2020 Vision is NRN's special report on the future of foodservice. Find out how the restaurant business will change in seven years >>
Even as technology plays an increasingly important role in the foodservice experience, restaurants in 2020 still will emphasize the human touch in daily operations.
Staffing levels are expected to remain high, according to observers. Further, operators will need to better balance their numbers of part- and full-time workers, pay more attention to the increasing diversity within the workplace population, and create more effective training programs.
“I don’t see staffing levels going down,” said Patrice Rice, chief executive of Patrice & Associates, a hospitality recruiting firm in Dunkirk, Md. “This is a customer-based industry. We’re seeing some automation at the drive-thru and with soda dispensers, but somebody still has to cook the food and somebody has to give it to you.”
At the same time, employees will become more comfortable around increasingly sophisticated equipment in the front and back of the house, said Alice Elliot, founder and CEO of The Elliot Group in Tarrytown, N.Y.
“Workers will have to be confident around new technologies — although technology can’t replace the nuances of guest interaction,” she said.
Other labor trends for 2020 include:
• More part-time workers. In its “Restaurant Industry 2020” study, the National Restaurant Association forecast that restaurateurs would offer more part-time positions to allow workers more flexibility in their schedules, which might appeal to older employees who have retired from their primary jobs.
Health care reform also could impact the balance of part- and full-time workers. The NRA expects that the industry will employ 14.4 million workers by 2023, compared with 13.1 million in 2013.
• Older workers. Stubborn unemployment rates also might play a role in 2020 as older jobless individuals and new retirees seek restaurant jobs, Rice said.
“Right now, the average age is higher than it was five years ago because of unemployment,” she said. “The hospitality industry allows for people to have a second career, if you’re willing to start over.”
• Lower turnover. As the number of restaurant employees in the younger demographic declines, older workers are expected to step in to fill vacancies. Rice noted that the gradual aging of the workforce could potentially impact turnover.
“Generally, a more mature staff decreases turnover. … Many are just glad to have jobs,” she said. “And they care about customer service, so that could even help to improve the customer experience.”
• More diversity. The foodservice workforce will grow even more diverse, with minorities and women seizing the opportunity to climb up the career ladder and into management positions, the NRA said.
• A greater emphasis on training. “People will have to be cross-trained and taught critical thinking skills,” Elliot said. “Restaurants need to stay competitive. The guest will have so many options and expectations, … and employees will have to understand the menu and the culture [of the place in which they work].”