Navigating back-to-school amid labor shortages

Serving cafeteria food
Photograph: Shutterstock

Labor shortages have presented an obstacle to foodservice operators of all stripes, including noncommercial operators serving schools and colleges.

For operators serving in K-12 and C&U spaces, this year’s back-to-school season marks an opportunity to review and revise core strategies to best operate amid the shifting landscape. For many, seeking ways to increase efficiency and decrease stress among kitchen staff is a top priority.

Fortunately, new technologies can help save labor for operators seeking to keep service quality high and costs low despite current challenges to the market. Here’s how.

Addressing labor challenges

According to Technomic’s June 2021 How Noncommercial Recovers Post COVID-19 report, K-12 and C&U were among the noncommercial foodservice industries that saw the biggest dip in sales after the pandemic’s onset; remote learning nearly halved foodservice sales for schools and colleges in 2020.

However, with the school season back in full swing, and with most noncommercial operators expecting to recoup at least 70% of pre-pandemic traffic by the end of the year, investing in strategies to facilitate recovery and expand margins in the long run is as timely as ever.

Rebuilding staff and increasing operational efficiency are among the top three business priorities reported by both K-12 and C&U operators, according to Technomic’s How Noncommercial Recovers report, and for good reason: On average, K-12 operators laid off or furloughed 18% of their staff earlier in the pandemic, and C&U operators laid off or furloughed 32%, with some operators losing even more employees in a struggle to retain talent.

In addition, best practices for health and safety instituted amid the pandemic can add labor to everyday operations. Nearly half of noncommercial operators expect frequent sanitization of customer touchpoints to be a permanent practice, and 39% say the same of implementing rigorous sanitation and safety training for employees per CDC guidelines.

High employee turnover rates and added safety practices make boosting efficiency in the back-of-house all the more pressing—decreasing labor for skeleton staffs not only means better service and better margins, but can also boost retention by decreasing stress behind the scenes.

Strategies to succeed

For many operators, simple shifts have helped lighten the load for kitchen staffs. For example, over half of K-12 and C&U operators have added more grab-and-go options to their menus, decreasing prep time and eliminating the need for a staff member to serve the dish. Many have simplified their menus to reduce labor in the back of house and decrease costs overall. Others are re-implementing self-serve stations as diners become more comfortable with shared amenities.

Still, investing in labor-saving technologies can help speed up recovery and set operators up for long-term success. Solutions from Fulcrum Digital, for example, bring agility and simplicity to the labor puzzle.

With solutions for customer-facing mobile applications, intelligent automation, data analytics, secure data management and more, as well as core digital services such as food management, meal planning and Digital Signboards, Fulcrum helps to maximize service quality and boost efficiency while keeping labor costs low and ensuring Osha compliance.

To learn more about solutions from Fulcrum Digital, visit https://fulcrumdigital.com/foodservices/.

This post is sponsored by Fulcrum Digital

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