By Len Panaggio
Here we are, essentially the midpoint of summer and we know all too well what happens in August; the days are clearly shorter, the hints of fall weather are in the air and the potential for hurricanes is real. Aside from what Mother Nature deals us in August, which we can’t predict, we can predict labor issues!
This year, it is probably more troublesome than in past years. Will you have enough staff to get you to Columbus Day? The labor shortage has always negatively impacted the coastal communities more than the cities.
Typically, by mid-August all the summer hires start bailing, which causes a lot of stress on remaining staff. And, as I have seen firsthand this summer, labor seems to be a real problem and many employees have an increasingly worsening outlook on work. Business owners are telling me their staff does not want to work nights, weekends and holidays – when restaurants are typically at their busiest!
Now, more than ever, you need to get creative with your scheduling as doubles become more the norm, as is working six or seven days a week until October. These necessary scheduling practices really take a toll on staff burnout. It behooves the scheduler to put some thought into how best to utilize remaining staff and minimize the mental and physical issues that will certainly arise.
Management also needs to pay attention to who is on, and if weather creates an opportunity to release some people (i.e., outdoor patio service is impacted), release wisely. Most of the year-round staff realizes that they have two months left to save for winter.
In addition to labor pains, August is also the month that brings into play another big issue: inventory. Coastal communities need to pay particular attention, as there is a big drop in sales after Labor Day. Now is the time to begin to pare down inventory – not at the expense of customer selection, but to really focus on what is moving to meet the slowdown in the daily business. This is the last real chance to drop some “dogs” for the slowdown and trim overall offerings. Again, the cities don’t really have that problem, if anything they need to build their options.
This month is also a good time to talk about product mix. Yup, my favorite subject: Oktoberfest beer! The demand for this category has a very short window. I suggest buying it now with a plan to move it out by Columbus Day – nobody orders Oktoberfest beer in January.
As the weather cools, beer drinkers will switch to ales and move away from lagers. Similarly, wine drinkers will move away from whites and rosé and will look for more red wines. Sadly, in these parts, rosé still is perceived as a summer wine, although, slowly, guests are understanding it is more of a year-round versatile food wine than previously thought. Evaluate your wines-by-the-glass program and your beer lists. Lastly, brown goods like bourbon, Scotch and whiskey will begin to move: Are you positioned well with those?
As a transitional month, August presents its share of problems and opportunities. Good management and proper planning will help your establishment rise to the occasion and not skip a beat as we head into the fall. After all, your guests expect a well-run,-oiled machine.
Len Panaggio’s career in food and wine spans more than three decades as an owner and as a beverage director at some of the top restaurants in Rhode Island. Currently a hospitality consultant, Len is a graduate of the University of Rhode Island and has attended the Culinary Institute of America Master Sommelier program and the Sterling School of Service and Hospitality.