This Summer Has Been One for the History Books

Few industries have experienced the same turmoil as restaurants over the last year and a half. Since spring of 2020, virtually every form of food service has been forced to constantly rethink core aspects of their operations, ranging from their service to their staffing and menus. Now that we're midway through the summer of 2021–more than a year after the first set of social distancing policies were put into place–restaurants are confronted with several new considerations that are keeping them on their feet. 

"A lot of restaurants are experiencing record sales right now, even at limited capacity," says Larry Herz, the restauranter behind the daily restaurant show, OCN Eats. "A lot of them aren't able to go back to full capacity. Not because of the pandemic, but because they just don't have the staff. But the demand is there because everybody didn't eat out for a year–they're tired of UberEats and DoorDash."

His comments echo a lot of the unique, seemingly contradictory problems that restaurants are dealing with: there's an almost unprecedented demand for dining experiences but a limited pool of staff with which to provide them. As has been the case with so many other events over the last year, this has forced restaurants to get creative. 

One key area where restaurants have been adapting is by adjusting wages for employees. There is no shortage of viral images on social media showing restaurant job postings offering impressive hourly pay for walk-on hires and plenty that have allegedly been offering money just for candidates to come in for an interview.While it's difficult to tell how much these viral pictures reflect the actual realities of staffing a restaurant, Herz says it isn't far off.

"They're offering busboys $18, $19 an hour just to start in some cases." He says, "You can see them passing that cost on to their customers."

You can already see these price changes going into effect, with restaurant prices rising around 5% on average across the nation–although that number can be even higher in high-density urban centers. For the time being, customers don't seem to mind; restaurant spending is way up and shows no signs of slowing down.

"We're seating at 130% capacity and still completely filling our tables", says Chef Dan at the trendy Denver restaurant, Bistro Vendome. "We'll see how long that lasts."

Restaurants agree that this customer surge won't last forever in its current form, and they're collectively trying to figure out what the industry will look like when it changes. For the time being, many are enjoying the rush and viewing it as an opportunity to convert visitors to regulars, knowing that good impressions on local diners will last much longer than any individual consumer trends. 

 It's no surprise that when questions like these confront the industry, new technological solutions are emerging to optimize how they engage with customers. We've written before about Denver-based tech platform Grip Places, which is developing a reputation as a lifeline for restaurants to cut through the noise in what they're dubbing as "the experience economy." As restaurants navigate the summer rush, they're looking for ways to attract the kinds of customers they want to stick around for the long haul. 

Customers share this opinion, with an increasing number of them willing to check out otherwise "unconventional" experiences after a year of having limited options. As a result, more and more customers are turning to apps like Grip to help them find their ideal crowd. While thinking about "regulars" for bars and restaurants usually calls to mind images of picky lunch diners or the cast of Cheers, they're important for maintaining a business' bottom line. 

Since going live on the Apple Store and Google Play, Grip Places has been helping diners and bar-goers find their new favorite spots by allowing them to check out the scene of a place in real-time through watching a live-streamed video feed. This feature, in conjunction with in-app menus and built-in options for setting up ride-sharing, lets diners find their new favorite haunts while providing an outlet for businesses to increase their visibility.

Innovations like Grip Places show how restaurants are evolving in how they engage with their customers, and the considerations of this summer will likely continue to accelerate these changes. Given the amazing amount of flexibility that we've seen from restaurants over the last year–and the outpour of love from their loyal customers–we're optimistic about what the future has in store!