What kind of an impact will the new health care laws have on customer dining out experiences?
As restaurants adjust to new laws on healthcare for employees who work more than 30 hours per week, managers will juggle employee schedules and budgets even more so than in the past. The restaurant industry's reliance on part time workers ensures that the industry will feel a big impact when the new law comes into play in 2014. Some restaurants, such as Darden Restaurants, whose concepts includes Red Lobster, Olive Garden and Longhorn Steakhouse, will reassess the number of employees who will receive health benefits within the law and determine ways to manage the increased benefits costs . Other restaurants, such as Panera, say that for now, they have no plans to adjust employee hours because of the new law. Still others worry about the ability to afford good people in order to provide good service at their restaurants.
Several restaurants are preparing now. Darden Restaurants is currently testing the limiting of staff hours at some locations. No doubt, management will evaluate impacts on wait times, service levels, and customer experience that staff reductions will bring. Will wait times increase, causing customers to leave before tables become available? Will companies provide effective training efforts to accommodate those who will be working less hours? Will upscale restaurants retain top notch employees, given the fact that they may have to lower wages to make up for the increased cost of healthcare?
Whether food service companies reduce the number of employees who work over 30 hours or simply reduce hours per employee, management challenges will prevail. Clear business processes are needed to ensure that part-timers follow procedures accurately. Management oversight will be critical to this effort. Managers must provide training for employees working fewer hours, and check to make sure employees use the training in day to day interactions with customers. To meet these new challenges and stay on-track, restaurants need effective tools to provide more eyes in the field.
One way that restaurants manage oversight of their locations is through mystery shop programs. When managers implement new staffing scenarios, restaurant mystery shopping can provide data on the following:
- Training effectiveness in menu knowledge, suggestive selling and customer service
- Wait times for a table, for food to arrive and for receiving the check
- Associate responsiveness when calling for a reservation or placing an order for takeout
- Employee responses to customer complaints
- Unit compliance with alcohol carding procedures, menu changes, displays and marketing materials, through compliance audits
- Maintenance of cleanliness factors including parking lot, entrance, kitchen, tables and restrooms
While restaurants differ in their approach to strategies in response to the new law, one thing is certain: preparing will help ensure more positive dining experiences for customers and a smoother transition for employees.