’re proof of just how much restaurants like yours rely on a fragile ecosystem of supply chains that have been unsteady at the very least. In some cases, suppliers can only fill 50-70 percent of their orders, which creates a recipe for holiday disaster.
With all of this facing you as you begin to plan a holiday menu in light of the 2021 supply chain issues, let’s talk about some strategies to navigate it.
Creating a holiday menu when facing supply chain issues
Creating a menu that is executable with the current team and the highest level of service delivery is really what you have to get down to at the end of the day. Don’t get stuck on a recipe with an ingredient that has gone up too high in price to be profitable.
Pare down the menu. Your competitors are doing it, and so can you. Focus on what you do best and what you can most consistently obtain in your supply chain, even if that means creating a new menu item or eliminating one altogether until it makes sense to bring it back.
Review sales numbers to plan your holiday menu
What did you sell a lot of last year? The year before? Start there with your holiday menu planning. Use data to forecast what has sold best and compare that against what is currently available. Plan your holiday menu well in advance (i.e.: now), and bulk order what you can to stock up, store and freeze.
For restaurants that pride themselves on fresh ingredients and local suppliers, that can be a challenge to your core strategy. But you have to adapt to the landscape before you. Stock up on the core items that are critical to serving the majority of your dishes.
Talk with your suppliers well in advance of the holidays
While it’s relatively easy to stock up on non-perishable items, meats, seafood, dairy and fruits and veggies are a different story. Talk with your suppliers and see what challenges they are experiencing and foresee for holiday deliveries. Are there known issues in the supply chain that you can plan for now? Communication on the front end is key to planning a menu that will have its ingredients available when it’s time to serve your guests.
Communicate with your guests about supply chain issues
You’re not operating in a vacuum. Many of your guests may already be aware of the great food and material shortage of 2021. They’re experiencing it at the supermarket as well. Shortages there are expected to drive up prices considerably, and experts are warning consumers to purchase holiday items like whole turkeys, canned pumpkin and cranberries now. Their advice applies to you as well.
Trust your guests enough to communicate about what’s happening and offer alternatives. Use social media to be proactive so guests don’t stop in and leave disappointed. Don’t just take things away, rather, offer something new, perhaps with a promotion or discount.
Plan a set holiday menu and reservations
Planning a seasonal holiday menu or pre-fixe menu can help you plan ahead enough to overcome food shortage obstacles. Order enough ingredients for a limited number of dishes. Be sure your recipes are written and followed consistently by kitchen staff. Overblowing ingredients or portion sizes can leave you with an unexpected shortage.
Changing recipes to make COGS work is detrimental to your net operating income. Make sure the POS system is programmed with updated pricing. You can raise prices as the market dictates, but if you do not take the time to update them properly in your POS, it can really cost you.
Another strategy is to take reservations, even if that’s not usually the way you do business. Again, this will increase your ability to order in advance and plan for a set number of dishes, thereby mitigating more of the risk.
While all of this seems like a huge hassle, both small businesses and large chains are feeling the crunch. There is no predicted end at this point, so it’s best to work now to implement some of these strategies to ensure you have maximized your chance of serving your guests the best holiday menu you can create.