The U.S. restaurant industry might have the most to gain from a normal, post-COVID economy after two years of lockdowns, closures, staff shortages and inflation. But just as consumers are poised to go full bore into dining out again amid a nationwide easing of pandemic restrictions, restaurant owners must deal with a supply chain crisis that has left them short on a lot more than food.
The industry has been hampered by limited supplies of everything — from fryer oil and dish soap to packaging materials and replacement parts for kitchen equipment — according to a recent report by the National Restaurant Association.
Even when restaurateurs can find these items, they often have to settle for less than they need and pay inflated prices on top of it. This has made life even more difficult for restaurant managers who have enough on their hands navigating COVID-19 rules and finding adequate staff.
“My only advice right now is to stay nimble and accept that making daily adjustments will remain the nature of the game — at least for the first quarter of the year,” Dan Simons, co-owner of Founding Farmers Restaurants in Washington, D.C., told the Restaurant.org website. “The items we’re expecting to run short [of] will catch up, but then we’ll get surprised by the next shortage we didn’t anticipate.”
Shortages of equipment, parts, coffee cups, plastic straws, takeout containers and other items come as restaurants are also dealing with shortages of food. COVID-19 has had a particularly negative impact on agricultural production and meatpacking in the U.S., Forbes reported, partly because many workers quit out of fear of infection. Those problems have been compounded by global supply chain disruptions.
“It’s tough to plan or predict your day when you don’t know if you’re going to get product in or not,” Anissa Mandell, supply chain senior vice president for Atlanta-based Focus Brands, told Restaurant.org.
“If 5% of your items don’t show up, you have to adjust. Sometimes that’s difficult to do, especially in our world where there are so many proprietary products you can’t just pick up at the local market,” Mandell added.
For consumers, it likely means even higher prices in coming months. Hudson Riehle, senior vice president of research at the National Restaurant Association, expects menu price inflation to “remain historically high” as supply challenges and high food costs continue well into 2022.
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